Shopping. Simply mention the word and women everywhere rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
It’s true. Retail therapy has done more to raise the collective consciousness and improve the self-esteem of modern women, than Oprah, Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew combined.
I mean, let’s face it, who needs Prozac when there are credit cards, debit cards, checkbooks and cash?
Not only is it “workin’ for us,” but we don’t need rehab either.
Except for me – I hate shopping. Now, don’t get me wrong. Like most women, I am a firm believer in the Monroe Doctrine. You know, the one that states diamonds are a girl’s best friend? It’s just the long lines, crowded parking lots, and those gawdawful mirrors in the dressing rooms that tend to make me a little cranky - not to mention, the rude sales clerks.
Then, there are the unruly children I would like to trip or smack on the back of the head when they rumble and thrash their way through the Misses department, screaming for their mothers.
And or course, the seething and oh-so-hostile, glowers when I’m overheard hissing at the little urchins,
“Your mommy has left you, you little brat, now you’re an orphan!”
Cruel, I know, but also extremely satisfying when they run off screaming in an absolute panic.
I can’t help it.
When they maraud past me like a band of plundering gypsies with their cowlicks and snot running down their noses, my head spins a full 360-degree revolution. Then, before I know it, the most unholy eruption spews forth, right out of my mouth.
It’s the darnedest thing.
It’s not much better in a grocery store either. No matter what my fruity friends keep trying to tell me. I mean, they actually believe that a grocery store is calming - therapeutic even. Can you imagine? The way they talk, with their little coupons, sale papers and piped in New Age music and everything, you would think they were going there to get their Zen on or something.
But, that hasn’t been my experience.
In fact, because of grocery stores I am thoroughly convinced that the last frontier of the Wild, Wild West, is still alive and well.
I have seen a kind of lawlessness and anarchy in the aisles of a grocery store that would horrify even Jessie James and send Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday running for the hills.
An inhumane and cruel kind of violence – the kind that can only come from the belly of the beast or the darkest places of the heart.
Much like the games in the Roman coliseums or maybe, say, the World Wide Wrestling Federation.
Yeah, I know it’s hard to imagine.
But what happened to me in Kroger one day, on aisle 4A, right there, between the jell-o vanilla pudding and the maraschino cherries, has made a believer out of me, leaving a lasting and indelible impression. And now? Well, I really do need Prozac.
But anyway, here’s what happened:
It was in Kroger, like I said, on aisle 4A.
I was minding my own business, looking for a box of jell-o, sugar-free, vanilla pudding, lost in my own thoughts and feeling rather peaceful and centered.
As I rummaged through the boxes, I was thinking that maybe my fruity friends were onto something after all.
I mean, I did feel like I was getting a little Zen-ish or something. Sort of.
Or maybe I had finally found my Chi?
Anyway, that’s when I heard it: a low, humming, sound, almost moaning, and even a little melancholy, I guess you could say, too. A lot like some of the old gospel spirituals I had heard, growing up in the Deep South.
Caught by surprise, I snapped out of my Zen, or my Chi, or whatever it was, and cocked my head quizzically toward the sound.
“What’s that?” I thought, as I leaned into the direction it was coming from. Standing very still, I listened, with my eyes squinting, as if somehow that would improve my hearing or something.
After a few moments and hearing nothing further, I turned my attention back to the jell-o pudding, resuming my mental ruminations about the possibility of a Zen, or a Chi, or maybe even some of that Feng Shui stuff I had heard those Hollywood celebrities talk about.
“I guess it’s possible,” I thought to myself, as I stretched and peered and rifled through the shelves.
Reaching behind the raspberry jell-o, I located a box of 4-oz, artificially flavored, vanilla pudding. With a quick toss, I threw it into my buggy and began to roll off. Then I heard it again.
There was no mistaking it this time. It was dark and heavy sounding.
Kind of undulating and rolling through the air in waves.
It had a primal quality to it too. Guttural. Like a Bantu Zulu war chant or something.
Tiny bumps began to erupt all over my skin and the hairs on the back of my neck snapped to attention.
I had a peculiar and eerie feeling I was being watched.
Instinctively, I held my breath. Though, I can’t exactly tell you why. Except maybe I wasn’t entirely sure that the Zen, or the Chi or the Feng Shui wasn’t about to suck me into a parallel universe or something.
