Of the items I’m intending to buy, the first item is candied fruit, any kind of candied fruit. Candy that looks like fruit. Little bananas that aren’t really bananas at all, but they’re yellow, and they have the popular crescent shape of bananas, and they’re sugary and they’re candy. Little slices of watermelon might be mixed in, maybe some sugary little apples that are green and look like apples but which are not apples at all. No actual fruits are on my list, not even fruits that are covered with sugar, like dried papaya, dried mango slices, or cherries. Nothing organic and pure. The candied fruits need to come from the candy aisle, and they are the first item on the list, followed by the vegetable called the broccaflower. Could be cauliflower, could be broccoli, but it’s not. It’s broccaflower. Broccoli is the vegetable many love to hate. Cauliflower is too chewy, unless you boil it so long that it’s like pulped cardboard. My choice will be the vegetable that consists of genetic highlights from each, the broccaflower. To recover from any such vegetable, the next item would necessarily be fruitcake, which is another fine replacement for actual fruits. Actual fruits have stickers all over them. If I wanted to buy stickers, I’d go to the aisle with the stickers. Kids love stickers, and I could buy my kid some stickers, but I will not. There are no stickers on the list. I am trying to buy fruitcake, I don’t want stickers. By the way, I’m passing up any of those fruits that have a pig gene in them, a tomato with a pig gene, or an ostrich gene or something, nor do I want the kinds of fruits that have been handled by farm people who don’t wash properly. That’s why I like fruitcake, the kind you find in the bakery. It’s pre-wrapped, which is a must, because the customers paw through the bakery products, e. coli hiding out in the troughs of their fingerprints. The longer the fruitcake is shrink-wrapped, sitting comfortably in the bakery section, the better I like it. I feel good about chemical additives. At least chemical additives are created in a clean, well-lit laboratory situation according to high standards of sterility. Some of these additives are toxic, even highly poisonous. Some are explosive. But I’m not taking them in large doses. I like fruitcake, I like additives. Ingredients that are listed as acronyms, these you can trust. 1 For these ingredients, you need to go to frozen foods, or to the bakery aisle.
After the bakery aisle, I’m likely to make a quick pit stop at Lunchables. It’s responsible and sensitive, parentally speaking, to pronounce aloud newfangled branding terminologies, so here we go: Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables, Lunchables. An abiding peace shall overcome you, which is the peace of surrender. If I were to spin out a few more words in praise of the Lunchable experience, which I would naturally do if I were hosting, say, a play date for a group of nine-year-olds on the first Sunday of court-ordered visitation, I would eventually need to address the issues surrounding bologna. Bologna is not as popular as when I was a kid, and it’s unclear if this lack of popularity has to do with the controversy surrounding its moniker. Once you have nomenclatures in conflict, once you have “baloney” versus “bologna,” can a foodstuff still achieve popular dominance? Old-fashioned names are an embarrassment and no one can pronounce them. You can hear illiterates struggling over the pronunciation of “bologna” over in the packaged meats. They have no idea about the silent “g.” Do you think anyone’s really going to buy a food with a silent “g” in it? Hell, no! Packaged food manufacturers got wise on the silent consonants back with “yoghurt.” Who the hell was ever going to eat a “yoghurt?” The smartest thing the dairy people could have done was to deep-six that “h.” Now everyone loves those little single-serving plastic cups of sugary curds. Blueberries ‘n’ cream! Eventually some branding expert will bring his fiendish attention to the problems surrounding “lasagna” and “gnocchi.” The lack of acclaim for “gnocchi” here in the Schenectady area has lots to do with how difficult it is to order in restaurants. You sound like you’re congested when you order it. My own suggestion for a new sobriquet for this tasty foodstuff? Knuckles.
The thing about Lunchables is that they may include bologna, henceforth to be termed “baloney,” and yet on the first Sunday of court-ordered visitation, when I’m under a fair amount of stress, I’d prefer something safer. Maybe I can purchase a lunchable that features the sort of pressed ham that has little bits of olive embedded in it. What is that called? Olive loaf? Or is that something else entirely? I think foods that have the word loaf in them are full of potential, and these foods need to be explored further. If there’s no olive loaf among the Lunchables, there should be. Olive loaf, meat loaf, any other kind of loaf. If the nine-year-olds don’t like it, tough shit. In the present heavily-monitored, not to say legally-prescribed, visitation schedule, I am basically to give the kid whatever he wants, so that he might forgive me for the bad things I have done. If he asks for those olives that have a little bit of pimento jammed in the end, okay fine. Olives would be good in a lunchable type context. Maybe he wants sweet pickles and American cheese. I mean, I like sweet pickles and American cheese. We could have frankfurters after, because frankfurters are available in Lunchables, right? Can Lunchables withstand high temperatures? Probably Lunchables can withstand an incendiary bomb. Maybe I could get an indestructible lunchable that contained gherkins. Though, you know, gherkins are better in theory than in practice. Anyway, after browsing through this lunchable smorgasbord and making a few impulse buys for the nine-year-olds, it’s inevitable that I’ll have to go down the aisle of the feminine products, because I like to go down each of the aisles in turn, whether I have needs in a particular area or not. As a male, I like being in an aisle of feminine products. Anyone with purchase power can go where he wants and if that means the aisle of feminine products, then I can push my cart along that aisle as well. The feminine products aisle is the closest I will have been to a woman and her below-the-waist latitudes in, uh, months.
