Trips to do the grocery shopping are never dull in the USA. For a start, there’s the constant battle to make any sense of brand names, and the awe and wonder at the preponderance of items that you could never imagine anyone ever having a need for (pumpkin flavoured egg nog, anyone?). But more than that, the regular trip to the store gives you the strongest possible sense of the community in which you now exist.
For all the years that I lived in Wandsworth or Mortlake, the nearby Sainsbury’s or Waitrose only ever acted as a place to stock up on the essential items to get you through the week. I don’t think that I ever bumped into anybody I knew in a supermarket in twelve years of living in London. Yet here in Brooklyn, a visit to the grocery store is more like a coffee morning, with The Special One greeting all-comers while I furtively attempt to sneak jars of Coleman’s Mustard and HP Sauce into the trolley.
Inevitably when I make the trip alone, it’s back to my rightful role as Billy No Mates. Although even I now have a nodding acquaintance with the
blokeguy who generally delivers our food after we’ve paid for it. But even though I don’t know the same number of people, it doesn’t mean I don’t from time-to-time get dragged into the soap opera that is Met Foods on Henry Street. And never more so than this weekend.
The shopping trip all started perfectly smoothly, as I carefully navigated through the potential assault course of 372 different types of milk before successfully picking up the organic lactose-free variety (don’t ask me, I was just doing what I was told). Then came canned goods such as soups and tuna, followed by hundreds of different organic cereals with names that I didn’t recognise but which left me with the distinct impression that they might taste of cardboard. Nevertheless, so far so good.
Until I reached the cleaning products section, that is. Having managed to secure toilet roll and what I refer to as ‘kitchen roll’ but am forced by law into calling ‘paper towels’ here, I started to move my trolley slowly across the aisle to get a bottle of laundry detergent.
And that’s when I came across the Mad Old Lady Of Met Foods. Now, bear in mind that when I started to shift my trolley across the aisle, Mad Old Lady was maybe ten yards behind me. Having seen her coming, I nonetheless stopped to let her go by. Which is why her response of “There are other people in the store, you know” as she slowly wheeled past me was possibly a little surprising and maybe a tad unnecessary.
Unwilling to let her get away with such public disdain, I shouted after her that “you may be old, but that doesn’t mean you have to be so rude.” And so started a five minute argument the length and breadth of the store, with her random attacks on my personality being followed by my retorts about her general rudeness, as I looked imploringly at fellow customers for sympathy. My particular favourite exchange was the following:
Mad Old Lady: (mutters under breath)
Brit Out Of Water: “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you said?”
Mad Old Lady: “I was calling you a dummy. Are you a dummy?”
Although it has to be said that the fifteen second interlude when she chased me down the beer aisle with her trolley, shouting “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” was pretty damn memorable too.
Fortunately, some pretty sharp cornering at the
crispspotato chips stand took me racing away from her, shouting a defiant “God bless America” as I departed. By the time I reached the checkout, she’d moved on to another unwitting victim. Thankfully it seems that this was not the Mad Old Lady Of Met Foods’ first outing in her adopted grocery store home. One man looked at me sympathetically and confided that she was “missing a thousand marbles” while another woman just smiled the half-smile of someone who has been there, and indeed, done that.
Shocked though I was at the whole experience, I’ll be back at Met Foods next weekend no doubt. Maybe I’ll be even more careful when I reach for the washing powder. But if the Mad Old Lady wants to square up for Round Two, this dummy will be lying in wait, mark my words…