IT IS A FRIDAY evening and I am in the supermarket fingering a boneless bottom round roast marked USDA choice, which gives you an idea of the dizzying social whirl a writer can get caught up in.
According to the price tag, the boneless bottom round roast is going for two thick lines, a thin line and three thicks.
"Say, that's not bad," I remark to a shopper nearby. "You pay three thicks, two thins and a thick anywhere else for this."
Apparently not hip to the lingo of bar codes, she quickly edges away, giving me a look you'd normally reserve for a roach scurrying across your cottage cheese.
The supermarket hums with a palpable energy this evening, its white track lighting shimmering over beckoning shelves and counters, the soft Muzak butchering an old Beatles tune as cleanly as they could at the meat counter.
I say to myself: "Sure, it's Friday night. Somewhere, Happy Hour xTC is in full swing. Somewhere, there is music and laughter and steaming plates of buffalo wings. Somewhere, lovers giddy on wine coolers and Corona beer grope for one another across a faux mahogany bar.
"But here is where the REAL action is: Libby's sliced carrots, two 16 oz. cans for $1. Perdue roaster drumsticks, 59 cents a lb. Campbell's vegetable soup, 2 for 89 cents. Glad tall kitchen bags, $2.39.
''No, you can have your Happy Hour. Me, I'll be over by the deli counter getting my provolone ($1.55 a half-pound) and living the high life."
There is also -- God help me, but I love it -- a certain anarchy about the supermarket. Shopping carts are strewn hither and yon. People leave their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle for minutes at a clip while they wander off in search of Lucky Leaf applesauce (regular and chunky) and Mazola corn oil.
People bump their shopping carts into other shopping carts, refuse to yield the right of way, take the turn at the end of the aisle too wide and scare the beejezus out of little old ladies pawing at the Oven Fresh apple bran muffins (4 for $1.29).
If things continue as they are with these carts, I see a day when drive-by assaults between shoppers become an every-day occurrence. A typical dispute: Shopper A refuses to move his cart for Shopper B. Shopper B then fires a frozen package of Jolly Green Giant string beans at Shopper A's head. Shopper A counters with a can of Minute Maid orange juice to the jaw of Shopper B.
From there, of course, the situation would deteriorate dramatically, to the point where other shoppers become involved with predictable results: tear gas, K-9 dogs, cops in full riot gear, ambulances screaming to the curb discharging platoons of coolly efficient paramedics, who would no doubt take advantage of the Coke Classic sale (six 16-oz. bottles for $1.79) before administering to the wounded. Only a fool would pass up a deal like that.
The situation is no better at the checkout counters, where outlaws with 10, 12, even 15 items (you know who you are) routinely plant themselves on the ''nine items or less'' express line.
In a more perfect world, these scoundrels would be singled out by burly ex-football players armed with cattle prods, who would shout: ''YOU! Three cans of Hunt's tomato paste does NOT count as one item! Out of the line, worm!''
Until then, perhaps the best we can hope for is that supermarkets begin to offer remedial arithmetic classes. (''You see, Mrs. Sorrentino, the sign says nine items or less and what you have here is 10 items, which is one more than nine. Which means that technically . . .'')
Thankfully, things are usually not that chaotic in the rest of the store, and a man seeking respite from Happy Hour (giddy or not, how many Swedish meatballs can you eat in the course of a lifetime?) could do worse than come here.
The possibilities for amusement are endless. If the shopping, cart-demolition derbies and people-watching do not rivet you, well, I myself would check both wrists for a pulse rate.
But here's a sure-fire pick-me-up: Take a few minutes and go scan the lurid tabloids near the checkout counter, where one can digest this sort of headline: ''Starving Peruvian woman gives birth to 28-lb. calf, asks: "SHOULD I EAT MY OWN CHILD?!"
It is Friday evening. Got the wind in my hair and I'm cruising past the Sunkist oranges (4-lb. bag $1.89) on my way to check out that special on Mrs. Butterworth's syrup ($2.49).
Is this a great country, or what? You think they do this sort of thing in, oh, Peru?
Not from what I've read.