Sometimes at night I dream about Whole Foods. I’m gleefully running through the aisles piling food into my cart. The store has everything I need to make a shrimp, watermelon, and goat cheese salad and fish po’boys with tartar slaw and fried sweet potatoes. I wake up smiling and perhaps drooling a little on the pillow. Then I slowly realize where I am. I drag myself out of bed and prepare for the most irritating part of my day: going to the grocery store.
There are two annoying things about the grocery stores in this neighborhood. The first is only mildly annoying. That is, they simply do not have a wide variety of items to choose from. Peanut butter? Frozen shrimp? Ginger? No, no and no. But they do have an entire freezer case full of different brands of frozen hamburger patties and a long aisle of different brands of sunflower oil. So this is how the stores fill their shelves—not with a variety of different products, but with a variety of different brands of the same product. Incidentally, my favorite brand of frozen hamburger patty is the “Barfy” brand. Mmm.
I can live with a limited selection of grocery items. We’ve been doing it the whole time we’ve been on the road. But the second annoying thing is that the grocery stores will, without warning, just be completely out of something for days on end. Some days I will walk into the store planning on making chicken enchiladas to find the shelves completely bereft of chicken. No chicken! Brands of soda will disappear and reappear, fruits and vegetables come and go, bread walks in and out of our lives. I saw pickles once and then never again. Because of this, it is virtually impossible to decide what I am going to buy before I get to the store. Planning a meal is out of the question, though I continue to do it daily which adds to my frustration. How can stores operate like this?
Finally, after almost two months, it hit me. I knew what was going on. I ran home from the store and stealthily slipped into the apartment. I motioned to Adam to be quiet as I whispered in his ear, “Don’t say anything about food.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Why can’t I talk about food?” he said audibly.
I pummeled him with my fists and hissed, “They have the apartment bugged.”
“Who has the apartment bugged?” he asked.
I gave up trying to be quiet. They were going to find out anyway. “Leader Price bugged the apartment, OK? They know what I’m going to make for lunch and dinner and they take one or two of the ingredients off the shelf before I get there. How else would they know? But I’m not going to talk about what I’m going to make anymore. HA! What are they going to do then?”
Adam shook his head and looked at me sadly, the way that you would look at a hopeless mental patient, and put his headphones on. But I would prove him wrong.
The next day I didn’t need much at the store, just some wine and dessert. “What do you want for dessert tonight?” I asked, directing my question toward the spot where the bug was likely planted.
“Ice cream,” he replied.
“The kind I got last time?”
“Yeah. That stuff is good. Why are you yelling at the plant?”
Well, can you guess what happened when I got to the store? There was a gaping hole where the ice cream that we had discussed used to be. I picked up a tub of another flavor and hurried back.
“They didn’t have that kind of ice cream so I had to get something else!” I crowed triumphantly.
“Why didn’t they take all of the ice cream if they knew you wanted it?” he asked.
“They didn’t have time to take all of the ice cream out. But don’t you see? They knew what kind of ice cream I bought last time!”
Adam remains unimpressed with my theory, but I think it’s entirely possible that an entire staff at a grocery store would have the time and inclination to devise and execute such an elaborate ruse just to rattle a foreigner and mess with her dinner plans.