If I should happen to see, in feminine products, the woman formerly known as my wife, in whose orbit I must remain, according to the determinations of the Schenectady family court, to the tune of fifty miles, or if I should happen to see the woman who formerly worked in my office, with whom I allegedly scaled the heights of passion that one alleged time in a motel, this would be unfortunate. And yet fate brings us all into this superstore, blessed and damned, and I’m not going to allow bad luck to forbid my participation in the American buffet. I could get up a head of steam with my shopping cart and coast at dangerous velocity down the aisle of feminine products, shouting at people to get clear because I cannot control my cart. Octogenarians gasping for breath will collapse against the displays of nylons.
When I have completed my tour of the feminine products aisle, I’ll move next door to health and beauty. Here I’ll be wandering through items that I have heard about on television lately, items known, in the current parlance, as product. I keep hearing about this stuff: “Apply the product,” they say, or “He did a good job with the product.” Maybe my dating prospects will be enhanced by this product. Okay, let’s be honest, I know that product refers to certain hair care items. And yet what’s amazing to me is how weirdly abstract the health and beauty product names have become, as though they had philosophical properties. You could open a book of French critical theory, were you bent on reading that kind of shit, and you could come up with some good product names. How about a conditioner called Praxis? Or what about a newfangled French hair deconstructeur? Get the new, improved Deconstructeur from Jovan! My kid, on the other hand, favors shampoo that smells like bubble gum. Or that is what he told me in his flat, gloomy tone last week, when we were discussing (on the phone) his upcoming adventure in my new “home,” a visit which, according to family court, must encompass the daylight hours of Sunday, not to precede the dawn, and extending into the overnight of Sunday, not failing to entail the early morning hours of Monday, preceding and inclusive of sunrise on Monday, after which I will take my kid to his public school on Monday morning, from which he will then be picked up, at the end of the schoolday, by the woman formerly known as my wife. The kid asked could I please get him shampoo that smelled like bubblegum. It was a request for branding stability, of course. He understood, he said, that I didn’t know any of the relevant brands, and though he liked a certain brand it really wasn’t that important, just look out for the tubes that have a picture of bubble gum on them, little swirly bubblegum colors. They’re for kids.
I would like to be the guy at the flavor laboratory who experiments with things that smell like bubble gum. I’m sure the bubblegum flavor tub has the radioactive hazard insignia on the side. If I had a job, this would be the job I would like to have, the job where all I do is cook up bubble gum flavor in a graphite-moderated cask. You can imagine that there are guys who do this lifelong. They wear lead aprons. One day it’s the smell of bubble gum, and the next day they cook up the simulated taste of maple syrup, which, they discover, is a molecule away from a highly toxic variant on formaldehyde often found in the bloodstreams of belly-up Atlantic salmon.
I will continue with non-grocery items by undertaking to purchase supplements. I don’t know what kind of supplements to buy, because, while I have often coveted supplements, it’s pretty recently that I have even bothered to enter a superstore. Let’s just say that the last time I was regularly visiting the national smorgasbord, the cashiers still had to enter the prices by hand. I overhear people talking about supplements all the time, and everyone has a different opinion about which supplement they should use and which is the best. I like the simple names of some of these items, such as goldenseal, skullcap, hawthorn, or blessed thistle. I bet blessed thistle is really good for you. I’ll believe almost anything if the literature is convincing. What’s that one that promotes urinary health? Saw palmetto? I have never failed to experience urinary health, at least not so far. And my kid shows no signs of problems with urinary health either, not that I know about. I’ve known some guys who get right up to the urinal, and then the hesitancy kicks in. Or maybe they finally get a robust stream going, but then you say something to them, and the stream sputters out. This is called a “weak stream,” and after I read about it I realized that I had to have some of that saw palmetto for urinary health. Is there something for the pancreas? The pancreas is an important and mysterious organ, and you don’t want anything going wrong with it. Therefore you would do best to take a pancreatic supplement. Maybe some gentian root or butcher’s broom. There are other organs that I don’t know much about, but if I happen to be going down the aisle with the supplements in it, well, then I’m liable to start impulse-buying for obscure ailments, even if I’m not worried about robust functioning of my pineal gland. Or my pituitary flow. While in the supplement aisle, I might also procure over-the-counter training supplements for the kid. First, maybe a couple of protein-enhanced candy bars for the kid, in the oatmeal or berry flavors, and then for dessert maybe a little androstenedione in an alcohol-free base. I will tell the kid that this dessert was used by the studs in the big leagues, and it will help him fight off anyone who comes at him, swinging wildly, in the schoolyard.
