Friday, March 16, 2007

Harris Teeter Stole My Virginity: Revisited.

During my last year of college at UNC-Greensboro the English Department was kind enough to wave my credits for English 101, which I had taken at Emory and Henry amidst the lunacy of a wildly uneventful Spring of 2000. As a senior, and an English major, taking a Freshmen (I'm sorry, "First-Year's") writing class was not something I was particularly thrilled about. What I found however--aside from sitting next to 18 year-olds with pictures of their proms lovingly placed behind the clear plastic of their three-ring binders--was that the class wasn't a total waste of time. While I did little-to-nothing throughout the semester I did manage to write some blunderingly awkward essays either very late at night the day before they were due, or in the morning before heading out for a day's classes. I recently stumbled across one that is by no means good, but for some reason I felt was worth posting. If I remember correctly we were asked to write a personal essay on a life-changing event that had happened in our lives (you can imagine the "The Day My Dog Pro Walked Into a Moving Pontiac Aztec" type essays that were produced). What follows is what I wrote.

Enjoy. I think. Whatever.

Harris Teeter Stole My Virginity

Under brutal fluorescent lighting I could see it all neatly laid out before me--my past, my present, my future--all horrifically patterned in cleverly blocked gray, white, and brown linoleum tiles and strategically placed food items; the regulars coyly eyeing me in between placing boxes, jars, and plastic sealed produce into their shopping carts. Their judgments and thoughts palpable to my mind: "He's not one of us now, but he will be soon," "Look at what's in his cart, definitely his first time in here alone," "Oh my, two for one on Hungry man dinners." Yes, this was the beginning of the end, there's no turning back, no hope left, it has begun . . . I'm doing my own grocery shopping for the first time. My youthful innocence is now perverted, molested; my violator is not a shifty, mustached, van driving man. No, my corruptor is a much more fickle and elusive gentleman-suitor named Harris Teeter.

I remember hearing or reading somewhere that competing food companies covet and jockey for specific locations on the grocery aisles. I don't remember where exactly, the beginning or end of the aisle, which end would even be considered which anyway, it's all relative to where you are in the store really. Having your product placed at eye level is obviously an advantage isn't it? Or maybe having your product lower for the children that are clutching their parent's legs, so it's there, glaring in their little faces. The scene that unfolds when this happens is both horrific and beautiful--the initial request and appeal to the mother or father, the denial from said parent, the boiling up and over of tears, the redness of the face, the screaming, stomping, the parent's cursory glance from side to side to see how many people are watching, then conceding to avoid a scene. Children really have honed an art, and they practice it every day in stores across the world. I continue meandering up and down aisles. Where did I read that Nabisco, Kellogg's, and Frito-Lay stealthily product place items where my untrained, uncultured, and thoroughly impressionable mind will unknowingly pick up the bag of oven toasted, air-crisped chips? The thought of my subconscious toiling away, guiding me through the store frightened me to no end, "You need the Pregu Old World spaghetti sauce. There's a picture of a gondola adorning the label. Tedd, get the Kraft cheese, not the generic brand; sure you only need one box of Pop-Tarts for the week, but two for that price? Envision it, you'll come in from playing pick-up basketball with your friends, they'll scour your fridge for hydration, they'll say 'Sunny-D!! Your mom's the greatest!' Then you can casually yet arrogantly tell them, 'No guys, that was me, I did that.'" The truth is I've never played a game of pick-up basketball in my life, but there the Sunny Delight sat in my cart, its orange container clashing with the light blue hue of the Rice Crispy Squares box. There's no rest for the weary tonight. This is the twilight of my youth.
I approach the pharmacy.

