Imaginary Shopping

It’s Thursday morning and I’m at the grocery store with my elderly neighbor. The parking lot is a vast sea of pavement, but we park close to the entrance since she has a handicapped tag.

Her knee was the problem. The knee got fixed, but somewhere along the way she began to lose her nouns. The verbs and pronouns stuck around, but the nouns have gone missing.

Produce is our first destination, but to get there we have to pass the floral display. My friend loves flowers and she gazes at the colorful blossoms with reverence. She has forgotten all the flower names except for “orchid”, because, as she explains every week, “My husband used to grow orchids”.

I have the odd feeling that the flowers aren’t real. I have to touch some of the petals to see for myself. It's the colors. They come in the most unnatural and gaudy colors and look like children's plastic toys.

lettuce bags

Then we are off to the produce department to pick up a plastic bag of iceberg lettuce pieces. There are lots of plastic bags and boxes full of various green items. Amazing how the leaves are encased in plastic, sealed up and turned into 'products'. Everyone seems comfortable with plastic bags and boxes, though – they have brand names, bar codes, lots of printing and pictures. And the pictures are usually a lot more colorful than what is actually inside. 

wall of salad dressing

We venture into the part of the store where no trace of real plant material can be found. Except on labels. At the great wall of salad dressing, each bottle is wrapped in pictures of heavenly salads or scenes from the “Italian countryside”.

Onward to cereal. Even at 10 am the cereal aisle is busy. This is where the drivers of those little motorized vehicles congregate. Their hands reach up to the colorful boxes with the weirdly open, smiling cartoon mouths. i

We are searching for “the one that looks like that other one”. Fortunately, I understand what she means. Last week, we used a coupon to buy a box of Frosted Flakes, with the smiling tiger face instead of her usual Raisin Bran with the smiling sun. She was disappointed when she opened the box that “there weren’t any of those things”, meaning the raspberries pictured on the package.

While she was sorting her coupons I checked the ingredients on some of the boxes. They all seemed to contain substances that were once plants, but through scientific ingenuity and vast amounts of fuel and human effort had been transformed into something else, entirely. Flakes, spheres, little woven pillows and multicolored micro donuts.

My neighbor has her cereal. Now she's ready to buy her peanut M&M's with the smiling candy characters, and her cookies with the happy smiling elf.