Girlfriendless at the Grocery Market

by

05/17/2005

Smith St & Sackett St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens

My girlfriend, with whom I live in Brooklyn, was going to be out of town for a few days. And so it happened that I found myself in a grocery store, alone, deliberating between the advantages of a Swanson Hungry Man fried chicken dinner and a Banquet Salisbury steak. Each came with corn and mashed potatoes, but only the Hungry Man promised one whole pound of food including a little slot of cranberry pie.

I got them both.

The solace of a TV dinner had already swept over me as I stood before the foggy glass doors of the frozen-food aisle. I could feel the bachelor awakening in my bones, pining for the moment when I’d be sitting at my coffee table with a steaming plastic tray of micro waved food, a fork in one hand, the remote in the other. The lonely guy had spent the last year in exile, but here he suddenly appeared at Met Food. He directed me to a pint of cookie dough ice cream, a box of Drake’s Devil Dogs, a box of Fruity Pebbles, a bag of cheese puffs, and a six-pack of beer.

At the checkout line, I felt transparent and a little ashamed.

A woman’s items in front of mine consisted of an array of produce and meats, grains, yogurts, and organic things: stuff my girlfriend would get, stuff that provided nourishment way beyond a night of cheap excess.

She slid the plastic divider between us.

At the next line, a mother and father negotiated with their child over a chocolate bar that he had taken while his parents were unloading their carriage. I immediately understood the boy’s whining: it was like the grumbling bachelor in me, not able to think past…tonight. I gazed down at my food and contemplated the sequence of consumption that would bring me maximum satisfaction. I decided whatever I did, it would be best to end with a cigarette.

These are the perks, the bachelor reminded me, of being alone.

And then the man in line behind me plopped down a towering pile of frozen Swanson dinners ranging from turkey to chicken to meatloaf to Angus steak. He had some hot “lean” pockets thrown in there, too. I looked up at him and noticed from the white color beneath his Adam’s apple that he was of the cloth. He was an eternal bachelor whose perks I tried to weigh in my mind. Perhaps he considered them little blessings? Did he watch the Prayer Channel while eating his frozen dinners?

“That’s quite a night you’ve got planned for yourself,” he said to me.

“That’s quite a few nights you’ve got planned for yourself there,” I said to Him.

He laughed. I could see the age of his face. He was in his early forties, though he seemed younger. I doubt he’d ever had a Devil Dog in his life. I paid for my things. The teenaged cashier gave me her usual stoic expression, handing the change to the air in front of her. I turned around and wished the man a good night. He returned a hearty God bless.

Back at home, I poked holes over the Salisbury steak dinner and then watched the tray spin for a while in the microwave. I flipped the TV channels as I waited for my food. The smell crept through the house like the spirit of the past. When I sat down to eat, I thought back to the first days of having my own apartment.

I was lonely, though I never admitted it to a soul. I filled the void with junk food and TV every night. I was doing okay. When I met my girlfriend, she was alarmed to learn that I didn’t have a working stove. I can boil water in the microwave, I told her. Why pay for a gas bill? She invited me to her apartment for dinner. In the hot kitchen, she handed me a wooden spoon and an oven mitt. I stirred spices into cooking rice and checked on the status of a broiling chicken with vegetables. We smiled a lot and sat down to a quiet, beautiful dinner.

I felt the bachelor slipping away with every bite.

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