I shot two quick, nervous glances to either end of the aisle, wondering if I should just make a run for it. Then it stopped.
Exhaling slowly- in a purely Zen sort of way, of course - I regained my composure. Turning back to my buggy, I was startled by a rather stodgy looking woman in a motorized shopping cart who had stopped right behind me.
“Oh” I said, chuckling nervously, my voice raising a full octave and taking two steps backward, “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
For what seemed like an eternity, she just stared at me – long enough for me to notice the tiny black hairs along her jaw line and above her upper lip.
Her face was puffy and thick.
Her skin was heavy with jowls and her eyes hollow and dark.
It could have just been the deep circles under her eyes. But, more likely, the heavy black eye-liner smeared unevenly around her lashes.
Her hair was dyed a cheap, bar-whore red and was coarse and brittle from over processing.
She wore a candy-apple red lipstick that clashed with her hair color and bled into the tiny wrinkles around her mouth.
Judging from her angry scowl, I concluded that she likely hadn’t heard about the grocery store being a happy place, with all the Zen, and the Chi and the Feng Shui stuff.
Or worse yet, maybe she was just the Princess of Darkness who had misplaced her crown?
Then, abruptly, and without acknowledging me or my apology, she barked at me - in a punchy, scratchy voice, heavy with gravel,
“Is that lemon custard you just put in your buggy?”
“Are you sure? She asked, her badly outlined eyes narrowing into slits, her voice, heavy with suspicion.
“Cause I coulda swore that it was lemon custard you just put in there.”
“Oh, no ma’am,” I said, trying to diffuse the tension with politeness. “It’s vanilla pudding. Would you like me to get you some custard?”
“Don’t bother.” She spit. “I done looked and there ain’t any more. But, now I’m thinking I mighta missed a box and you got it in your cart!”
“No, ma’am, I promise. It’s vanilla pudding. See?” I answered, reaching into my cart for the box.
By this time, I was becoming more than a little annoyed with the Princess of Darkness, sans her crown, and her complete lack of social graces and good humor.
Clearly she had missed the memo about the Zen, the Chi and that other Feng-Shui crap.
“Who the heck does she think she is?” I grumbled to myself. “It’s not my fault she blinded herself with her cheap eye-liner and can’t see to find the custard. Here I am, minding my own business, looking for a box of vanilla pudding in Zen-country, and I get accosted by the spawn of Satan – who, by the way, also happened to be having one helluva bad hair day. And since when does Satan need custard anyway? “
Bristling with righteous indignation, I turned and stiffly thrust the box forward for her to see. She leaned in. The wheels of the buggy rolled slightly forward and it looked as if she were about to read the label.
But, then, faster than a blue-gill bass piercing the surface of a lake after a mosquito hawk, her arm shot forward and she snatched the box right out of my hand.
Thunderstruck by the sheer speed and velocity with which she ripped the box from me, I stood slack-jawed and speechless - which, as it turned out, was just long enough for the Princess of Darkness to reverse, downshift into low-buggy-gear and ride back to the gates of hell – with my pudding.
“Haaaaaaaaay,” I wailed, in my deepest southern drawl. “That’s my pudding!!”
“Oh, yeah?” She shot back. “Well, cry me a river why don’t cha!”
And just like that. She was gone.
I resisted the urge to chase after her and call her names, like, Ozzy Osborne’s evil twin or Alice Cooper’s red-headed step-child.
Instead, I just stood there watching her, feeling smugly satisfied and sanctimonious. She still didn’t have that custard.
When she rounded the corner, I turned back to my buggy, plucked another box of vanilla pudding from the shelf and pushed off down the aisle.
Any notions I had previously entertained about a Zen, or a Chi or a Feng-Shui, had quickly dissipated in the aftermath of an experience that can only be described as a modern day Apocalypse.
No, I had not ridden down the Thames in search of ivory, deep into the belly of Africa, nor had I penetrated the war ravaged jungles of Vietnam.
My story was much more innocent and innocuous. I had merely entered Kroger, on aisle 4A, in search of jell-o vanilla pudding.
But, it was there, that I too looked into a heart of darkness.