Were the blue laws not in effect, as they are this morning, I might be likely to stop in the booze aisle and load up on some fine Italian wines. Cheap Italian whites are best when, on your lonesome, you have to throw a play date for five nine-year-olds, when one or more of the neighborhood parents are bound to turn up, and when you are required to attempt conversation, though you have little in common with this guy, an insurance claims adjuster. But as I say, blue laws are in effect today, laws that were enacted by a state legislative body to prevent free-thinking and liberty. No point at stopping in the shrouded aisle of booze products. It’s a crypt.
After the supplements, I will remember that I have forgotten an item, the forgetting of items being almost as important as the remembering. The color of this item will be lodged in my imagination—the package was yellow, no, wait, maybe the package was blue, no, it’s not a packaged item at all. It’s in the meats! I have forgotten something in the meats, and that item is tongue. I will go to the meats aisle, which is my happiest aisle. The aisle known as meats is where you can depend on getting adequate protein, and you can depend on the product being domestic, even local, slaughtered right nearby, and I am planning, in the months of visitation when I am doing my best to perform my new role, on bringing the kid here, and we will go up and down the meat aisle, the kid and I. Sometimes the meats are terrifying and that is part of their allure, that they are fresh kills, and probably the kid will go back and tell his mother or her new boyfriend that all he did with his dad was go to the meats aisle. All he did was he went with his dad to the meats and talked to the butcher, who is called Sal, and Sal said, “Hey there!” and here Sal mentioned the kid’s name, “What do you feel like eating today?” Assuming the kid is not going to eat Lunchables for the rest of his life. Sal will ask the kid what his favorite cut of meat is, and the kid will consult a nearby map of the cow, and he will select his favorite cut based on what he sees there. He will say “brisket” or he will say “rump roast.” Then we will go down the aisle of meats, with its brisk chill, with those jets of water vapor shooting out of the little nozzles. I will look for tongue, because it must be in here somewhere, in among the tripe and other exotic meat items, and I will regale the kid with the fact that “brisket” is from an Old Norse word for “gristle,” which is maybe the finest word ever thought up. Had I been a more pro-active dad, I would by now have had this important patriarchal conversation with the kid. In fact, if I were a butcher, I would just package “gristle” and sell it in the meat aisle, because then you would have a product that told the truth about itself. But maybe in the era of visitation I should just keep these things to myself. And yet restraint is no obstacle to tongue. I like how tongue is laid out in the package. When you flop the tongue off the Styrofoam and into the frying pan, you can see all those taste buds on the upper side, and then you know that the cow had taste preferences, back before it had its liberty deprived. I will get two packages of tongue, one for myself, and one to give away to a friend, but which friend is up for grabs.
Aisle three has the soups. It’s just crazy to come all the way out here, when I hate the idea of coming here, when I hate coming on a Sunday morning, when everyone is here doing whatever it is they do, provisioning for the family, and I’m by myself and I have not yet discussed my almost total reliance on soups. There is something so great about seeing soup cans all lined up, dozens upon dozens of soup cans lined up. I like to buy the tomato soup, just because it features the simplest label. Campbell’s brand tomato soup. Look at that thing. It has become an object of beauty, a part of the history of international commerce. When you see twenty feet of Campbell’s soup cans, you know that this particular method of storage, the can, with this particular label, is a crucial part of contemporary history. Soup cans represent doing things a certain way, and then doing it the same way over and over and over and over. Soups represent dogged, unfeeling persistence. This large-scale machining of food has provided stability and reliability for regular folks for decades. And I want to be part of that history. When I open the can, I don’t think Oh darn, I wish I’d bought the reduced salt version; I don’t think, Oh, the new soup that’s made with organic tomatoes is really better for me; nor do I think, Maybe some miso soup will contribute to my overall sense of well-being. No, I don’t feel that way and I don’t want to. I want to know that every can of soup I have, every can that I dump into the saucepan that I bought at a rummage sale not three days ago, will be like every other can of soup ever made. Entire generations of my countrymen have eaten soup exactly like this. My countrymen went to war eating this soup. They watched baseball games eating it. I want to know that when I say Mmm, mmm, good, that this slogan is as socially empowering as, I don’t know, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Go ahead, look at some other soup labels. They’re okay. The word chunky is a plus, although if you’re old enough to watch your dad get subpoenaed, then you’re old enough to eat regular old tomato soup, or peanut butter and jelly that doesn’t come from a single jar. Still, I’ll occasionally buy soup because it says chunky on it, and I’ll buy peanut butter because it says chunky on it, and I think most chocolates should have the word chunky on them, and I know that the nine-year-olds believe that anything that is chunky is better than anything that is not. Just like anything that is fresh and clean, for adults, is better than anything that is not, and a combination of the two just might be a home run, because who would not want to look forward to a soup that was chunky, fresh, and clean, especially here in the Schenectady area.
