In the days before Wal-Mart they would gather outside of this grocery store in the middle of nowhere. A grocery store that wasn’t really a grocery store but actually a barn attached to a distribution warehouse in a town that wasn’t even a town: a township. Folks in flannel shirts, jeans and tennis shoes would drive up in station wagons, mini-vans and pickup trucks to stand in line at 7am. At 8am the doors would be thrown open by local teenagers. Teenagers that skipped school and smoked cigarettes. Teenagers that made out with each other under gym bleachers. Teenagers that knew enough to duck behind the doors and start throwing carts out in front of the crowd. This was the most intense moment of the week for these teenagers. If you didn’t count the make outs. Or the cigarettes. Mothers would charge through the doors and head for the bargain bins. They would swing their elbows in aggression. They would sneer at each other and sling phrases like “Watch it lady!” and “I’m gonna say a prayer for you this Sunday!” As they headed toward those bargain bins.
In these bargain bins were dented cans. Cans of food where the expiration was approaching a date that no right minded person would pay full price for. But half price? Three quarters of the price? That will get soccer moms swinging at each other. That will get them to tow their kids along as cart holders. Enlisting their offspring to stand behind them and play catch. Green beans. Chili. Cream corn. Catch em. Catch em all. The children would stand behind the onslaught and gather the value, throwing it in carts and hiding condescending chuckles from their mothers. These were the wives of union workers. These were the mothers of the tech school students. This was our PTA. This was stretching that paycheck for a family of five. This was balancing the check book.
As the food flew through the air enlisted offspring would keep glancing down. Keep checking for the discarded treasures that only bored youth would find the point of. A box would hit the floor and all the children would look away from their carts for a second, not long enough to miss a can of baked beans that expires next week, a dented can of mushroom soup, a jar of marshmallow fluff missing it’s label but long enough to pick up the box and hold it up in the air. And the children would smile. They would glance at this discarded treasure: chocolate covered locusts. On the other side of the isle a child holds up his arm: pickled pigs feet. And at the end of an isle a child jumps off the floor to reveal yet another treasure: jellied beef. And the children would gasp. They would hide their laughs as they quietly slid these treasures into the blue plastic shopping carts. Knowing full well that their mothers would pull these items out at the checkout and toss them back into the impulse section. Monkey toes next to the Bubblicious. Squirrel brains by the snickers. Le Whiff chocolate air hung up with the gummy bears.
And some would think: we’ve got to get out of here.