Checking out the real action

Kevin Cowherd

March 01, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

It is Friday evening and I am in the supermarket fingering a boneless bottom round roast, tiny shivers of delight rippling up my spine.

According to the sticker, the boneless bottom round sells for two thick lines, a thin line and three thicks.

"That's not bad," I say to a woman nearby. "Anywhere else, this baby goes for three thicks, two thins and a thick."

The woman is not hip to the lingo of bar codes. She quickly edges away, giving me a look you'd give a fly walking across your cheeseburger.

The supermarket hums with a palpable energy this evening.

White track lighting shimmers seductively over beckoning shelves and freezers. A Dire Straits tune, horribly mangled by Muzak, wafts softly from the overhead speakers. The meat section is alive with possibility as an old man rounds the aisle and . . . rams his cart into my knee.

I go down as if shot with a deer rifle. The boneless bottom round falls from my hand and skitters across the floor.

"Sorry," says the man.

"Oh, no prob . . ." I start to say, but he's already moving on, eyes riveted on a huge Ritz cracker display. My knee is throbbing violently.

There will be the orthopedist to call, of course. And X-rays to schedule. And probably a soft cast to get used to. But it's Friday night and a deranged old geezer with a runaway cart is not going to spoil my fun, no sir.

Somewhere, I know, Happy Hour is in full swing. Somewhere there is music and laughter and fast-track junior executives devouring steaming plates of Buffalo wings.

Somewhere, lovers giddy on wine coolers and imported beer grope at one another across a faux mahogany bar, minds racing ahead to the delicious possibility of furtive assignations in cheap motel rooms.

But here's where the real action is: Scott Tissue, 2 for 96 cents. Lucerne shredded cheese, $1.89. Land O Lakes margarine, 49 cents. Bumble Bee tuna, 58 cents. Hires root beer ("Great Value!" says the happy face sign), 99 cents.

No, you can have your Happy Hour. You can have your Corona-and-lime crowd with their sticky hands poised over countless bowls of trail mix, enduring dreary what's-your-sign? conversations amid a thick haze of cigarette smoke.

Me, I'm right where I want to be. A social life in free-fall? Don't you believe it. Even with a ruptured patella -- I'm not a medical doctor, but that's what it feels like -- I'm adrenalized here.

So much to see, so much to do. I limp over to a rack of lurid supermarket tabloids. The headline on one screams: "MOM'S TERRIFYING ORDEAL: A COYOTE ATE MY BABY!" Beautiful. If the dailies ran stuff like that, circulation would triple.

There is -- God help me, but I love it -- a certain anarchy about the supermarket. People leave their carts in the middle of aisles and wander off in search of Lucky Leaf applesauce (regular and chunky) and Mazola corn oil.

People bump their carts into other carts, refuse to yield the right of way. Still, you can't have some crazy old coot plowing into people knees, for God's sake. I have a good mind to call my attorney. Except it's Friday night and he's probably draped over the bar at Chi-Chi's, parachuting into another margarita.

I've seen this man in action, chatting up 22-year-old English jTC majors with rambling, semi-coherent harangues on the impact of Mark Twain. He'll be no good until Monday at the earliest.

Finally, my basket is full. It's time to go. The checkout counter is busy. The sign above me says "Express Lane -- 9 items or less." So much for law and order -- the glowering woman in front of me has 12 items in her cart. God knows what kind of arithmetic she's using. My guess: the old three-cans-of-peaches-count-as-one routine.

Still, I grit my teeth and say nothing. With my luck, it's the deranged old man's wife and she'll club me over the head with a zucchini. Or she's packing a piece in that raincoat and just itching to plug my good kneecap. Isn't every lunatic armed these days?

I walk out into the night. The parking lot is teeming. Car horns blare and great clouds of exhaust fumes swirl up to the sky.

Shoppers hurry past me, their faces flushed with excitement. A woman tugs at her husband's elbow and squeals: "Mort! Those tortilla chips are on sale!"

He nods happily. You can almost smell the money burning a hole in his wallet.

Is this a great country or what? You think they do this sort of thing in Cuba on Friday nights?

Not a chance.

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