The first time I walked into a Trader Joe’s I walked out empty-handed thinking, What is all the fuss about? Maybe it’s an LA thing. I was so east coast at the time. I wanted fresh fish. None to be had. Everything was either cooked already or frozen. Not a single box or bag looked familiar. How could I trust any of it? I had never seen advertisements for the products, couldn’t figure out the layout of the store. Everyone in it seemed so sure of where they were going and what they were getting. The only thing I was sure of was that going in had been a waste of time.
I wasn’t willing to experiment. For fear of failure. Or disappointment. Or worse…I’d go hungry. Then the cynic in me kicked in. It’s all a scam. Sorry, not buying it. I know not from where your boxes come, and I’m not going to be your guinea pig. Out I went and into a high-priced fish market and bought some flounder. Probably farmed in glowing pools of antibiotic infused nuclear run-off and shipped halfway across the globe – all for $15.99 a pound.
God bless my liver. Or is it my kidneys?
A few years prior to leaving the east coast a Trader Joe’s moved in a few miles away. I went in once. Same reaction. Off I went to the farmer’s market nearby and spent three times the cash on one-quarter the food. Someone told me the frozen meatballs at Trader Joe’s were amazing. I went back again and looked at the bags and bags of frozen food. All I could picture were the oompa loompas in a factory in some underworld churning out ‘food products’ that were neither inspected nor understood.
It wasn’t until after the Pocket Call that it all made sense. Now, let’s be clear, infidelity didn’t make Trader Joe’s okay. Infidelity made me stop being so freaking rigid. Judgments were suspended, my eyes went from all-knowing to curious, and instead of fearing disappointment I welcomed the opportunity to experiment. A bag of organic, frozen blueberries for two dollars? Roasted almonds for less than half the price at Whole
Paycheck Foods? Lunch, I mean a banana, for 19 cents? Not to mention the draw of potentially spinning the wheel to win a prize if my shopping total has double numbers.
It’s a store and a casino all in one!
Now I get Trader Joe’s. Straight-forward. Simple. Pared down. Kind of like Land’s End. No flash, all substance. Not hot, but totally fulfilling.
So it should not be surprising that the Trader Joe’s in my town is built on a vortex specializing in whirling together encounters. The Universe is all about balance. A little flash with all that khaki. Nary a trip there goes by without some sort of interesting, illuminating, delightful if but for a mere moment human interaction.
One time I saw Jesus. Well, if Jesus was a 25 year old bicycle boy so breathtakingly beautiful that I made the little dude climb the shopping carts again just so I could get a second look. While slightly embarrassing to admit that, I consider it a compliment to a man who will never know I gave it to him. He walked out of the store and looked me square in the eyes, smiled and got on his bike.
Jesus knew I waited.
That is totally embarrassing.
Once I walked along the sidewalk with a slight man in his 70s. Within twenty paces we were talking as if introduced by a dear friend at a cocktail party. A member of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, the site of my pre-Alcatraz swim dinner, he had the look of a seaman, and the twinkling blue eyes of Old Blue Eyes himself. (What is it with the blue eyes? They are everywhere! Yet when I was daydreaming of a mate back when I was daydreaming of mates, none were to be found. I wanted blond hair and blue eyes and I got the opposite.) He thought the little dude was worthy of movies, billboards, the cover of Vanity Fair. I loved his spunk, his sweet and cheerful demeanor. The encounter left me with a desire to make that decade – my 70s – a decade of play by working hard now with dedication and passion so I could work casually then, but still with passion and live hard.
And then there was the middle of the parking lot encounter with a dashing man who was not dashing in the least. He was barely walking. It was more like a half-skip, kinda lame, super painful looking frenetic jog of sorts. He passed by me as the little dude asked for a cup of tea. Not something I could easily whip up while loading groceries into the back of my car.
Yes, Mama. I’d like some tea.
The dashing man heard our exchange, joining me in laughter at a request that seemed odd given the lack of a kettle, a cup and a tea bag.
There was a Starbucks 50 yards away. (But of course.)
I put the last bag in the car and closed the hatch, looking over my shoulder at the entryway to Trader Joe’s at the exact moment the dashing man looked back at me.
Mama, I really want some tea.
Okay, honey. Can you wait until we get home or would you like to go to Starbucks?
I sat on the edge of my seat with the door open waiting for his reply. And I waited.
How about we go to Starbucks?
I don’t want to walk there.
Well, I’m not your sherpa, so we either walk all the way right over there or you’ll have to wait the whole 10 minutes it takes to get home.
Ah, the indecisive nature of a five year old.
He waited precisely long enough for the dashing man to emerge from Trader Joe’s, apple cider in hand, to say, Starbucks!
