Bargain Grocery Outlet: Field Notes

3 Aug

It’s a parallel universe…a warp world. My first trip ever to Bargain Grocery Outlet. Thoroughly intrigued by my immediate sensory thrill (and slight overall discomfort), I suggest that we walk down every aisle even though we are there for just two items.

Our first encounter: a mildly cross eyed twenty-something male employee stands just beyond the sliding door entrance.

An older woman with salt and pepper hair pauses, just past the cross eyed guy. Her eyes locked on the shopping carts askew on “the outside”, she is thrown off course because we pass and momentarily obscure them from her vision.

She looks like a spooked horse. Arms straight down at her sides, she spreads her fingers to maximum webbing and rears her head back looking down at us, grimacing.  Had she been doing exactly the same thing on her back on the ground I would’ve been sure she was having a seizure and probably would’ve held her head for her if someone wasn’t already doing that. But since she was standing and ambulating? Not quite sure what to make of it.

The floral department: a miniscule rack of flowers dyed unnatural shades of turquoise, canary yellow, and fuschia like a second grade science experiment with food color and water in which the veins of celery and flowers are highlighted as they suck FD&C Red No. 2 and water from the vessel in which they are submerged.

Detergent aisle: overpowered with the scent of mothballs reminiscent of basement shops in Chinatown, all shops in Taiwan, and my grandmother’s closets. So many brilliant colors of sponges and convenience pack Jell-O. That’s what I notice. All the colors.

Produce: The vast crate of corn, 5/$1.00 and a trash can filled with husks. And shabby little sacks of wrinkly little fruits.

Endcaps: Bedecked with packs of totally nonsexual items…yet are easy to turn into juvenile jokes:  “Big Soft” cookies, “Stubby” tool sets.

Other endcaps: rows and cases of extra large portable varieties of cheap beers: Bud Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon…all in bottle and can sizes you just don’t see in real life…unless they are lying empty next to a vagrant asleep in a park, on a sidewalk or in a doorway in San Francisco. Or, in a frat house…the morning after some strange ritual that requires  family size beer…yeah, you know, because hops are good for the wee ones.

Rows of canned goods: canned ham, spam, Willie’s Chili, or Willie’s Pork and Beans, Spaghetti and meatballs, hash, sardines…Okay, side note: this is a public “outing”…let it be known that my very own mother used to make spam hash. When I saw the stacked cans of Spam, I immediately tasted Ketchup and crispy fried potatoes. The Spam I don’t so much recall as it would be drowning in FD&C Red No. 2 Ketchup from back in the day.

And cookies: galletas, Mother’s, pink cream wafers…the ones that made me salivate as a child. The ones that leave a waxy fat film on the roof of your mouth and tongue. Interestingly, they did not carry the pastel frosted animal cookies with rainbow sprinkles. My childhood personal favorite. Did/does anyone else favor the pink pastel animal cookies because they “taste better”? Or is this just me?

Shortly thereafter: Cheap wine, candy, sodas, impulse buy trinkets.

At the registers: In front of us, an older woman dons hot pink leggings, a black lace dress, a matching pink lei and pink wide brimmed sunhat, wire rim glasses, hair in pigtails and glitter woven throughout the lace and tassels of her dress. She has a thick east coast accent. She snips and snaps at the children with her. I can’t tell if she’s Grandma or Ma. She squints hard at the screen bearing her order’s total and asks, what’s the damage?

Behind us: A younger woman who looks old. Her pale thighs are covered in dark, inky tats. They sprout out of short cutoff denim shorts. She broadcasts in a loud monotone to her toddler-something child: NO, YOU DON’T GET TO GET THAT BECAUSE YOUR BEHAVIOR WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH. IF YOUR BEHAVIOR ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH YOU DON’T GET TO GET PRIVILEGES. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT!? YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT!!!

By this time it’s our turn to pay for our measly 3 pack of blue scrubby sponges and 4 pack of Angel Soft Bathroom Tissue, signs for both items boasting that elsewhere the products cost over $1.00 more. At a total of $4.58 we pay and scramble for the door. On the way out we are again face to face with the cross eyed employee, standing in about the same place. He watches us blankly. Or maybe he isn’t. Who can tell when eyeballs aren’t aligned? At any rate, he stands doing something with a pallet jack bearing produce…a vast crate of watermelons.

It is dusk.


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