Monday, August 22, 2005

When I did in Kroger
OK, so I'm Krogering, right? And I'm making great progress. I've been through veggies and deli and seafood and bread and junk food and I've got a half a cartful already and it's morning and I'm feeling pretty good and I'm not worrying about taxes or dying or taking up smoking or anything and I get to the pasta aisle and WHAM! I am whomped upside the head by a scent. A scent that I can describe only as dazzling. It's a mixture of lotion or hair conditioner or something perfumed, but just slightly so, and a woman. Her own scent is in there, again just slightly so, but the perfumy part is a scent that I've smelled before but because it's mixed with her own scent the combined scent is an exact scent I've whiffed before not at all. She's pretty, this woman, and athletic. She has reddish blonde hair, half way down her back, a little frizzed up by the humidity, and she's got a nice way about her. Maybe a little spacey but it could be that morning-grocery-shopping thing making her seem that way. She's got a girl with her; her daughter I'm assuming, who is about 12 and sparkling with energy.

We're going opposite directions down the aisles but the same way through the store (the way grocery stores demand that you go under penalty of law, which is from bread to ice cream, up and down each aisle, unless you're single, in which case you can go in any damn helter-skelter fashion you please). And since we're going in opposite directions, we meet again in each aisle and each time: Wham! A very good bouquet.

Along about the cookies, I realize I am in love. OK, not love: Tomfoolish mesmerism. I can now identify the not-the-woman portion of the scent. Not by the brand name, of course, but by a past relationship: she's wearing the same product as a woman I knew back in the 70s. A girl, really, because we were children then, even though we didn't think so because we thought our ideas (car maintenance, premarital sex, dorm rules, conscientious objection, Won't Get Fooled Again) were grown-up ideas. But somehow this shampoo or lotion or whatever it is has survived all these years, only to whomp me upside the head over and over and over in Kroger. But, again, it's got more: the aroma of this woman I'm suddenly in mesmerism with. She has not noticed my existence, by the way. So I guess it's not mesmerism "with" but mesmerism "of."

So I begin to look forward to passing her in each aisle and in the laundry detergent aisle we pass again and I can't smell a thing because of all the perfumes they put in the laundry detergent and dryer sheets and soaps and I am forlorn. So in the next aisle I make a pact with myself to get just a slight bit closer but not in any way that would make the P in "perv" form on her exquisitely mottled lips or in any way that she might notice at all. Only the next aisle is hand soap and shampoo and deodorant and again it's almost impossible to smell anything besides Dial and Herbal Essence and Arrid Extra Dry.

I'm still shopping, of course – I haven't completely lost my mind – and the aisle's crowded, so I leave my cart at the end and go scout out a 6 pack of toilet paper and I suddenly realize that without the cart I have a maneuverability that I lacked before and when she appears, a thick-waisted grandma with an impatient toddler actually jostles me in her direction and I am able to get within a couple of inches of her hair without looking like a weirdo and I am starting to think I'm going crazy when no scent comes through but then she steps back unexpectedly and my face is in her hair and I am embarrassed but she apologizes to me without really making eye contact. Just bumped into some guy by accident when I backed away from the Bounty, she seems to be thinking.

But there's no scent. I head on down the aisle away from my cart and round the corner when Wham! Delayed reaction. God, it smells good. Mmmmm. And I mean mmmmm in a I want to know what you wrote in your diary when you were 16 and what you majored in and what kind of movies you like kinda way, not an I want to do it kinda way. But okay maybe that way too. But mostly the other one.

I can't explain what happens during the infinitesimal moment of her scent. Mountains rise out of nothing, and rivers form gorges by flicking away solid rock as if it were whipped cream. Wounds heal, electrons become magnetic. Flowers bloom. I can't stop myself from stumbling off a cliff into a chasm of unknowable wondering: Does she ever drink orange juice right out of the bottle? Cheat on her taxes? Is her car's Check Engine light on? What was her first concert? Is she naturally good at algebra? Does she ever yell at the TV? Does she ever stop reading a book, hold it out at arm's length and tell it off? And, okay, what does she sound like when she comes? Is Jesus her savior or someone merely confounding? If she had dirty hands from, say, weeding her perennials and she thought of something sad – maybe of the time when she was a girl and her father became furious and called her a stupid little bitch and threw her new shoes out onto the gravel driveway just because she left them in the middle of the floor –and she broke out into tears and wiped the tears, making her face dirty and salty and streaked, would I cry too just from the sight of those streaks?

I pick up a couple of items in the next aisle but this time she doesn't show up. I figure she must've gotten into a conundrum in pet foods, and, after a momentary lamentation, I decide it is high time I move on with my life. So I go back to my cart and I start to drop in the items I'm carrying only there is some stuff in the cart that I didn't put there. There are boxes of dog food and two large, oily dog bones. They look revolting to me, like somebody fashioned them out of something alive and they're just waiting to be gnarled by a large Doberman or a republican. I can't bring myself to touch them.

I look around and nobody's in sight but I can see some knees through an empty spot on a shelf. It turns out to be the woman's daughter and she has an armload of stuff, waiting for her mother to return with the cart. Because she's the only one nearby, I decide she is probably the person who accidentally put the dog food and the two revolting dog bones in my cart but now I have a new problem: how to ask this girl without again seeming like some kind of person the cops might be looking for.

I push my cart close and I get in the girl's line of vision and I say very sweetly, "Excuse me? I wonder if you might've put these in my cart by mistake," and I point to the dog food and dog bones. It turns out the girl has the sweetest, brightest smile and she finds her mistake the funniest thing that's ever happened in the history of human relationships. She says, "Oh, my gosh!" and "I'm sorry!" She marvels over the situation in an over-expression of emotion I haven't witnessed since my mom saw an impossibly red cardinal one day when she was under the influence of opiates after surgery.

The girl calls her mom over, which does not bother me at all because I've been in love – yes, love – with her mom since the soup-and-beans aisle. OK, fine, not love. The girl explains to the mom what happened but now none of us seem to know what to do. Their stuff is still in my cart and I guess they don't think they should reach into my cart and I guess I don't feel like I should handle their stuff, so we have an awkward moment, which we fill with goofy chuckling. "Ha ha ha," the woman is laughing, "my daughter put our stuff in your cart. Ha ha ha." And I am laughing and thinking, "Ha ha ha, oh, holy Christ you smell nice, by the way."

And since there is laughter even though nothing funny has really happened, I try to fill the void by saying something funny but all I can think to say is, "I thought maybe it was a sign that I was supposed to get a dog."

Once I have said it, I fully expect such a comment to stop all laughter but instead it brings on peals more and now I have no option but to pick up the dog food and place it in their cart. And then I reach in and pick up the dog bones and now I am standing next to a beautiful woman who has a beautiful scent holding a kind-of-greasy bone in each hand and I feel myself swimming backwards through the Buddha's lifestream idea of me, going back in time from 46 to 27 to 12 to 5 to mewling infant to the beforetime, pausing at each age just long enough to occupy its soul.

I drop the bones in their cart and they say something about being sorry and thanks and a final ha ha and I say something about it being no problem whatsoever and ha ha and I am suddenly in the ice cream aisle and then I am in the checkout line and then I am in the parking lot and then I am in my car and then I am at home unloading groceries and I am pretty sure I am never going to smell that exact scent ever again but I am really pretty happy to have smelled it when I did in Kroger.

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