[The scene: one of three checkout counters at Whole Earth, small organic fruit and vegetable store patronized mainly by Princeton “intelligentsia.” It also stocks some organic processed foods, dairy, and ecologically approved cleaning, toiletry and beauty products. In addition has “deli” section offering organic vegetarian take-out options. Temperature outside: 5 degrees F.]
She (crowding many items from her cart onto conveyer belt and addressing next person in line without seeing who it is): I‘m not a good person to get behind. (She is bundled up in heavy scarf, black down coat, lined gloves and boots, and therefore only visible from the chin up. However, she did have her uncovered hair cut and colored three days previously.)
He (for it is indeed a he): I see you’re eating healthy.
She (turning to look): Not so healthy. My husband goes kerflooey now and then. (She is referring to two tubs of Bent Spoon ice cream and several packages of crystallized ginger on conveyer. Also two 70% chocolate bars near box of Zen greens, organic grape tomatoes, lemons and Braeburn apples. Man behind her is person with completely shaved bald head and wearing only white tee shirt. No jacket, gloves or hat in sight. Slight belly. Wide-open baby blue eyes. White skin so smooth and unlined it might have been entirely Botoxed.)
He: We all have to do that now and then.
She (pushing empty cart forward): I guess.
He: Eating that way you’re going to live a long time.
She: (Why is boy at register so slow at ringing things up?) I’ve already lived a long time.
She (unwisely): I’m old enough to be your mother. I’m probably twice your age.
He (incredulous): You’re a hundred and two?
She (really looking at him now): Well, no. Not quite.
He (proudly): I’m fifty-one.
She: I’m closer to a hundred and two than to your age. (She pauses.) I’m eighty-three.
He (also pausing): I thought you were sixty. Or sixty-one.
(He must be pulling her leg. Well, maybe he isn’t. She is all bundled up. He can’t see what’s really what. She hopes she didn’t smile.)
He (continuing): How old did you think I was?
She (now fishing in wallet for credit card): Oh, somewhere in your late forties.
He (disappointed): Most people guess thirties.
She: I have sons in their mid-forties. Sorry, you don’t look younger than they do.
He (desperate?): I have thirty to thirty-five years of experience. How’s that?
She (signing machine and preparing to exit): Don’t brag.
He: But it’s true. [He pushes his seven cans of overpriced Wolfgang Puck vegetarian soup forward on conveyer.]
She: Doesn’t matter. Say nothing. (Good advice to self, she thinks.) Always keep ’em guessing.
[She exits. However, in the car she thinks it over. Just a weird crazy guy making small talk. But sixty? Sixty-one? She feels good all the way home.]
6 thoughts on “VALENTINE’S DAY CONVERSATION”
Love this, Nina! Need to listen more in line at the supermarket, instead of catching up on Esquire & People mag smut news! Christine
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My problem with reading People in line at the supermarket is that I don’t know who anyone in it is anymore. So why should I care about their baby bumps or cheatin’ hubbies? Much better to start chatting with Real People; you win some, you lose some — but that’s how it is with reading magazines free, too. 🙂
Nothing like a nice comment from a stranger to make your day!
I had to laugh at Whole Foods, though. I’ve been in one (not shopped in one–been in one) once. When strawberries were $6 a basket, it was April, and I and the store were in Southern California with strawberries being grown down the street, I walked out. My daughter’s boyfriend calls Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck.”
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It was Whole Earth, not Whole Foods (although I shop there too, about once a week). Whole Earth is not a chain, but a single store that’s been in Princeton for nearly forty years. It’s even more expensive than W.F., although after you’re 65 you get a 5% discount. But with respect to whether or not buying organic is important to you depends, I think, on where you are in life, and it’s probably like religion — not something intelligent people should argue about. But my position, briefly, is that a lot of toxins were sprayed on your cheaper strawberries down the street to keep the bugs off, and you can’t wash them off because they’re also in the soil and therefore all through the fruit. When you’re relatively young and your immune system is strong, that may not bother you, and didn’t bother me when I was your age. However, when you’re relatively old (as we are), and your immune system has been weakened by age and all the battles it’s been fighting in our urban toxic environments, you may not care to overburden it with what you put in your mouth, so that it cannot effectively fight the viruses which attack all of us all the time. I wrote a four-part series about this, beginning with a piece called Job’s Wife, last March or April, after having been felled by a horrible skin virus (viral exanthem) that attacks only very young children whose immune systems are not yet fully developed and the old, whose immune systems are winding down; I was out of commission and in misery for four weeks and after that resolved to be even more extremely careful about what we washed with, cleaned with, and ate. Yes, it costs more — although not a whole paycheck unless one’s not earning very much — but at this point in our lives it’s worth it to us. Who knows? Maybe all that organic eating was what made him think I was sixty- one!!!
I’ve noticed that young people have a harder time guessing the age of oldsters, and I have a harder time guessing the age of the young. I’ve seen policewomen who might have been schoolgirls dressed up for Purim… except that it wasn’t Purim. It might just be me, but I think it may be that the further we are from a certain age, the less we’re able to recognize the subtleties… no connection to you though, Nina. I’m sure you look somewhere between 61 and 64.
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Oh, Shimon! I’m blowing thank-you kisses over the Internet!