This section of the store can't contain anything but practical items people of all ages, races, and creeds need--certainly it will offer a brief repose before heading back out to face the theft of my young exuberance aisle by aisle, one item at a time. I stop in front of the vitamin display. "You know maybe it is time to start thinking about that kind of thing," I tell myself, "I mean shit, I don't eat right at all, I smoke, I know I read that smokers need to replenish their vitamin C more often than non-smokers, and hell, meeting that daily iron requirement can't hurt either." I drop the Centrum multivitamin supplement into my cart. Oh god what have I done?! Vitamins. Did I really just do that? Sure enough, there they sit, nestled between the Chips Ahoy and Quaker Oatmeal. It is here, standing next to the vitamins and dietary supplements that this all too poignant scene in my shopping cart taunts me, calls me names, makes lewd gestures, and then walks off with my Mom under its arm. Vitamins. The buzzing of the muzak triggers something in me, my mind gets carried off by the bland rendering of Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay."
I can see myself dawning the suit for work, my carpool buddies from the office honking the horn in my driveway, the thick smell of far too strong coffee cascading out of their fashionable silver travel mugs and thermoses. I grab the briefcase my wife gave me for my birthday last month, kiss the Misses and say goodbye. I leave out the side door through the garage because last week I caught my blazer on that tricky screen door on the front porch and had to go and quickly change my whole attire, what an embarrassing debacle that was. I put my briefcase in the trunk that has been opened for me and close it strongly and firmly with the authority that is entirely unique to the elite and young business class. Yes, indeed when I get home from work I'll head to the old Harris Teeter, but this time I'll have a list in hand! Oh yes, don’t want to forget those tampons for the wife, or my Centrum multivitamins. Christ, can't have that happen again. The muzak fades as the song ends. I put the multivitamins back and decide to buy the chewable version. This is certainly an act of grand defiance none can ignore. The Zapatistas have nothing on me, after a hard day of guerilla fighting I bet they come home to their swallow-only vitamins. I pity you "revolutionaries" searching for a glass of water to ingest these pink capsules of conformity. I really do.

My work now done in the pharmacy I press forward, past the frozen entrees, past the ice cream, grabbing items purely on impulse in an attempt to display my angst towards the whole system: string cheese; Top Ramen, and plenty of it; Doritos, the ones that make your breath smell horrendous and leave your fingers gently residued; and in my final defiant act, Cookie Crisp cereal. I make my way to the checkout lane with the shortest line and make wait next to the "Weekly World News," "National Inquirer," and various other women's publications that have so much airbrushing done to the model on the cover that you have to smile and force yourself to look away. As I look over the candy and adamantly stand opposed to Harris Teeter's final attempt at selling me something, whether it be batteries or razors, I can't help but think about what would happen if I were run over in the parking lot pushing my bagged purchases to my car--a real hit and run. No, the driver of the Escalade would not stop for me. My cart and all its contents would be strewn throughout the parking lot. I wonder what the police officials, EMTs, and Harris Teeter management would say when they gather around me; they would all be there at the scene. There I would lie, dead, mangled, possibly horribly disfigured, and they would not be able to help but piece together what kind of person I had been solely on the items I had just purchased. The Sunny Delight, Cookie Crisp, Chips Ahoy, 2% mile, the Ramen noodles, Mama Celeste frozen pizzas (three for two dollars). And just off to the side somewhere, lying under a package of string cheese growing mushier by the second against the heat of the asphalt, would be the chewable vitamins catching all the officials and gawking eyewitnesses off guard. I would be carted off to the morgue, but what of the groceries? Would they merely be thrown away? Maybe pilfered by some other shopper on their way out. Or would a cart boy be forced to collect what was salvageable and reshelf them all, recycled and resold to the next young consumer full ideals, dreams, and ambition? 

"Paper or plastic, sir?" the portly man at the register asks me.

I think for a moment: "Paper or plastic, plastic or paper?" Which one is worse for the environment? I'll show them, when they come to scrap my carcass, the shell of what I once was, off the parking lot they'll see my last display of reckless abandon and vigor. They will all shake their heads in disgust at the plastic or the paper, whichever is in fact worse for the environment, and ask, "Why?" My arrogance will shine through after my death, will boldly an un-reluctantly give them the middle finger.

"Sir, what is it going to be?" the clerk asks again.

"Plastic," I say without remorse, without hesitance, not looking the man in the eye in order to effectively convey my apathy.

"And would you like to apply for VIC card?" he asks. I pause for a moment. "Yeah, I would," I say. I know that I will be back next week.


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