Having spent my entire adolescent life in the suburbs, I had become accustomed to certain grocery store hallmarks. Now that I'm in the city, I'm finding that many of these familiar elements displayed prices, legal citizens and tax, to name a few have been replaced with blaring ethnic soundtracks and a complex pricing-and-purchasing system. Rather than walking around and using marked prices to determine a total, you instead carry your products to the front and place them on the counter. There, the clerk will name an outlandish price. Then his associate previously invisible, cloaked inside the cigarette rack will manifest and begin to argue in a foreign language. This discussion will eventually result in a suitable price, adjusted for the perceived economic status of the purchaser. A tub of ice cream that costs me, say, $0.15, might cost a suited investment banker $217. It is, if nothing else, a convenient system.
So, plagued once again by late-afternoon hunger last week, I grabbed some cash and dashed across the street to the store. At the time I was wearing a Shakira world tour t-shirt and brown "Wyoming Cowboys" mesh shorts, which is my standard business attire for a transaction of such relative magnitude. Since the shorts have no pockets, I was holding my money in a fist. Since I have no money, it was a handful of small change. That I could even spare a few bucks in loose change was indicative of a lucrative work week typically I work on a "'shoestring budget' and try to pay for things with discarded shoelaces. That night, as a reward for my hard work, I set out to the store to spoil myself with "'dinner.'
Torn as I am between healthy eating and extreme culinary abortion my "it averages out" nutritional plan my meals fluctuate wildly on a night-to-night basis. On this particularly evening I happened to be on a health kick and headed out in pursuit of some orange juice. I grabbed a big carton and some pretzels, noting their location so I could quickly put them back. Then I walked to the counter and presented them to the clerk for pricing. "Your rent," he quoted, which is a general term for any amount of money that I can't pay. Undeterred, I headed back to downgrade my juice.
This routine continued for a few more rounds as I tried to combine the most cost-effective, yet hunger-and-thirst quenching combination of juice and pretzels. After running through every possible variety of orange juice, I finally assembled a duo that seemed as if it should fall in my price range. With a final deep breath I embarked for the front of the shop, prepping myself for the inevitable showdown. The clerk was armed with his arbitrary pricing and argumentative associate. I wielded only a handful of change and an assortment of inane, compassion-eliciting facial expressions. It would be an epic melee.
He drew first blood by inquiring if I had everything I wanted. I responded by scanning the store with a vacant look; then doubled the attack by staring longingly at my juice. My nemesis watched me skeptically. He began to speak. I cut him off with a prolonged sigh. A price was quoted that far exceeded the change in my hand; I countered by feigning approval and started to count my coins. Then I counted again while awkwardly shifting the juice and pretzels in the nooks of my elbows. My nervous laugh met his bitter glare. I puffed out my cheeks and counted a third time, looked around, exhaled loudly and absent-mindedly counted a forth time. As the fifth count neared commencement, I contemplated dropping the change all over the ground and spending a few moments gathering it. Fortunately, the enemy relented first.
"How much?" he muttered, pointing at my cupped-palm fountain of wealth. "Three bucks and change," I replied. He scowled. "Yes, give." At that point, I imagine that I would've gotten a similar reaction had I rooted through a handful of lint and crickets. But I didn't dwell on that. Nor did I dwell on just how much food I could've purchased back home with that kind of money. I just paid the man and walked home, content that I had orange juice and pretzels to maw on for dinner.
And that I still had my shoelaces for lunch.