Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I remember grocery stores, but the one I remember plainly was the local joint – the place where the butchers knew our names and how my mom liked her ground beef.  Jim’s Market was around the corner.  The floor was a worn-out linoleum, the type with flecks of brown and gold in it, giving the illusion of both grandeur and grime simultaneously.

There were two doors.  One put you immediately in eyes view of glass-encased slabs of red meat, the pale and jaundiced skin of chickens, and the bread aisle.  The other was where the check out counters were; close to the nook where I would buy all of my Jolly Ranchers and Big League Chew.  Although there was never an indication which door you were supposed to enter through, we always went in through the meat way.

All of the employees were ruddy faced, manly men.  If they weren’t stuck living on the outskirts of LA County, I would imagine they would be working a farm somewhere.  They were all like the two field hands in the beginning of The Wizard of Oz before they turned into a cowardly lion and a tin man.  The uniform was always a punchy red shirt with “Jim’s” stitched above the breast.  The butchers wore baseball caps and white smocks covered in dried crimson smears of blood.

I was too young to do much else but wander the store, pondering how I could convince my mother to buy a rectangular blue box of Chips Ahoy cookies.  My mom took care of the big things like asking for some poundage of black forest ham for my lunch and buying cold containers of Haagen-Dazs Coffee Ice Cream for dessert.

My favorite place in the small building was the fruit and vegetable wall towards the back, across from a poster of Elvira back when she used to be the face of Bud Light or something like that.  Her breasts and squid ink hair always terrified me.  She was pale and buxom; I was kid-in-the-sun colored and blonde.  I wondered why she wanted every day to be Halloween.  I liked Halloween just fine, but every day?

The produce was stacked on top of each other.  Heavy things were always within my reach.  Heads of lettuce.  Red apples.  I could never get at the green onions or the Bartlett pears.  Everything was always covered in a fine mist released from some delicate hoses somewhere under the metal grid I used to run my nails over compulsively.

Check out time came soon enough.  My mom paid in cash or with credit we had amassed with Jim’s for some landscape work she did at the entrance, planting lavender and some other drought resistant plants by the two doors.  It was the early 90s and my family still utilized the barter system.

Eventually we stopped going to Jim’s, largely because Trader Joes had come into existence and was markedly cheaper.  TJ’s also carried a variety of cookies, all of which I enjoyed thoroughly.  It was located in the corner of a shopping mall and we had to battle with people wanting to buy new khakis from the Gap for parking spaces.  I never knew anyone’s name that worked there, and I sense that my presence came and went wholly unnoticed.  I had begun my emersion into the anonymity of the future, distancing myself from a more intimate past.


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