Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Popping Salad Bags

It was Lollipop Day--Thursday--yet the grocery shopping needed doing and Tyler and I needed a Morning Adventure. So: all the pieces fit. I decided I'd take Tyler to Aldi, the grocery store about seven and a half minutes walk from our home. The night before, Tyler hadn't slept well, and Jennifer and I had traded going-into-his-room duties back and forth until neither of us knew what time it was when another call for Mommy and Daddy rang out--only this: Your turn? No, my turn? Okay. My turn? No, your turn? Heaven Pie.

Now, it was eleven in the morning. Grocery shopping time for the little man and me.

The trip to Aldi was relatively uneventful: we saw people, said hello, saw more people, said hello to them, saw some teenagers who seemed like they were probably skipping school, said hello, got laughed at by them, laughed with them about being laughed at, then got a hello from the teens, a 'high five' from Tyler for the teens, and then onward Tyler biked through puddles that lay thick across the sidewalk en route. I jumped over the puddles. Tyler splashed through them, aglow.

We arrived. At Aldi.

And it was Lollipop Day, remember, which carried the designation of an entire day even though the act of purchasing a lollipop takes a mere minute. But in the beginning, I needed a way to designate days--to give Tyler and I a sense that Thursday--yes!--was far different from Monday. (Monday is Playgroup Day.)

So Tyler sat atop the grocery carriage and I pushed him around the store, grabbing the cheapest deals on Aldi-brand hummus, Aldi-brand bread, Aldi-brand baked beans, Aldi-brand free-range eggs, Aldi-brand juice, Aldi-brand frozen chicken breasts, Aldi-brand yogurt.

(We purchased other Aldi-brand items, which have all been excluded from this narrative so as to save us both useful time and mental clarity for a perspicacious look at what really matters here.)

So here's what really matters: the thing is, Aldi doesn't sell lollipops. (At least, last Thursday they didn't have a single licking lollipop available on the premises.) And it was Lollipop Day. We can't notget a lollipop on Lollipop Day. That would be like celebrating President's Day if the United States had never had a single president; like celebrating the Queen's Jubilee here in the UK if the UK didn't have a queen; like going to school on Sunday; like offering advice about ergonomics while pretending to be somebody named Noland who doesn't even exist.

So, Tyler and I are in the checkout line, our massive collection of Aldi-brand items on the conveyor belt, inching ever closer to the cashier as the following conversation ensues between my sleep-deprived three-year old and my sleep-deprived self:

Tyler: I want a lollipop. It's Lollipop Day, Daddy. You said this store would have lollipops.

Daddy: Yes, that's true. All of those things are true. But I was wrong. There are no lollipops. Not even--excuse me, sir, can I ask your name? John, okay, thank you, John--not even John has a lollipop. And believe me, Tyler, IF there was a single lollipop in this store, John would have his hands on it, wouldn't you, John?

John: [Clears throat. Eyes me suspiciously.] Of course.

Tyler: I want a lollipop.

John: [Clears throat, looks away.]

Daddy: Tell you what, T-Man, today will be a VERY SPECIAL Lollipop Day. You can get these Chocolate M and M's instead of a lollipop today; that sounds great, right!?

John: [Continues clearing throat--and John begins to look like someone whose real name is Noland--and shakes his head.]

Tyler: But Daddy, it's not Chocolate Day; it's Lollipop Day!

Daddy: True. But sometimes Lollipop Day can become Chocolate Day, as well---because both of those days are super, super cool.

Cashier: Sir, can you please move forward?

I push the carriage forward, and the conveyor belt stops as our cashier--Daniel--begins to ring up our items. There is no turning back.

And here's the thing about Aldi: the stores have a vendetta against any millisecond of wasted time. They employ one cashier per checkout lane, and they don't allow bagging at the cashier's check-out point. The cashier rings up an item, whoosh!, passes it back to you, at which point you deposit it into your carriage. This procedure is repeated over and over until you both surpass the Speed of Light or all your items have been rung up--whichever occurs first.

Problem: our grocery items are stockpiling on the tiny counter space because I am trying to come to a Resolution about the Lollipop Day / Chocolate Day dilemma. The dirty looks begin. I can hear the venomous voices of the other Aldi=frequenters in our line and even among the lines around us.