I slid off my car seat and scooped up the little dude, placing him on the ground where he then promptly shot across the lane – NOT LOOKING! – to the median ten feet away. I took off after him, rolling my parental eyes to the sky as the dashing man witnessed his near-death maneuver.
That tea isn’t going to taste so good if you’ve been run over by a car, dude!
After I made sure the little dude wasn’t destined to be road kill, I turned my attention to an encounter that had to be had. That was plain as day. I don’t recall the first sentence he said, because the second one wiped the first one away.
And then, Are you married?
No, I lied.
I chalk that lie up to being flustered and not wanting to say, I am but only because the government considers me so. The little dude was taking it all in and it just seemed better to keep it simple. But there’s no justification for being dishonest. I regretted saying it before the words hit the dashing man’s ears, vowing to own up to the false statement at my first opportunity, should I have one.
Can I have your number? I’m a nice guy.
10 seconds passed like 10 vertical miles. In high heels. Two sizes too small.
How about you give me yours. My phone’s in the car.
That move wasn’t all about control. But it was strategic. First and last names in this day and age separate the nice from the recently incarcerated with a few minutes and a high-speed connection.
Of course, in this case, I found squat. So I texted him.
And then the text-based odyssey began. It’s worthy of a word-for-word (all identifying info removed) reprint here:
Hi Dashing Man. Here’s my cell. I believe you said something like, I’m a nice guy, or I’m not an ax murderer. Do tell me something about yourself. Happy to meet for a drink.
Next day: Would love to meet for a drink. Can you get away for an hour or so this eve?
Taking the boys to the beach today. Is Friday a possibility? Do you live in Marin?
(Because if you live in San Quentin, which is in Marin but technically on federal land, we are going to have to reschedule for NEVER!)
Yes, Friday would be great and I do live in Marin…so much to find out about each other!
Looking forward to it. Would you like to pick a place to meet?
The next night: Hi Cleo. Are the boys going crazy?
And then: Do you know G’s? Thought we could meet there tomorrow.
Hi. At that time I was going crazy on the elliptical and the boys were playing Battleship. Love that game. G’s sounds great. What time works for you?
The next day, Friday, after having not heard back from him I texted: Morning. Gorgeous day. What time works for you tonight. Need to plan.
That afternoon he replied: Hi, Cleo, how are you doing?
(And could you please tell me what time works for you or do you want to hold me hostage. Oh, God. He’s going to take me hostage.)
2 hours later and near the time when one would expect to meet for a cocktail on a Friday night I texted: For me to be on time I will need to know what that time is.
2 hours after that he replied: Want to reschedule? No worries on my end…
I’m good to go. Just need to know what time.
(Really! Tell me the freaking time! At this point I’m thinking early Alzheimer’s.)
Then I decided to make it really easy for him: 7:15?
That night I went to the Left Bank in Larkspur for some beets and greens and to lose myself in the mating dance of Marin on a Friday night, as an observer. The scene did not disappoint. And there was hockey on the TV. All was right in the world. Except for the mystery of the Lost Date.
He said he was a nice guy. Why say that and then follow it up with a blow-off?
I had the perfect blend of one beet, a piece of Mimolette cheese and a clump of Mizuna greens on my fork as I watched a bra-less woman hold the attention of two over-fed and over-liquored men when it hit me.
I lied. After all this talk about not lying. The Universe is showering me with magic and signs and gifts, and in return I have got to live an honest, above-board, authentic life. It may seem like a little lie, but little is just an adjective. A lie is a lie. With all these gifts comes a significant responsibility. I should have said, I am married. But there’s more to the story.
Beets in mouth, I smiled. It’s cool. I appreciate the lesson. Who knows, maybe he’ll need some more cider one day and the little dude will want a spot of tea, and the stars will align and the bananas will still be 19 cents. And I will have been perfectly authentic.
Or I’ll never see him again and so be it.
2 days later I received this text from the dashing man:
Hi Cleo! I can’t believe it, your last six texts just showed up. I totally thought you got cold feet and changed your mind. So sorry. I’m going to call AT&T in the morning and find out what the hell happened…
Uh-huh. Sure they did.
But then I went back and read them. (Which is why I repeated them for you here.)
And then it really hit me.
Texting is the devil. I wrote a whole post on how we really need to start talking to each other and then didn’t follow my own guidance. Whether it’s simply to set a date or getting to know someone, texting is not the way to do it. It becomes a crutch. A default for real communication, the kind that creates a bond, whether just a friendly one or one that could be more if only given a real chance.
Long phone calls are the new sexy. Just like the old days.
We’ve had a few of those hour plus calls since my texts arrived on the back of a yak via Nepal cancelling out a first date, but tomorrow night we will find out what the Universe has in store in person. After it had a little laugh at our expense.