How do you spend your free time?
Well, tonight I perused the labels of multiple items. So many colors and words pasted onto plastic or paper. The massive amount of products at my local grocery store is intimidating, and yet walking the isles is somewhat calming to me after a long day at work. There are twenty kinds of honey, thirty kinds of milk, a dozen kinds of dozen eggs. Labels are key. Marketing is sneaky. Trust is impossible. Purchases are necessary. I like to try and find “Natural Flavors” in the list of ingredients of items because every single time I see those two words, I wonder what the hell a natural flavor is. My instinct is to stay away from anything that contains “Natural Flavors” in it. I think I watched a documentary about “Natural Flavors.” Something about addiction… And there really isn’t much that scares me more than addiction...dependence...insatiable desire.
Right...Do you socialize with other people?
Around every corner is an aisle of new items and new people. It’s a downtown grocery store, and everyone needs to buy toilet paper at some time or another. There’s Charmin and there’s Angel Soft. There are businessmen and there are bike messengers. There is a woman in red and a mom of three. I walked past all of these strangers. A few acknowledged me. A few were in their own worlds with their own people, their friends, their children, their lovers… I can’t help but wonder a hand full of random and/or inappropriate questions about all of them. How many and who has herpes in this aisle? Is the color green anyone else’s favorite color on this floor? Why is he buying so much fucking milk? Why does she look so sad? Why does he look so tired? Sometimes our paths are confused and he or she will say, “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me.” I never say those things. I usually laugh and say sorry or smile and just nod my head the direction I correct myself to-- “Pardon me” or “Excuse me” seems too formal to me. . . Even for a stranger. Strangers just don’t seem that strange to me. They don’t seem foreign. If anything, they’re familiar. They’re people. They’re social beings just interacting with one another in the best ways we know how. Grocery store etiquette is comfortable.
I like standing in front of the chilled yogurt aisle. The light is bright. It’s open and wide. People come and go. I’m not technically alone, but I’m also not obligated to talk or listen...but I’m there. No woman has to size me up. No man has to offer to buy me a drink. Instead, I feed off of the chance of a small gesture: a smile, eye contact, a nod. If it’s a lucky night, like it was tonight, sometimes I even get a full exchange of conversation. In this case, it was a man over to my right:
“If you’re looking for chocolate milk, this is the stuff.” He lifted a carton up and then put it in his basket.
“The stuff, huh?”
“Trust me. It tastes the best and is the healthiest.”
“Well, you’ve sold me. I’ll give it a try.”
“You won’t regret it.”
“I hope so. Thanks. Have a good night.”
I watched the Chocolate Milk Man walk away. I reached for the milk with a reputation for taste and turned it around until I saw the list of ingredients. Sure enough,”Natural Flavors” was there in blue print. What the hell is a natural flavor? I put the chocolate milk back, being sure that Chocolate Milk Man was not around to see me reject his precious choice of dairy.
I walked upstairs to the checkout line. I made it to the cashier with a couple of bananas, an apple, and some regular milk. The cashier kindly asked if I found everything I was looking for. I told him that I did. His name is Adam, so I used his name. I asked Adam how he was. His eyes brightened up for a moment when I used his name. When working in customer service/food industry, I still am woken up to some unexpected intimacy when someone uses my name. At work, I always forget that i’m wearing a name tag or am identified in some formal and professional way, so for the first few seconds it always feels like I’m in the beginning of some action film that would start with the classic "You are The Chosen One" scenario:
“Do you always shop for apples after work...Jade?”
“How...How do you know my name?”
“I know your name and everything else there is to know about you. We've been watching you for a long time. You have lived an ordinary life, but now it is time for you to learn who you really are!”
Adam kindly asks me if I’m using credit or debit, and I say credit before swiping my card, making an ordinary purchase in my ordinary life. I'm not The Chosen One today and neither is Adam. Have a good day, Adam said...Or something of the sort.
Okay. But...Do you get out much?
The automatic doors slid open and released me back into a winter that made me wonder when spring was coming. The nights have been warmer, but the evening walks aren’t as fun when I can’t see my breath when I exhale. Every now and then, I checked to see if the temperature might have changed and the ability to see my breath fog up into the air was possible once again. I probably look like an awkward blowfish walking the streets of Salt Lake City, but it’s something I happily risked in order to be sure that I wasn't missing out on my warm breath saying hello to the cold, and to me for that matter.
I like crossing streets. I feel like i’m in the spotlight for a few seconds, a model on her urban runway wearing what I like to call LIFE: Walking Home From Work wear, the new Winter/Spring craze. I enjoy staring through the windows of cars at intersections too. I stayed true to my vain self and wondered if anyone in the cars was wondering about me: Where is that girl off to all alone? Why does she have such a bouncy walk? Why isn’t she ever with anybody else? Why does she keep blowing out into the air like she’s trying to blow up an imaginary balloon?
The buildings downtown really give the night an edge. I love seeing them reach up towards the sky in a modern slate of Roark inspired heights or a shorter building playing with past eras by using columns and fancy crowned concrete corners. I saw a building spotted with lit offices. Who is still working? I wondered if the man sitting at that desk had a wife waiting for him at home. The last couple of blocks are filled with important buildings so I run into a lot of security guards at their stationed position. They sometimes nod their heads towards me as I walk by. This time, he didn’t. I think he was on his phone because his face was tilted down, lit up in a blue haze of light. Oh well. I liked them better when they were sitting inside their little posts because I couldn't see their guns. I never liked walking by them standing up, hand on their holster like some kind of imminent threat was just behind me...Or maybe they thought I was a potential threat. Who knows?
Wait. Okay. Walking. But...What do you do for fun then?
Well, I work, I buy apples, I walk, I wonder... Haven’t you been listening to me at all?