I’ve been doing the grocery shopping at my place for awhile now. It is an arrangement that came about when ‘the management’ (as I sometimes call her) grew weary of me carping about the monthly food bill. I took her’ double-dog dare’ to”… see if you can do any better, Buster”. Of course, the way these kind of things almost always go, I couldn’t do better. But I did learn a few things…
Roger’s Fine Foods (not it’s real name) is one of those bigger box national grocery stores located in close proximity to Atlanta’s Little Five Points area. Roger’s prices were as good as anybody’s, the management told me, and the store staff –at least most of them –were pleasant enough folks. On my first trip after the ‘double dog throw down’, I learn that Roger’s prices aren’t bad at all. I also learn that he plays Motown and other music from back in the day on the overhead sound system.
It’s my theory that modern merchandiser’s don’t do anything without scientific reason to get you to spend more money. Their strategy of playing David Ruffin, The Temptations, Smokey, Aretha et al while I shop is one that has worked—on me at least. Thus, I have, over a couple of years, become one of Roger’s Regulars… more or less anyway. Maybe Roger has discovered that Aretha’s version of ‘The Tracks of My Tears” causes shopping endorphins to release into the bloodstream of American male Baby Boomers. Who knows for absolute sure, but I’m sure there is a reason for the supermarket chain playing the music.
A couple of days back, I’ go up to Roger’s to pick up a few items. Outside, it’s one of those squirrel-ly winter weather days. It is almost inexplicably hot for December. On the inside, I’m not there more than five minutes and I’m halfway down aisle two, when I notice something has changed. This week’s iteration of ROGER’S LOW, LOW prices as is claimed in all of the in-store advertising are higher –significantly higher –than last week’s LOW, LOW prices. Chicken, Beef, and Ground Chuck have all pushed their way up the price ladder, cooking oil too. This is not a one item occurrence, but a definite trend over the eight or so products on my list.
Disgusted at the price of peanut oil and as a matter of principle I put it back where I found it. I figure baking inside the oven is more healthy anyway. “What the hell is Roger thinking? My income hasn’t gone up one whit in the last week. I conclude that he– or whomever sets the prices– must have been either mad or drunk when he put this week’s price labels on the merchandise.
At the express checkout lane, I hand over to the cashier- lady my Roger’s Regular Official Senior Discount Card and a $50 bill to cover what amounts to a half-full recyclable grocery bag. She gives me $1.87 in change, tells me to have a nice day and lastly says “Come Again.” I also detect an expression on her face that says “Don’t blame me for the prices. I have to do what Roger tells me to do; I need this job.” As I take my leave, half-full recyclable bag in hand and head towards the packed parking lot under lead gray skies, David Ruffin and the rest of the Temptations are singing ‘Ain’t to Proud to Beg’ on the sound system. I briefly reflect on the song, the surprise prices I’ve just paid and mutter to both myself and to the late Mr. Ruffin, “Dave baby, I may soon have to beg too if food prices go any higher.”
Now, in these crazy days, I try to always be aware of my surroundings. You never know when some urban terrorist, a malevolent Salvation Army bell-ringer, or a woman brandishing The Watchtower will be upon thee. Nevertheless and maybe I’m a little distracted, still fuming to myself about the rise in food prices and all, because suddenly, a disheveled individual in need a good delousing staggers right in front of me, blocking my path. Frankly, I couldn’t tell if he was what we used call a drug “junkie” or just someone who my Aunt Rose said was the “bad to drink” type. He was definitely someone who acted —and smelled— at least half-high though. He holds out his hand and asks if I’ve “…got any spare change?”
I don’t know if I’m feeling generous, sympathetic or am in just one of those ‘What the hell’ cynical moods. (I am capable of all three, sometimes all at once ) but I am inclined to give him a donation. But before I release my ‘spare change’ —and I don’t know where this next thing came from— but I hear myself say to him “You’re not going to use this money for drugs or booze are you?” I make my query/admonition with the fervor of an Old Testament preacher and in the same spirit as one of those Watchtower ladies. His response, one that I can’t soon forget was down-to-earth and full-throated. He points to the store’s orange neon sign flashing LOW PRICES against the background of a lead gray, overcast sky and says “Mistuh, I’ll be honest witcha, I’m going to put whut you gimme wit whut I ahready got and buy me a bottle. I seen da prices inside Roger’s, da prices at dat liquor store down da street, an it sho is a lot cheaper to get high dan it is to eat! When I drunk I don’t even think ’bout eat’in anyways.”
I was stunned at his candor but appreciated the honesty. I laugh quietly and conclude that this drunk or junkie has just given me a quick lesson in junkie economics and confirmed my own suspicions about the state of things in general, especially when it comes to the prices of things that satisfy cravings. I release the $1.87 into his hand.
As I move toward the car, I look back and see him half-stagger-half-walk in the direction of the liquor store about a block away. I wonder if he now has enough money to take his half-high to the next level – i.e. getting fully “lit.”
I watch him a few seconds longer and wonder if the liquor store plays Motown music. I then proceed home to tell the management, the woman who actually runs the place, what I’ve learned: the junkie version of the Dismal Science, how that damn Roger ambushed me and the mystery of why some folks are ‘bad to drink’.