I recently ran into someone I worked with for years while we were both walking through the parking lot of a grocery store. I guess one could say that we were work friends because we never became friends outside of work, but we were sociable if we ran into one another at the grocery store, or in this case, the parking lot. For the sake of this story, let’s call the parking lot part of the grocery store universe.
The grocery store is where folks always bump into people they know but don’t make any sort of effort to see on a regular basis. It’s the contemporary version of the village waterhole. Everybody buys groceries, and most people shop at the same store all the time, so impromptu meetings will occur, small talk will be exchanged, and the laissez-faire relationships will continue.
“Rick? Man, I didn’t even recognize you,” he said to me after I said “hi” to him first.
This sort of alarmed me, so I took a mental inventory of what may have changed in the two or three years since I saw this person. I was wearing a baseball hat, new glasses, and my hair and beard are pretty much white now, so I’ve essentially matured, as a good wine should, and gotten new glasses. This was no Mission Impossible peel off mask. If one were to choose this disguise from a costume shop, it would be in the sale bin. I could only surmise that my work friend was going senile since it’s not as if I grew horns and a second nose. Poor fellow.
“Must be the new glasses,” I said. “The frames are a different shade of the tortoise shell color I’ve been wearing since the fifth grade. Maybe that threw you.”
We talked for about ten minutes while standing in the parking lot, which stretched the limits of natural conversation by about two minutes, so we shook hands and went our separate ways. It was pleasant, and as I was walking into the store, I realized how much I missed these short, daily exchanges with familiar people, even with those who are going a little daft.
I went inside to pick up a few things for myself since full-blown grocery shopping is not my purview, but rather that of my wife. I would no sooner buy our weekly foodstuffs than I would jump out of an airplane while wearing a wicker parachute. This is not 1960 however, and people seldom fill a cart with a week’s worth of food anymore. They buy as needed as if this is Europe, and we all live in tiny apartments with kitchens the size of a linen closet that holds tiny camper-sized refrigerators and a pair of rickety cabinets.
My wife will go to the grocery store at least every other day, “just to pick up a few things” which is code for fifteen bags of groceries. In all fairness to her, cashiers will put a maximum of three items in a plastic grocery bag, which it completely unlike the 1960s where one thick paper bag doubled with another could hold a dozen cans of Campbell’s soup, a leg of lamb, a carton of Tide, a bag of potatoes, and a gallon of ice cream.
I, on the other hand, if sent out to pick up a can of crushed tomatoes because that’s what we need to finish the chili, will return with a single can of crushed tomatoes without a bag. Grocery shopping must be a Mars/Venus thing, since I shop with a laser focus on exactly what I need, whereas my wife will meander through the store behind a rudderless shopping cart, collecting combinations of ingredients and sundries as she forages through the aisles. I’d likely starve if she didn’t shop for us.
Anyway, what I wanted to say before that scatterbrained guy in the parking lot distracted me was this: My wife clipped some coupons from the Sunday paper for products that I use regularly. She knows I loathe coupons and will never, ever, take the time to look for or use them, but darned if she didn’t find these ridiculous paper tokens that made me go against my anti-coupon beliefs. She’s a coupon Satan, that’s what she is.
I stuffed the coupons in my wallet with every intention of forgetting about them, but I was running low on deodorant, face wash, and shampoo, and because one can never predict when one will run into someone they know at the grocery store, I always want to be clean and fresh. It’s bad enough that some absent-minded guy with whom I used to work with for almost thirty years didn’t recognize me, but I can’t have him thinking that I also smell like a dumpster. “Wow, you should see Rick … all white-haired with different glasses and smelling like a Turkish fish market in July. That guy’s a mess.”
So I found the aisle that shelved the Dove Men + Care products, because that’s how I roll, and pulled out my coupons to make sure they matched up with the items I needed. In spite of my fancy new glasses with the no-line bifocals, I could not read the .00001 micron font that the evil coupon people use on coupons, so this was my plan: Take the three items I needed plus the three coupons that could require me to also buy lilac scented adult diapers with suspenders for all I knew, and hand the entire collection to the cashier. If nothing matched, I would simply fall back on my “I’m a dumb man” card, and start to mumble random sentences:
“I don’t know. My wife sent me in with these things to get this stuff and I don’t know. Coupons? What’s the point? Why not mark everything down to a fair price? I don’t know how to use these things. May as well ask me to teat nurse a baby. Is it coo-pon or cue-pon? Why, when I went to school, I had to walk in the dark for miles. Uphill. Sometimes it was raining. Dogs chased me. These days, the kid across the street gets driven by his mom to the end of the driveway to catch a heated bus with Wi-Fi. I’m sorry, but did you say your laser thing says I didn’t buy the right items to match the coupons? I couldn’t read the ironclad guidelines because the same guy who engraved the Old Testament on the head of a pin must have written the redemption rules on these coupons.”
As it played out, she pressed some buttons immediately after the scanner didn’t acknowledge the coupons, no doubt sensing that I was about to launch into a, “when I was a kid” diatribe, so all the coupons worked. I got two bucks off each item, which was more than half off, which left me with ample change to get a cup of coffee on the way out. Ka-ching!
As I walked out to the parking lot, I forgot entirely where I had parked or if I had driven the truck or my wife’s car. I hoped I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew, as I was wandering around like a pinball, which only made my clever disguise of a bearded white-haired man wearing a baseball cap and glasses look even more cagey. At least I wasn’t alone. A quick scan of the parking lot revealed at least a dozen men about my age wandering around, looking for their cars. I started to think that maybe we should introduce ourselves and become grocery store parking lot friends. Have a conversation. Get coffee. Make this a weekly thing.
I’m betting most of us would be OK with that.