Fin in a Waste of Waters

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom....Leaning over this parapet I see far out a waste of water. A fin turns....I note under 'F.,' therefore, 'Fin in a waste of waters.' I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening." (from Woolf's THE WAVES)

12 October 2006

Supermarket kindness

I meant to write about this a few days ago:

On my way home from class the other day, I stopped by Marks & Spencer to do my grocery shopping; I had 22 pounds cash - no credit card (why I didn't bring my credit card with me that day is still a mystery). Since the tumor, I've always grocery shopped with a credit card - that way, I don't stress out about the money I'm spending on healthy food (especially those fruits & veg that are loooaded with antioxidants & all sorts of goodies). B.T. (Before Tumor), I used to force myself to shop only with a limited amount of cash as a money-saving strategy (my junior year, I made 1 box of macaroni & cheese, 1 can of tuna, and 1 cup of peas [all cooked together] last for 4 meals; and I did it almost weekly - I'm serious). This was obviously unhealthy from a nutritional standpoint (but who of us hasn't been here?). Also from a mental-health perspective: grocery-shopping used to be a terror, counting numbers in my head, white-knuckling the handle of my food-basket, putting away fruits and veg, other healthy delicious things as if I were punishing myself. I used to leave the store sweating.

A.T., I promised myself that I wouldn't compromise my health (mental & otherwise) in this way anymore. I determined to always shop with a credit card, and to spend the most money in the produce section. And since then, I've nearly always hit my 6-8 servings of fruit & veg daily. Since then, I've learned how to breathe again in supermarkets.

The other day, then, shopping without plastic - it brought back those days. Standing in the produce section, staring at the prices, grasping my basket against my belly, I was determined by mental power alone to will the numbers to add up, to still get my fruits & veg (and milk and juice and cheese and chicken for dinner that night and the next and the next) for under 22 quid.

And I nearly did. Standing in line for checkout, I began to wonder, sweat, as I surveyed my goods. An older man, gray-haired, stooped, blue flannel-clad like my dad by November and wearing thick glasses, got in line behind me, and I put one of the plastic dividers on the conveyor belt behind my things for him. "Thanks! You know, you're the first person I've seen do that here!" He exclaimed. "Really?" I was surprised; this is just something I always do; I thought it was just what you did in line.

Then it was my turn. I instantly liked Margaret, the middle-aged woman scanning the groceries. She noticed the cotton bag I use to carry my groceries home in (save plastic!), and asked where I got it (it sported a photo of James Joyce...), and then cunningly pointed out the reusable grocery bags that M & S sells. She asked about my accent, where I was from. "Chicago area," I answered. "Really? Your accent isn't that strong!" She then went on to confide in me that the checker one aisle over was French-Canadian, and his accent was really strong - I liked that I was in on the gossip.

But I didn't make it - the total hit 25 pounds and some pence. My face got hot. I'd gotten rusty since those days of mac & cheese. "Uh, I guess take out the eggs. I don't have quite enough on me." "You can use credit cards here, honey." "Oh, I don't have it with me." "That's no problem then, we do this all the time." I was sweating now; the line lengthened interminably behind me. The eggs didn't get me low enough. "Uh, the apples, too. Guess I was shopping hungry." I tried to laugh. "Oh, we all do sometimes!" Margaret smiled at me and the man behind me for good measure. My total was low enough now; I paid, and began stuffing the rest of my groceries in my bag.

"Wait!" It was the older man behind me. "Wait, how much is it?" He asked Margaret, pointing to my waif-like eggs & apples left abandoned and sad alongside the till. "Not very much, only 3 pounds or so." "Let me pay for it! I'll buy 'em." My mouth literally dropped open. "No, no, it's okay," I grabbed my bag. "No, wait!" And he bought them for me. "Well, that's very nice," Margaret was beaming. "It is!" I jumped to agree. I wanted to hug the man; he shrunk from my American exuberance, but let me pat his arm - "Thank you!" "Are you a student 'ere?" He asked. "Uh huh!" "Not psychology?" "" "Well, that's alright then!" He started laughing. "English?" "Actually, yeah!" "Well, that's good then! Literature?" "Uh huh!" "Well, that's great!" Shouting another thank -you over my shoulder, I fled the store, wondering how he knew I studied literature, forgetting in my grocery-line anxiety and ultimate relief that my bag sported James Joyce.

(And this made me remember another day, years ago, my first year at the Univ. of IL - one day during my first couple of weeks on campus, I was caught in a downpour on my walk home from class - a boy, a complete stranger, shared his umbrella with me. "Are you an English major?" He asked. "Yeah, how can you tell?" "You can always tell the English majors." I puzzled over this the entire walk home; and now, again..)


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