Aldi Virgin.

Did you see the MASSIVE SIGN about how to check out properly!?

Promised his kid candy. Big mistake, buddy. B-I-G. Mistake. Massive.

And John-Noland looks back at us as he exits the store: At least I'm safe trickles back to us, and I swear he clears his throat again.

Daddy: Okay, after Aldi, we're going to walk to the Lollipop Store and get our normal lollipop form Vera. Okay?

Tyler: No, I want Chocolate Day instead.

Cashier Daniel: Dirty look dirty look dirty look.

Daddy: Great! Problem solved. Throw those M and M's on the conveyor belt and let's rock it!

Tyler: No, I want Chocolate Day and Lollipop Day.

Daddy: No, we can't do that. One or the other. You choose.

Cashier Daniel: Dirty look multiplied by smug sigh of disgust.

Tyler: No, I want both of them.

Daddy: No.

Tyler: Yes.

Stockpile of Grocery Items Now Falling onto the Floor off the Tiny Counter Space: For goodness sakes', man, at least take care of us! We've got nothing to do with this fiasco!

Daddy: Look--we're going to do Chocolate Day instead of Lollipop Day, and that's the end of it.

I grab the M and M's from Tyler's hands and throw them on the conveyor belt.

Earth and Heaven: [Explosion.]

Tyler: [Undecipherable screaming, crying, sobbing, melting down at the speed of light multiplied by the fastest Aldi Cashier / Customer Tag Team ever.]

Beneath Tyler's massive, screeching, full-blown tantrum screams, Cashier Daniel and I complete our transaction--dirty look dirty look dirty look--and I wheel our grocery cart over to the back of the store which is the Appropriate Place to Bag Your Groceries.

Tyler: [Undecipherable screaming ensues.]

I begin stuffing the groceries into the massive black over-the shoulder reusable bag I've brought with us.

Problem: the groceries won't fit.

I take all of the groceries out of the bag, as Tyler manages to top his previous threshold for volume, and while the two of us garner a prodigious display of various dirty looksfrom customers and cashiers all across the store.

I begin stuffing all of the groceries back into the bag again.

Problem: they still don't fit.

I take all of the groceries out of the bag.

[Screaming; dirty looks.]

And in that moment I wish T.S. Eliot were with me; I wish Gwendolyn Brooks were with me; I wish Robert Frost were with me; I wish Tony Hoagland were with me; I wish bell hooks were with me. I wish there was a chorus of poets with me there in the Appropriate Bagging Section of Aldi, ushering their lines at a volume previously thought unreachable for human vocal chords--their lines just drowning out the tantrum of my three-year old--I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled--and we jazz June--and His house is in the village though.

But there are no poets with me, and I must do this on my own resolve, the lines of these heroes ungrabbable in this instant.

So I glare at the various grocery items now scattered in anger across the floor of the Appropriate Bagging Section and I find the weak link: salad bags. There are five of them, each bag containing at least 67% air. That's almost two-thirds of occupied space in my massive black reusable shoulder bag being spoken for by air.

Nothing but air.

So I pop them. All five bags.

Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! [Pause for dramatic effect.] Pop!

Tyler's screams stop momentarily. The dirty lookscease in exchange for genuine surprised looks by what the American has chosen to do in this predicament looks.

The groceries fit, I throw the bag over my shoulder, and Tyler and I leave the store.Outside, where the air is exponentially increased and sound travels slower, disperses faster, Tyler finally calms down. We talk. I explain with force and might the point of what happened in the store. If T.S./ Eliot were there, I swear he'd be proud.

And while in the past I might have caved, eventually given Tyler the chocolates and forgotten the whole thing. (Yes, certainly, in the past I would have caved--yes--even a few months ago, I would have relented and here come the chocolates!).

No, I do not cave. The Popping of the Salad Bags and given me a taste of how sometimes the most dire of situations call for creative, bold action. I have done so. Therefore, I do not cave and give over the chocolates.

Instead, I pop open a bag of cheese curls and Tyler and Daddy both dig in.