Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The way of the world.

*descriptive details modified to protect anonymity
image from here

Today I was doing a drive-by at the grocery store. I almost never have my dinner act together so instead of being one of those Pioneer Women that either slays her own cattle, grows her own organic super-veggies, or heads out to her deep freezer for all of her pre-shopped-for groceries, you can put your money on me visiting my local Kroger or Publix on at least two weekdays each week.

Yes, it's a bit pathetic and a monumental waste of time. But when it comes to perishable items, I need a combination of the energy to cook them and, well, having them to cook. More often than not, those two things don't line up simultaneously. I'm the queen of wanting a PB and J but realizing I'm out of the J. I often want to make some sauteed spinach or collard greens or snapper. . .  but . . .whoops. . .I don't have any. AND if I try to get all cute and organized but the spirit doesn't move me to cook, I'll purchase all those things and they just might go bad.


Oh and did I mention? There's also the part about having to be in the mood to eat whatever that perishable item happens to be. And even worse, Harry does, too. This adds an additional curveball to the meal planning game--especially when the BHE declares that this week (for him) is a LOW CARB or NO CARB week. Right after I've made a perfectly delicious pot of spaghetti. So he sits there looking all forlorn eating a scrambled egg and nothing more.

Mmmm hmmmm.

So yeah. I was in the grocery store because tonight I was feeling like some turkey burgers and that was cool since Isaiah Manning specifically asked for me to make them. The good news is that it isn't a LOW CARB or NO CARB week for the BHE and I just so happened to be in the mood to slave over a thirty minute meal. I had some parts but not all parts of what I needed. The last step was simply getting the ground turkey for the burgers, which is exactly what I did. I even got some of those cute little slider buns because the kids think mini-burgers are somehow tastier than regular-sized burgers. Go Mommy! So, yeah, I was in Publix getting all of these things and pushing my cart and listening to music on my mental iPod and smiling at the thought of how happy these mini-burgers would make my kids.

Go Mommy.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to tell you about what happened when I was in Publix this evening. Which has very little to do with my lack of domestic organization.

So, yeah. Where was I?

Oh! I was on the frozen aisle. Trying to decide between the Publix brand brussel sprouts and the Green Giant ones. So I'm leaning inside of the freezer door with cool air blasting me in the face and two bags of frozen baby lettuce-heads (as Zachary used to call them) in my hands. And I was in my own little world because this song called "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" was playing on a reciprocating loop on my mental iPod so other than that and the sprout comparison, I wasn't paying attention to much else.

"I left my wallet in El Segundo.
I left my wallet in El Segundo.
I left my wallet in El Segundo.
I gotta get it, I got-got to get it.

I left my wallet in El Segundo.
I left my wallet in El Segundo.
I left my wallet in El Segundo.
I gotta get it, I got-got to get it."

I could hear the beat just like it was 1989, and I'm pretty sure I was bopping my head from side to side exactly like it was coming off of a boombox on the porch of my freshman dorm. So, yeah, I'm in the groove and suddenly I feel someone tapping me rather firmly on the shoulder.

Tap, tap, tap.

What the .  ?!

Now, check it--I'm half in/half out of the freezer--and first this strange person has put their hands (or rather finger) on me.  Dude.

Then came this:

"'Scuse me, ma'am. Ummm, I was wondering if I could help you out with your groceries today?"

Wait, huh?

Let me just tell you. Being poked on the arm while you're zoning out on frozen foods and retro hip-hop music lyrics is guaranteed to scare the absolute shizz out of you. Especially if the person asking you instinctively gives you the creeps.

Which this person did.

So I jumped back nearly falling butt first onto the steam-in-bag corn on the cob and family-sized succotash. I reflexively extended my hand for protection. In a way that said, "I don't know you like that--you need to back up OFF me."

He could tell that he scared me.

"Oh. . .ha ha . . .I'm sorry, ma'am. I ain't mean to startle you, you-know-what-I'm-sayin'? I was just, you-know-what-I'm-sayin', tryin' to see if I could help you with your groceries."

Help me with my . . . what?

I scowled at this offer and wondered what the hell he was talking about. What? I realized that my face surely looked mean, so I tried to soften it up a bit. "Um. . . .I'm sorry, what?" I kept my hand out Heisman trophy style because this dude was entering my personal space and talking way too close to me. My fear was pinning me into the freezer and I needed him to back up. He seemed to get the message and took a big step back.

"See, if you was gon' pay with cash, know-what-I'm-sayin', then I could just get your food and then you could just give me the cash."

I stepped in front of the freezer door and let it close behind me. Quickly I fixed myself beside my shopping buggy for safety and did my best to get my mind around the whole scenario.


