Ben Nutty scanned the aisles at the grocery store. He’d come in for cat litter but got side-tracked by the colorful signs advertising the week’s specials.
Wheat Thins were on sale; buy 1-get 1 free. Ben couldn’t resist Wheat Thins, and enjoyed snacking on them late at night when he had trouble sleeping, which was often since the free-lance writing jobs had dried up. Ben had been a big-wheel in the corporate communications arena back in the early part of the decade, but the sinking economy, coupled by the real estate sink hole, had left him once again riding the down elevator, a cardboard box of his “personal possessions” in his arms. Now he spent his time pecking out blog posts at $15 a pop and hunting up advertorial work.
A young woman was pushing her cart down the aisle toward Ben, her corpulent young boy lying motionless on the cart’s bottom rack like a sack of dog chow. Ben tipped his gray, Target® fedora at her and smiled. She did not smile back.
“This is an excellent sale on Wheat Thins,” Ben said, hazarding an ice breaker.
“My husband and I prefer Cheez It,” she responded. The boy farted his response, while rotating on the rack like a chicken in a rotisserie.
“Cheez It is high in fat,” Ben grunted, pulling his fedora low over his eyes and heading for the deli department, overtaken with an inexplicable hunger for roast chicken.
Rotisserie chickens were $7.99 each, but would be on sale for $5.00 on Friday. Ben waffled, torn between his need for immediate gratification and his skinflint nature. He tried to remember what day it was. Hadn’t Regis and Kelly done some sort of “whacky Wednesday” bit this morning? That meant he’d have to wait another day and a half before the chicken was on sale. He could always buy a whole, uncooked chicken, and pull his Showtime Rotisserie out of the garage. But he hated using that thing, with all of its many pieces that needed to be cleaned afterward. And raw chicken always gave him the willies. Among other things, he had a problem with textures, and chicken skin certainly qualified.
“If I put back two boxes of Wheat Thins, I can justify spending the extra two dollars on the chicken,” Ben said to himself while selecting a plump, golden brown bird from the warming tray. He planned to put the Wheat Thins back after he finished shopping, lest he run into Miss Cheez It lover still fawning over her preferred snack cracker.
Working his way toward the produce section his eyes were drawn to an end-cap full of Pop Tarts. Looking at the familiar rectangular pastries brought to mind childhood Saturday mornings; strawberry pop-tarts and early morning episodes of Scooby-Doo and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour. Nostalgia had always been Ben’s most powerful emotion, and he didn’t hesitate to lift a box of plain strawberry Pop Tarts from the pyramid. Ben believed that much of societies, and indeed his personal ills, could be traced back to the time when Kellogg’s introduced frosted Pop-tarts. Ben unconsciously shuddered as his fingers brushed a box of chocolate frosted Pop Tarts, stacked next to his beloved plain strawberry.
The produce section, as always, was crowded. Ben disliked the produce portion of the shopping experience. He preferred the meditative “back and forth” experience of the aisles, while the produce section, with its various bins scattered about, was more of an arena-like free-for-all. He became anxious having to remain in one section of the store for too long. Often times, if he noticed a light crowd, he would tackle the produce area first. But this conflicted with logic, in that he liked to place his sensitive produce items in the cart last, thereby avoiding unwanted bruising and crushing.
Mustering his resolve, Ben hunched his shoulders and plowed forward, inadvertently clipping the heel of an elderly woman scrutinizing the plantains.
“You clumsy oaf!” she croaked.
Ben shrunk back and pulled his hat down further over his eyes.
“Very sorry,” he mumbled. “That’s why these stores have premises liability insurance. I’d sue them if I were you.” And he hurried away toward the leafy vegetables.
Shaken by this encounter, Ben quickly departed produce in favor of meat, taking a moment to collect himself amongst the bleeding, cellophane wrapped packages. Ben could hear the old croan describing her encounter with the “lunatic in a cheap hat,” and unconsciously removed his fedora and buried it in his cart under a 24-pak of bathroom tissue.
Clearly it was time to abort, and he hurried toward the checkout counters, envisioning the zucchini wielding mob that was likely forming at this very moment. While his purchases scanned, Ben saw an ambulance pull up out front. Two fresh-faced, energetic EMT’s maneuvered a gurney into the store where a manager was waiting.
“She’s back here by the plantains,” the manager said. “Please hurry.” The threesome walked purposely toward the produce section.
Crumpled hat in hand, Ben grabbed the last of his plastic bags and lurched out of the store, the belch and fart of his old Toyota punctuating his escape. Arriving home, shaken but safe, Ben was greeted by a fresh pile of cat dung in the middle of his entry hall, a gift from his 26-pound roommate, and a reminder that he’d forgotten to buy cat litter.