Grocery Land MAG

By Sarah J., So, NY

     I once thought working at Grocery Land would be romantic.

Somewherebetween the waxy, jewel-toned produce and the frosty, fantastical whimsy of theice cream department, I was certain I would meet my salvation. Years ofafter-school boredom had left me hungry. I was starving for something, anythingwith a purpose. For this reason, it was with the excitement of a suburbanhousewife that I watched the just-built plaza come alive with capitalism. Thenight the emerald sign was lit I felt as if my weary adolescent heart was finallybeing sealed with crazy glue.

Along with the rest of the lemming-liketeenagers in the area, I carefully filled out an application. My onlyqualifications were a clean permanent record and completion of grammar school. Iwas hired the next week.

People assured me my zest for the newly openedstore would rapidly fade. They were right. Within a month, the eggshell sheen ofthe cathedral-high aisles left me with a migraine. Elevator music floated into mybrain and mixed with the repetitive beeps of the scanner to create unbearablenausea. The aisle signs stalked me. Cans of "Ethnic Cuisine," namely, beans andvegetables, floated in and out of my dreams. The dairy case with its silverylining seemed an icy prison, the illusion broken only by the occasional plumes ofscented air from the bakery.

I was trapped. Caught between two worlds -one of fatiguing afternoons of nothing, the other in a city of plenty, color andmetallic carts - I took the easy way out: I sat right where I was, all the whileassuring myself that the degrading paychecks were worth the slowly intensifyingfeelings of hopelessness.

But it was at Grocery Land that I realized mydestiny. One day, while stocking the baking aisle with golden-hued canola oil, Irequested a break. I don't smoke, probably never will, but it was with thecourage of a plagiarizing college student that I notified my manager that theneed for nicotine was becoming too great. Strangely enough, she seemed almost,dare I say, sympathetic and allowed me five minutes. Surprised and relieved, Ibolted from the store and strode

toward the green bench that had become astrange solitary confinement for anyone bold enough to request the right torelax. There I huddled, the freezing night air assaulting my bare face and hands.

The sky, almost oppressive as it hovered over the mini-van-dominatedparking lot, gave way to snow. Almost imperceptible with the bright lightsoverhead, small dots of white became visible. Their faintness in the chill airwas disheartening, worsened still when the random dance ceased to an ebony halt.

I became aware of the automatic opening and shutting of the doors, andfelt as if every closing was a cruel attempt to crush my peace. I heard theshrill screaming of a little girl, her pleas for strawberry bubble gum almost asdesperate and pitiful as those of a starving child sobbing for food. I heard hermother silence her harshly in the tone that makes observers promise themselvesnever to have kids. "Hush up!" she barked, grabbing her daughter by the arm. Heractions were answered with a wail of pain.

Clutching my knees to mystomach, I waited for the silence to come again. I could feel the minutesslipping away, each one more painful and desirable. I wished I could sit on thatglacial bench forever, floating on some chilled untouchable sea of solitude. Ipictured the aisles in some masochistic attempt to jar myself from my sad,self-pitying state. There they were, lined with blood-red ketchup bottles,clone-like sodas, white Styrofoam overwhelmed by the grotesque crimson gleam ofground meat fighting plastic.

It was then that I realized that I wouldnever escape. No matter how far I ran, despite every jolt of determination tofall back from the shoreline of monotony, I would never be free. The samehorrific aisles would be there wherever I went. I could change departments,perhaps stroll down the flower-scented field of detergent instead of the breadaisle, but I would always be in that grocery store.

The days would dashby and I would still be on that mission, never abandoning my cart, never thinkingto run from the store. Perhaps, even one day, weary from the depression that camewith every turn round the over-stocked corners, I would start to enjoy thewax-polished linoleum or the ridiculous selection of toothpaste. This verythought made me feel quite ill. I swallowed.

With newfound energy, I stoodand straightened my apron. It was time to go back to work.

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