Consuming Surreality in the Suburbs
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
By Jackie Minghinelli
It’s a cloudy, cool day, and I turn my Dodge SUV into the parking lot of the local Stop and Shop supermarket. Choosing a spot closest to the entrance, I pull in between the yellow lines, put the car in park, and let out a deep sigh. Reaching down into the cup holder, I retrieve my mask, a nifty blue paper and vinyl thing given to me a few weeks ago in Central Park by way of a Park’s Department employee’s hand reaching out of a slowly moving Range Rover. I reached for the mask like a child grabs for the brass ring at Coney Island while on the merry-go-round. Although I’m grateful for both the thrill and practicality of the gift, today I won’t put it on until I’m a few inches away from the store’s entrance because I hate having my nose and mouth covered.
I head for the shopping carts lined up at the side of the store, where a masked employee, wearing an orange neon vest, is spraying down the handle of a shopping cart. He uses a paper towel to dry the handle and then offers the cart to me. “Thanks,” I say. He nods his head.
I step in front of Stop and Shop’s double doors, put my mask on, and glide my cart into the store. Overflowing bins of colorful produce are on my left, but it’s what’s on my right that reveals the surreality of the times. There’s a dispenser with sanitizing wipes and a blue-uniformed, masked guard making sure no one gets too unsanitary at the entrance. I grab a couple of wipes and rub them between my hands. The guard eyes me, but I guess I’ve passed the sanitization test because he doesn’t try to prevent me from my claim to a nearby bag of apples.
Masked humans walk past me, and I feel as if I’m in an old sci-fi flick. It’s not just the masks that give things a spooky feel. The people are walking differently. They’ve got that slow, cautious sci-fi walk. When they’re not looking at a food item, they’re looking at each other. They’re looking at me. . . Their eyes make windshield wiper movements, as if they might catch or be caught by someone or something.
I hurriedly push my cart beyond the world of nectarines and bananas and move to the land of canned goods, more specifically to the aisle of tomato sauces and beans. There is blue tape on the floor shaped like arrows. Once out of produce, one is only supposed go one way down the aisles. The store wants shoppers to follow the blue-taped road. In my head I chant The Wizard of Oz’s version. A lady sees me coming. We briefly make eye contact, but her eyes narrow. She grabs the handle of her shopping cart and scurries out of the aisle. Ugh! I want to scream, I’m fine. Really, I am. I don't have it! You don’t have to run.
Red Pack tomatoes are on sale, so I pick up a few cans and place them in the cart. While thinking of the fresh basil in my garden and the delicious sauce I’ll make with the tomatoes, I sneak the mask down below my chin and take a huge breath. Ah! It feels so good without the mask. Hoping no one will see me, I sneak in a few more breaths sans the mask before moving toward the frozen food section.
With my lower face appropriately covered, I wheel my cart into the frozen dessert aisle. A stocky man in a white tee shirt and pink shorts grunts as he shoves one of the glass doors to the ice cream section shut. The dissatisfied customer stomps away. Quickly, I discover the reason for his anger. There isn’t any rocky road, butter pecan, or even vanilla bean left. There’s been a run on the ice cream. Apparently, ice cream is the go-to crisis dessert.
Although I’m miffed about the lack of what I consider to be a dessert staple, I figure I could do without the ice cream anyway. My weight hasn’t exactly been going down in the past few months, so I head toward the checkout line while calculating the calories I’ll save by not having the ice cream. I figure I’ll have to not eat ice cream for a year to lose the pounds I’ve gained.
Making my way to the checkout counter, I spot her. She stands behind the conveyor belt wearing a blue apron, a surgical mask, and gloves. The cashier looks like she’s either ready for surgery or ready to do a manicure.
“Ma’am, step back please.”
Apparently, I’ve broken the six-feet-apart rule. The conformist in me blurt outs, “I’m sorry” while the more rebellious side follows with the thought that the cashier is a Nazi. I find the blue taped square on the floor and step back onto it.
My items are checked out without further incident, and I head toward the exit, removing my mask before I’m out the door. I place my grocery bag in the back of the SUV and take my seat behind the wheel. I think of the people who I won’t see, the classes I won’t take, and the ice cream I won’t eat.
And then I remember that for me all this is temporary. There are people who will never eat ice cream, take classes, or see their loved ones ever again. I’m ashamed for my selfish thoughts.
Jackie Minghinelli has worked as a restaurant inspector and as a teacher. She holds New York State certifications in elementary education, Spanish, biology, and general science. She loves to travel, cook, read, write, eat, and shop. Her memoir pieces have appeared in New York Newsday and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood. She is married to Lou and has a grown daughter, Gina. Her current baby is her Maltese, Buddie.