Grocery Noir

“Ask not what’s good for your country. Ask what’s good for lunch.” -Orson Welles

Moooommmmmm! Didn’t you go grocery shopping?” Our twins are rummaging in the kitchen with heads in the cabinets like our beagle sniffing out a lost dog treat under the sofa. It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon. “Boys, I just went yesterday! There should be plenty of food.” Not only had I just been to the store, but two days ago I had made cookies. I looked in the pantry and turned up rice and canned soup. The island cabinet revealed the cookie tin that made a promising sound but was in fact just a lone chocolate chip. I opened the freezer. “How about a tuna fish sandwich with….julienned green beans?” Twin One and Twin Two sighed. Suddenly I remembered putting some Smartfood behind the breakfast cereal. I barely pulled it from the cabinet before it was whisked from my victorious hands, briskly opened, dispersed into bowls and devoured by the young wolves that they are.
Two minutes later bowls are returned to the kitchen with: “Thanks, Mom. What’s for dinner?”

I feel exasperation paired with resignation, there goes the budget. It’s time to go grocery shopping…again. That night my husband suggests Costco. I cringe. “Sure” I say, “I could go to Costco, get into a game of chicken for a parking space with SUV’s the size of buses and purchase vats of food in a space bigger than an airplane hangar with no soul. Of course, assuming I could get the groceries into my little car and still see out the window, when I get home I will still need to find a cabinet for the 15 pound can of olive oil.” He says “We don’t need olive oil, why would you buy that?” “It’s part of the deal. When you go to Costco you must buy the big crazy olive oil. It’s like initiation or something. I don’t think they let you leave without it!”

He just looks at me.

I enjoy shopping close to home and being on a first name basis with some of the staff. I appreciate Sal who cuts the deli meat perfectly and Mike the manager who re-stocked the salmon burgers I like when they had stopped carrying them. I enjoy chatting with one of the check out ladies who acts in local stage productions. The store has coupons and sales and I take advantage of them, but there has to be a way to make my dollar stretch a little further without sacrificing the food quality or my soul. Is such a thing possible?

I must go to the only one that can help me: the local oracle, my hair stylist.

A couple of days later I am in for an appointment. She begins to work on my hair and I lay my problem at her competent feet. Not only has she raised three biological children but is now raising three young adopted children along with three international students. My food budget is in good hands. “Help!” I say. With my head tipped down she snips away and says she has the perfect solution: I need to go to the meat department and ask for the marked down selections. The ones that have a nearing sell-by date. I burst out laughing. “To save money I need to go ask the butcher for his old meat?” “It’s NOT old” she insists. “This is what you do: go to the market on Thursday mornings, EARLY. Go directly to the butcher and ask to see the specials. He will bring them out.” I’ve been grocery shopping for over 20 years and I had no idea there was a meat underground. I wonder if there is a secret handshake.

The next day is Thursday and I am preparing for my rendezvous in the Meat Department. I dress carefully wishing I had cigarette pants, stilettos, a trench coat and beret. I come to my senses and wear dark skinny jeans, black patent pumps, a little twill jacket and my hair spiked up. From my car I march confidently to the sliding grocery doors, reusable bags in tow. Grabbing a cart I make a beeline for the Meat Department. Will my request for “The Specials” be met with a wink, a nod and direct access to the freezer? “Take your pick, doll” they will say (we use no names) “The specials include our choicest meat selections. You will save money and have the best quality. You must tell no one.”

I smile to myself and pull my jacket collar up farther. I get to the meat counter and like the halibut displayed on ice, I freeze. I pull out my phone and text my hairstylist “I can’t do it! I’m here at the store but it’s too ridiculous, how do you do it?” A text comes in “I don’t, I have my Dad do it for me.” My fantasy of serving prime rib to my family for a few dollars a pound is just about to vanish when I look down and see a selection of pork chops. There is a big yellow label announcing “Original Price $17.51 Today: $8.75. Use or Freeze by 10/24.” In the blink of an eye I grab two packages. I did it. I’ve got the goods. As I am about to wheel my cart away the butcher comes out of the back to re-stock. He winks and smiles at me.

I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.