What could possibly go wrong among the aisles of seasonal items? Well, you never know. There could be a guy on a ladder stacking up those orange plastic pumpkin baskets that the nine-year-olds want for Halloween, even though Halloween is still five weeks away, and while he’s stacking them, this guy could lose his grip on the top shelf, and he could grab for the signage above him on the way down, and then an entire ceiling scaffolding could come loose, and it could come tumbling down and collide with some innocent divorced parent passing by, there could be a severe head wound, and then it’s possible that this divorced guy would be lying there in a pool of blood, waiting for the ambulance. People would be crying out, “Don’t move him, it could be a spinal cord injury!” As a result, a great leakage of vital humors could take place, and the woman formerly known as my wife could also happen by at the very moment, the moment of my passing beyond this world, while my kid is standing over me, knowing that I have just been mortally injured by a sign that said seasonal items on it. This could be my chance to mutter to the woman formerly known as my wife that even though I didn’t do a very good job after the first blissful years of our union, this did not mean that I didn’t still love her in my own erratic barely perceptible way. I would also say to her, if I had time before the last of the vital humors leaked out, that one of the greatest joys of my life was the day we first brought the kid home to the house, and I hoped one day that she and the kid would realize that, etc., etc. Furthermore, I was of course deeply sorry that the employment part of my life was not the most effective part, but this was Schenectady and she should have known that if I stayed with her here it was because I didn’t really have any big plans, except for maybe buying a pickup truck and coaching the kid in little league if he would quit throwing like a girl. In case I was really going to die, I would tell the woman formerly known as my wife, I didn’t want anyone to speak of my undignified passing, here in the aisle of seasonal items, nor did I want any crudités or raw fruits or vegetables served at my wake. I would prefer some kind of Jell-O product, a tiered Jell-O dessert with whipped cream from a can. A Jell-O dessert would serve to memorialize me plenty well enough.
Okay, so maybe no seasonal items. But there is one last item, and that is popping fresh buns, or poppin’ fresh buns, whatever you call them. The kind of bun that you get out of a canister, and then you break open the canister, and the bun pops out, and it’s always a surprise, and then you can cut up the dough and you can pop it in the oven, and before long you will have pop ‘n fresh buns, or perhaps popping fresh buns, who knows. Buns more regular and perfect than if you tried to make them yourselves, quality controlled buns, plus maybe that guy from the commercials, the fat one with the chef’s hat, maybe he’ll visit your house, like my kid wants. That’s the last item, oh wait, except that the kid really likes those slice-and-bake cookie things, a variation on the same poppin’ fresh proposition, or at least he used to like them when the woman formerly known as my wife made them. He would eat the raw dough, which definitely has petrochemicals in it somewhere, I swear, and that’s one reason why I support the idea of slice-and-bake anything. Petrochemicals. Did I forget to put pet food items on the list? I don’t actually have any pets, but I like going down that aisle. I feel strongly that I could be a pet owner one day. I could own a bird. A bird could perch on my shoulder, and it could say Fuck you! to anyone who failed to treat me with respect. And I could get some Snausages, just because I like that brand name. What about tinned meats? It’s good to have the tinned stuff around the house in case some terrorist comes to Schenectady to detonate a dirty radiation device. Or what about a package of modeling clay from the toy aisle. Nine-year-olds love it. They could use it in the fallout shelter. Acne concealer. Do they still make it? Athlete’s Foot cream. Fungus is everywhere. Can’t be too certain. Carrots in a can. Peaches in syrup. Windshield cleaning fluid and de-icer. Mexican candles with pictures of Jesus on the side. Cheap magic tricks that any idiot could do. A squirtgun that looks just like a real gun. Nylon socks. Some videos from the early eighties starring Ted Danson. Shoe deodorizers. Car deodorizers. Deodorizing spray. Maybe some reading glasses from the rack of reading glasses where you just pick out a pair. Plastic flowers. And then there’s industrial cleanser, because it’s possible that there could be some really intense spills this afternoon, with all the nine-year-olds. I’m not arguing in favor of bloodstains, but you should be prepared. A tabloid that predicts a three-headed baby will be born to a woman who prayed daily for twenty-eight years. Batteries and flashlights and duct tape. A lug wrench. A lobster bib. Hot wasabi peas. Three different kinds of mustard in case I get bored.
Am I ready to do this? I think I’m ready.