Every time I go to my grocery store, Caraluzzi’s, I feel like I’m in a Stephen King novel. It’s 1973. It could be any suburb in the US, but for some reason it feels likes Maine. A sleepy suburban town in Maine. Blue-haired old ladies puttering along behind their shopping carts, bearded giants working at the butcher’s counter, stoned high school students ringing up the purchases. The Piano Man playing faintly over everything.
And me. A normal guy, early 30’s, with 2 small boys riding in the front of the cart. About to be murdered at any moment by some psychotic fictional character. Because I definitely do not belong at my grocery store. I am young, edgy, fun, successful. My whole life is ahead of me. I don’t belong in this time warp.
I’ve been going to the grocery store a lot lately, stocking up every Sunday afternoon. Even though our household chore separation has Greta doing the food stuff, she’s been on bedrest for months and my mother-in-law has gone home. So I stepped up to the plate. And I was just starting to get comfortable with the place.
For example, I was starting to get to know where things are. Bread is over by the milk. Bagels and hard rolls are in produce. Yogurt-covered cranberries are near the paper towels.
I was even starting to humanize the crazy cast of characters who work there. For example, the deli guy with the crazy eye and the overly pleasant greetings. I no longer think he’s going to murder me in a meat slicer. He’s just trying to make a little money for the summer. And he thinks I’m an adult who likes to hear people say things like “have a nice evening, Sir.”
He doesn’t have enough life experience to know what my Sunday nights are like. He goes home on Sunday nights and roasts a bone and watches HBO. He doesn’t have to unpack his groceries, load his dishwasher, fight with his kids until they go upstairs, fight with them again until they get into the bath, force them into pajamas, read stories, tuck them in, sing songs, tuck them in again, and on and on until you’re ready to shotgun 3 beers, but can’t, because it’s a school night. He doesn’t wake up at 5am to begin a 2 hour commute to his job.
So he has no idea that when he says “have a nice evening, sir,” all I hear is “Fuck you, you miserable old man who’s not actually that old.”
This is getting a little off track…where was I? Right, Caraluzzi’s as a scene from a horror novel, a scene I was nonetheless starting to adjust to.
There are things I liked about Caraluzzi’s. No cardboard cutouts of NFL players hawking the latest Tostitos salsa. No giant sale signs promising discounts on everything. The products are just where they’re supposed to be. Shelves, products, shelves, products. Everyday low prices and no frills.
Not that it’s low quality. Quite the opposite. It’s high quality, just as you would expect from a family-owned place. Tons of private label homemade stuff. Homemade prepared food, an enormous selection of spices, even a freaking sushi bar complete with an authentic sushi man from Japan. And all priced well below the competition in Wilton Center: the chain store Stop & Shop or the local overpriced boutique Village Market.
So I was starting to develop a natural equilibrium with my surrounding environment, and coming to terms with the fact that this is my life. I go grocery shopping. I buy food for my family for the week. So what if I’m at least 15 years older than all the workers and at least 15 years younger than all the shoppers?
Yesterday’s trip changed everything. I became so uncomfortable that I almost had to leave the store.
I had left the kids at home. Big mistake. A father shopping with his kids is adorable and attracts all the right kinds of attention. I talk to them about things, I discipline them gently, I overcome my natural shyness by showing everyone how great of a parent I am. Now I didn’t have that crutch.
So when I walked in and saw that the huge new renovation had been completed, I had no one to share my surprise with. I snapped a picture, obviously, and sent it to my wife and my mother-in-law, but I felt guilty the whole time because it felt like I was breaking the rules somehow. I couldn’t put on my little kid voice and say something like “Look Jack, Daddy is going to take a picture to send to Mommy. She’s on bedrest and will be interested to see the new produce section!” No, I had to just start taking pictures of people doing their grocery shopping. I felt like the weird guy.
May as well show you the picture. Here’s the view from when you walk in. The part to the right is all new.
Caraluzzi’s now extends right through the wall where the old Yankee Doodle Stove Company used to be. There are huge modern aisles in the fruit & vegetable section. It all looks so plush and green and refreshing. The deli counter moved, the sushi bar moved, and now there’s a roped off, uncompleted zone right in the middle of the store, where eventually a cafe will go. A cafe, right in the middle of a grocery store.
There’s even an entire shelf of gourmet home-cooked meals, labeled with simple instructions for preparing an easy dinner after a long day at work.
My jaw was dropped open for a good 5 minutes as I took it all in. I tried to start shopping but I couldn’t find anything. It was all mixed up. People started to stare at me like I didn’t belong. What is that guy doing in a grocery store on a Sunday? Either he has a family that he purposely left at home with his poor wife, or he’s a weird single pedophile dude out to harm my children.
I couldn’t find a thing. They moved everything. I try to be extremely efficient with my trips to the grocery store, organizing the list by category and hitting each aisle once and only once, but that proved impossible. I was too embarrassed, standing there paralyzed in the center of the produce section, holding an iPad, trying to figure out which item was closest to my current location.
All the other shoppers were watching me, wondering what I was doing, judging me, wishing I would go away.
My mind raced frantically. Where are the fucking prunes? They’re not with the fruit, that much is clear. But maybe there’s some new organic section with weird stuff like prunes, and I had overlooked it. And why the fuck are prunes on the shopping list in the first place??
I couldn’t stand there forever just scanning the produce section – the other shoppers might report me and then some eager manager would come over and ask me if everything was ok. And I couldn’t keep blocking traffic by standing at the end of each aisle, squinting hopelessly as I tried to make out whether any prunes or things in the prune family were likely to be at the other end.
So I just started making beelines to the next item on the list, wherever it happened to be in the store. Just started putting things in the cart, figuring the list will get shorter and then focus would come and I could be more strategic. Once I got all the items I knew about, I could go to the counter and ask about where to find the hard ones.
This plan backfired dramatically as I kept passing the same people, people doing the normal thing of going up and down each aisle making their way leisurely through the store, as I ran back and forth from one end to the other, hurriedly shoving things in the cart and checking them off the iPad list.
And then some Beach Boys song came on and I’d have to switch over to Evernote on the iPad, to jot down the song so I would remember, so that people wouldn’t think I just made up these weird not-quite-oldies music that they play in the grocery store. I’m typing, taking pictures, and running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. Oh, what people must have thought.
They have got to fix that music. A friend once told me that people like the music they listened to when they were 18. Except for true young-at-hearters, most people’s musical tastes freeze during their senior year of high school, and they never move on. True for me, as my playlist is still filled with Pearl Jam, Outkast, Radiohead, Sublime and Violent Femmes.
SO WHY AM I LISTENING TO GLORIA ESTEFAN??? Turn The Beat Around! I Like To Hear Her Passion! Turn The Beat Around! Fucking kill me.
No doubt someone was 18 when this song came out. No doubt someone listened to this song in high school, in the back of their friend’s car, while smoking a joint and heading to a party. But that person is now 58 years old. That’s who they’re targeting. People who are 58 years old.
I wonder if that’s the median age in Wilton, CT. Or if I’m shopping on the wrong day. Or if the other stores have better music or younger people or whatever. And how will the old people feel about all the changes? If I could barely handle it, they must be having heart attacks in aisle 9. They should keep an ambulance on standby in the parking lot, like they do at football games.
Maybe the blue hairs will start going to a different store, like Ancona’s. And then maybe all the young people that live in Wilton will start flocking to Caraluzzi’s. All the normal people. You know, people like me.