I stood there speechless and staring at this man. He was youngish but obviously was living a hard life. His stringy hair was overgrown and pasted to his head in oily ringlets. I couldn't tell if his complexion was olive or just dusky with filth from not bathing. An enormous tattoo was covering the entire right side of his neck. A giant cobweb with a spider in the center. Two similar inkings were inside of the crooks of both elbows. The drawings were asymmetric and amateur; the fuzzy blue-green ink was crude and wobbly. My eyes trailed down to his legs and that's when I noticed the speckled confetti of scabs and needle sticks along the sides of his ankles.

"Was you planning to pay with cash?" he asked."I mean for your stuff in your cart?"

I kept staring incredulously. "Cash? Uhhh. . no. I wasn't." Which was true because I almost never have cash. "Thanks anyway, sir. Okay. I need to go."

I quickly gripped the handles of the cart and pushed it away from him as quickly as I could. This? This was a drug thing. I know a stonghold when I see one and that's exactly what this was. Instead of trying to make him feel bad or even talking any further, I told myself to get away from him. Before he could say another word, I was down the aisle and out of his sight.

Immediately I felt sad. But then I told myself, This is midtown Atlanta. The heart of the city. There are drugs in the hearts of cities. I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes and said a quick prayer for that man. Then I went back to shopping for my groceries.

The song on my mental iPod changed off of "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" to some old school Earth, Wind and Fire singing "That's the Way of the World."

"You will find . . . .peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ‘cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart ‘cause you’re never (never, nevaaaaah) old at heart. . "

I grabbed some fruit. Picked up the mini-buns and a bottle of sliced pickles. Something about hearing this song after seeing that man felt okay, so I felt myself shaking those ill feelings off. I made my way back to the front and stopped to size up the lengths of the lines. The "EXPRESS LANE 15 ITEMS OR LESS" lane had only one person in it, so I quickly did a estimate of how many things I had to buy. Seventeen. I stepped into that line anyway since in my head what they really mean is "EXPRESS LANE 15 ITEMS OR WHATEVER WON'T GET YOU THE HAIRY EYEBALL."

And so I get back to my music playing in my head as I begin putting my seventeen items on the conveyor belt.

"That’s the way of the world
Plant your flower and you groooooow. . .  a pearl
A child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart grow cold. . . "

"Uuummm, excuse me, Miss. . . uhhh. . .how you doing? I like your hair style and your outfit."

I turned down my mental Earth, Wind and Fire and swung around to see who was speaking to me. This time it was a woman. I could see the dude with the oily ringlet hair pacing around a few feet behind her, picking up a box of Post Raisin Bran and studying it in a way so exaggerated that it seemed like a scene from a bad movie.

How you doing? I like your hair style and your outfit?Say what?

All of it was odd. Flighty and disjointed.

"Even if you spend like, you know, like forty or fifty dollars, if you give me twenty in cash, I could pay for all of it with my food stamp card. All your stuff could go on this and, you know, I'm okay with getting whatever else you want like even to a hundred dollars and you could just give me like sixty dollars or so."

I took a breath and made sure I didn't make this more than it had to be. "No, thank you, ma'am. I'm not paying with cash today. Thanks anyway." There. That was easy enough.

"If you press 'cash back' and get only one thing, you could get a twenty back or, you know, whatever amount and I could get the rest of your stuff. And like I was saying, you know, if you want you could go back and get a hundred dollars worth of stuff." 


"Um, no thank you."

"I had seen your hair and was like, 'That look nice. She seem like she nice.' That's what I told my friend when we seen you. You know, because I got to get my medicine and I have to have some cash to get that, you know, so that's why I was asking you that." She offered me a big, wide smile. Nearly all of her teeth were fractured and decaying; it was an alarming thing to see. I did my best to smile back but I'm sure that it was about as believable as that man reading the label of the raisin bran box.

When I smiled, I guess the dude thought that meant that she had scored because he started walking toward me smiling, too. The sight of them standing side by side, disheveled and anxious hurt my heart. I thought of my mantra that I use often at Grady Hospital--"Everyone was once somebody's baby." Usually that makes me feel better, but instead of giving me some new found empathy, this time it just made me feel frustrated and sad.

All I could hear was Earth, Wind and Fire.

"That’s the way of the world
Plant your flower and you groooooow. . .  a pearl
A child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart soooo cold. . ."

I stared at them while lost in those lyrics. Imagining them born with their hearts of gold and wondering what turn of events caused them to lose their souls like wallets in El Segundo.

"I don't want to be a part of that," I finally said. Then I added, "I hope things work out for you."

Before she could answer me, the Spiderweb dude had pulled her arm to let her know that he'd gotten someone to bite.

"He's cool with it," he told her with his equally decayed smile. Spiderweb dude didn't even bother to hide his elation. And she didn't even bother to let the dust settle on our conversation before turning her jerky, awkwardness over to someone new. Someone who, unlike me, was "cool with it."

