It was Saturday and the customers were wall to wall. A woman around my mom’s age tapped me on the shoulder for help. A deep line was carved between her furrowed brows.
“Excuse me, I need shrimp for my dinner party menu. I don’t see it here.”
I thought back to a memo posted near the office.
"Oh, yeah I’m sorry,” I said nicely. “We don’t have any shrimp right now after the whole Gulf disaster . . .”
She looked down at her shopping list and back up at me blankly, frowning and shaking her head rapidly in expectation.
I continued to explain, “…Well there's a low supply because we source a lot of shrimp from where the oil spill was..."
She snapped at me. "What do you mean? You just don't have any shrimp? I bought some here a couple of weeks ago."
Shoppers weaved and bumped around her to reach for vacuum sealed frozen fillets.
"Right, because the region that the shrimp are caught is contaminated with oil… from the oil spill.” I kept smiling.
She became more impatient. “You can’t tell me that there’s no shrimp anywhere.”
“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but we operate a little differently than a normal grocery store. The demand for shrimp has gone up and if we buy it, we have to charge you more. Maybe you could try Stop and Shop or Whole Foods?"
She shoved her list in her coat pocket and leaned on her cart. "Ok, well I have everything in my cart here for a shrimp recipe so that’s very inconvenient... Thanks for your non-help.”
What was a major environmental disaster to her, anyway?
A girl about my age walked up and asked me what kind of Chardonnay I liked. I could barely hear her over the bells ringing from a couple of registers near us, plus the speaker on the wall above her head and the ear splitting cry of a toddler.
“Oh, well… I’m new, so do you mind if I pass you off to someone else?”
She followed me around the corner to a fortress of Charles Shaw boxes. And there he was. Oh, god. I forgot all about him. Luke was cutting the tops off of Shaw boxes and loading the shelf. He didn’t see us standing behind him.
“Uh, excuse me?” The girl pushed her cart up next to me. “She wants to find a good Chardonnay.”
The girl followed him and I stayed behind, watching him ask a couple of diagnostic questions: “Are you eating anything with it? Do you prefer dry or sweet?”
Luke glanced at me a couple of times as he helped her. I felt my stomach wretch. I had a crush on Luke for a few years already. He was my cashier many times when I was just a customer. I thought he was the most handsome stranger around town. Tall and lean, he had short light brown hair, a really nice smile, and glittering blue eyes. His features seemed Northern European or maybe Scottish. Going through Luke’s line was an added bonus to my grocery trips. Sometimes it was the reason I ate better.
Oh, you know, I think I’ll bike to Coolidge Corner for some broccoli to stir into my mac and cheese.
But you can just walk to Stop and Shop or Super 88, one of my roommates would say with a confused look.
IT HAS TO BE COOLIDGE CORNER! I would snap.
Happening upon Luke again threw me for a loop. While I watched him help that girl, I realized that he probably wasn’t as big of a deal as I had thought. He had bad posture and needed a haircut. I didn’t plan to date anyone at work. There were plenty of cute customers, anyway. He sent the girl away with a couple of bottles of wine and walked over to me with a big grin. We made the standard introduction.
“How long have you worked here?” I asked. (At least three years, I thought.)
“Oh, god. I don’t like to think about that. Three years?”
“Are you a student?” he asked, as he started to load bottles onto the Shaw shelf again.
“I just graduated from the painting program at BU.”
“What do you do… with your life?” I asked awkwardly. We both laughed.
“Oh, um besides dick around here? I’ve got a band called Casual Sex with another guy that works here. Have you met Wes?”
I was impressed. He was so friendly. I was curious to hear his music. And if I didn’t like it, any remnant of my crush would die.
In the first hour of my last shift of six, I was stopped by a tall, skinny, middle-aged man with really bad breath.
“Excuse me, but you don’t have any blueberry.”
I had to think about what he was trying to communicate. Is that a question or a statement? Blueberry what? We were standing in front of Box. He meant yogurt. I visually scanned the shelf to make sure he was correct.
“That’s where I looked,” he said, sounding annoyed. A couple of carts crashed together as the aisle became congested.
“Yeah, you’re right. Can you wait here while I look in the back?”
He stood in the middle of the aisle, leaning on a small cart, as other customers detoured around him. I skipped through the back room, and opened the door to the Box. It was still packed from the previous night’s shipment, but not as bad as it could’ve been. I threw my hood up and walked sideways between the meat shelves and the stacks of lugs. Shaun jumped out of the milk crates and scared the shit out of me.
Let me preface the following with a common excuse made by people who break their own rules: I’m only human! I had been sleeping with Shaun. We made out at my first TJ’s party and then he stayed over a few days after that. I didn’t think anyone had any idea, or even cared, or would’ve been surprised.
Shaun laughed. “Hi,” he said as he lifted my hand and gave it a kiss.
“Hi! Can you help me find the blueberry yogurt?”
“No. I’m kidnapping you and holding you hostage in my milk lair. There will be no yogurt for the villagers!” We kissed a couple of times and I pulled away.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“I need to find the blueberry! Help me! This guy is waiting for me outside!”
He sighed dramatically and showed me where the yogurt lived. I spotted the Blueberry on the very top shelf. Shaun turned over an empty milk crate and pushed it off into my arms.
“Thank you!” I turned to leave.
Every second I wasted looking for the yogurt caused risk of a nasty interaction with this guy. I didn’t want to smell his breathe anymore.
“Well, come back!” Shaun called after me.
“Ask for my help in milk! My log is blank until 5!”
He did. And we sat on overturned crates and made out while we filled milk through the back of the store case.