Read Your Labels


I guess I just have one of those faces. Complete strangers share the most incredible things with me, without any encouragement on my part. Honest. This ‘gift’ has been with me most of my adult life. On certain occasions, often due to my job at the time, it happened with more frequency. Like in the late 80s when I was the proprietor of a toy shop in one of the eight rooms of the Victorian house we were living in. Once a woman walked in, looking for a doll for her ten-year old daughter. She purchased a fairly costly European beauty, then proceeded, without fanfare, to tell me the story of an illicit affair she’d been carrying on for months with her husband’s co-worker. She had never been in the store before, nor did she ever return.

For a while, in my early forties, I fantasized about going for a Master’s in social work. I thought it might be fun to spend my golden years as a therapist. I could convert the front porch into my office. I would hang a shingle outside.  Then I’d sit back and finally make a little money listening to people share all those dark secrets they so loved to dump on me for free. After some honest consideration, it didn’t seem worth the bother. Besides, then I’d be expected to tell them something to make it all better. I couldn’t bear the onus of that–not for any money.

So in this story I am in my mid-forties, probably just before I’ve met my spouse David. It’s a Sunday afternoon–my grocery shopping ritual. There is this little neighborhood supermarket I frequent, because there are fewer people, and it’s easier to maneuver. They carry almost all the things found in one of their larger stores–except they only have a few of everything.

Only recently I have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, so I am manic about sodium. Maneuvering one of my once-favorite aisles, Snack Foods–I become guilt-ridden. As I push my cart past potato chips and other verboten crispies, it’s like I have entered the bowels of a salt mine. I already know which brand of tortilla chips has the least amount of sodium. The bag already sits in my cart in that place where others lovingly tuck their toddlers. What I’m shopping for now is a good salsa to dredge them in. I pick up jar after jar to read the fine print, attempting to choose something that can please both me and my primary care physician.

Lost in the solitude of my research, a voice from the other side of the aisle, about four or five shopping cart lengths away causes me to look up.

“If my husband read the labels like you’re doing, I wouldn’t be here today pushing my own shopping cart!”

I smile, realizing this stranger is addressing me in her roundabout way. Not knowing how to answer this incredible opening line, I sort of nod and fake-giggle, in a forced acknowledgement that she is eavesdropping on my private grocery shopping. I hope she will take the hint. My eyes return to the jar in my hand.

“You certainly can’t be dieting. There isn’t an ounce of fat on you anywhere!”

“I’ve got high blood pressure,” and as the words drop out of my mouth, I want to kick myself for sharing that with this supermarket yenta. So taking it as a cue, she pushes her cart right over to me.

Suddenly she turns down the volume to an almost whisper, “Are you taking medication?”

[“I don’t want to talk to you, lady–let alone share my medical history”] is what I want to say–to scream at this nosy old bag, but of course I’ve been taught to be polite, even to a vulgarian. “Yes, I do.”

“Is it a diuretic?”

Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph, this broad has no boundaries. “I’m not really certain.” I hope this will suffice–and serve to shut her the hell up.

“A diuretic is a pill that makes you pee.” She edges her cart even closer. “My husband took them. Well, was supposed to take them.” Her entire body shrugs as she audibly sighs. “He wasn’t careful. Not a bit. So we lost him.” I thought, if she starts crying, I’m leaving the cart right here and bolting for the door.

She leans into my cart in order to see better. “So what else have you got here?”

[“Don’t you dare touch my food, you snooping bitch”] I think to myself real loudly. I am muted by the enormous pair of balls she is obviously toting under her unstylish skirt.

“Do you help with the cooking too? Or does your wife do it all?” She drops this gem coyly, like a snake.

I do not want to tell her there is no wife. I am so queer, I just assume even the blind can detect it. She is either far more naive than she is subtle, or she is so dense, she’s actually trying to pick me up. Words fail me. No matter how I choose to answer, she has won.

“There is no wife. I live alone.” So I wait in momentary silence. But only for a moment.

“Uggghhh! What a crime! I tell my daughter there are men like you out there.  All she meets are jerks. I want grandchildren to comfort me in my golden years. I should only live long enough”.

I feel I’ve got one last chance to rid myself of her–this vampire yenta who’s gotten ahold of me by the throat, and won’t let go till the last drop of blood is sucked from my carcass. “I hate kids,” I spit out like poison.

She looks at my face, waiting to see if I’m joking. “They’re not always what you hoped for,” she concedes. “So you shop here every Sunday, do you? Maybe next week I’ll have my daughter drive me.”

“Yeah, every Sunday afternoon around this time.” We parted after exchanging goodbye niceties. And from that day on, Saturday afternoons became my grocery shopping day. I never learned her name, but whoever she was, I was certain I had won. She would never shop on the Sabbath.








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