The "cool-with-it" man looked to be in his early twenties--a college student perhaps or maybe even a recent grad. His fraternity shirt and cargo shorts gave it all away. It was obvious that the entire scene was hilarious to him. He laughed and said he'd give them two twenty dollar bills for all one hundred on that card. I made brief eye contact with him and he responded with an amused smirk. He glanced down at his buggy full of staples for the week and gave me an animated shrug.

One hundred dollars worth of groceries for less than half that in cash? Why not?

Sure. I could have hissed in that young man's ear about how he was contributing to the demise of two human beings. I could rant about the supermarket I was in and stomp my feet about why, why, why such a thing happened in a place where shopping is supposed to be a pleasure.

But that? That wasn't about Publix. That was about one of the uglier parts of the way of the world. A harsh reality that I wasn't expecting to see or think about while picking up mini-burger buns and brussel sprouts. And as far as that dude who got sixty percent off on his groceries, in this economy I refuse to judge. All I can say is that the whole thing was unfortunate.


I paid for my food and headed outside. At Publix they'll help you put your bags in the car and roll your cart away if you'd like. I almost always decline and today was no different. After I put my last bag in, I closed the hatch, got into my car, and turned the ignition.

Just then, I saw a blur going by from the corner of my eye. Of course. It was that man and that woman, hurriedly running like quirky puppets on invisible strings. . . .darting between parked cars across the lot to whatever empty place awaited them.

And just as I backed out of the space I saw this:

The other guy walking beside the nice employee whose offer he did accept to assist him to his car with his groceries--all one hundred dollar's worth.


Mental iPod playlist:

Earth, Wind and Fire singing "That's the Way of the World". . . one of my favorites from them. . .

and, of course, A Tribe Called Quest with the hard to shake out of your head "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo."


  1. This is where you go home, hug your children and the BHE, and count your blessings. Otherwise it would be too easy to just cry. There but for the grace of God go all of us.

  2. Wow. And I thought the Walmart by me was depressing...

    Also one of the reasons why I've given up cooking altogether. The main reason that there's not ONE darn dish that satisfies everyone.

    1. Michelle! I wish I could give up cooking altogether and remain married! LOL! What's worse is that now my boys are old enough to ask WHAT IS MOMMY MAKING TONIGHT? Grrrr. The only thing I can say is that whatever I cook is what they have to eat. If not, they're on their own.

  3. Heartbreaking... And quite scary!

    And, uh, I'm the same way about cooking!

    1. Totally heartbreaking. And I do wish I enjoyed cooking more. Sigh.

  4. Yikes. What can you do? It's so overwhelming. That "he was someone's baby" mantra is one of mine -- I just told my son Oliver that the other day when he expressed revulsion for a homeless man.

    1. Oliver has a very smart mother. This I know for sure.

  5. As I said last night in my post, I am trying to remember to be compassionate. And sometimes it's just hard and sometimes encounters just leave you feeling icky.
    If this ever happens again, you might think about telling a manager because that is SO illegal. To trade food stamps for money. And Publix doesn't want to get involved with such things. And they would be on the lookout for these folks.
    I'm sorry, dear Doctor. You handled things well as you always do. I hope there IS no next time. For you, at least.

    1. Sister Moon, you will be proud to know that I called that Publix and notified the manager today. He thanked me and said he wished I'd said something because with their location this kind of thing is a problem they face often.

      I hope there is no next time, too.

  6. While in NYC for BlogHer, Kelly (Mocha Momma) & I were outside so she could have a cigarette. A homeless man asked us for money. I smiled shyly at him and said, "no, so sorry," while Kelly simply said "no." I'm afraid I'd be the frat boy in this story, even though I should know better.
    Of course Kelly laughed at me for being so Canadian & saying sorry to the poor guy. :)

    1. Cigarette!? Whaaaa?!

      And hey, Karen! You couldn't have been the frat boy since you're Canadian. Aren't y'all nice people by definition?

  7. Wow. What Michelle said, and I feel your pain about food and cooking in general. I've cried more than once in a grocery store just because there is too much and too many choices and it's such a sad and depressing, disconnected experience when you're crazy like me and every food item is fraught with moral quandaries like how far it was shipped and how humanely the animals that were slaughtered were processed, and on and on. It would take me DAYS to shake off an encounter like yours, where the sad underbelly of the world shows up in the bubble you try to live inside.

    I know all of the sad realities you see are out there, but I'm insulated in the suburbs, they're news stories and statistics out here. But you, you're living it for real in your work, and it's a shame it finds you in your private time too. I hope your turkey burgers were good and that you shook it off once you got home. It's good that you have that voice inside that tells you right away somethings wrong. It'll keep you safe.

    1. Mel, as always, thank you for your wise words. The turkey burgers were delicious.

      Go Mommy.

  8. Well, that sucks. I always put my palm out and say rather firmly, NO! It works, but it leaves me feeling as if I have failed to entertain angels.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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