Posts Tagged 'supermarkets'

A Place in the Sun

I went to Westridge Market this morning looking for a few things to make this really yummy sounding pear recipe. Pears, blue cheese, tart dried cherries, lemons and brown sugar. I already had the final ingredient, port wine, at home. Port is not my favorite mind bender, but until it spoils it can serve as a safety net if I exhaust my scotch, gin, vodka and bourbon. Oh, and the white wine too.

I visit the local markets frequently. It’s something to do while the virus tracks me down and a bit of a challenge. I’ve made a game of it, with toilet paper playing a leading role. Other less challenging roles are assigned to canned goods and baking supplies. All have been in short supply and the game has become more problematic as the days go by. Dire messages from the news-hungry media and the President’s semi-factual, self-taught pronouncements have encouraged me to stock up in anticipation of the rapid evolution of a new ice age populated only by cockroaches, termites and English sparrows.

This morning’s Play Station worthy episode began with an exploration of the offerings available on the Internet. I dove into the quest anticipating the usual disappointment. The object of my desire, toilet paper, was unavailable at Costco, Amazon or Vons. “Out of Stock” was the most popular response to my incessant clicking. “Available in June” was a close second. Visions of self-imposed constipation lit up my morning.

Convincing myself that there was a critical, not to be postponed, need for the components of my pear recipe, I drove to Westridge. Optimistic, I extracted two cloth grocery bags from my trunk, dropped them into one of several thousand empty shopping carts and wheeled my way into the store. Shelved stock was pathetic, except for liquor which seems to self-regenerate without human intervention. Usually abundant, now scarce, cans of tomatoes were standing apart from one another as though they too dreaded the touch of some other can’s corona-infested tin cladding.

The object of my search was two aisles removed from the unsocial tomato cans. Not wishing to seem obvious, but also wary of losing my place to others, I moved casually in a feigned disinterested manner.  I stared down the coveted aisle. Shelves normally laden with rolls of toilet paper were barren. I cruised aimlessly down the empty shelves and noted the signs that were taped to the metal. Written unceremoniously with a Sharpie, they severely admonished hoarders. Three Rolls to a Customer. Leave Some for the Next Guy. No Exceptions. I half expected that I’d find one that said Get Used to It or a page of instructions, complete with photos, demonstrating a more efficient way of wiping your fanny. There were so many signs that, for a moment, I thought I might take them home as substitutes for the real thing.

I wondered how, if they really had toilet paper, they would enforce the no more than three rolls per customer rule. Could a family of four, including two infants nestled in the shopping cart, buy twelve rolls? Might a couple split their groceries and check out separately doubling their bounty? Could the same purchaser check out three rolls, exit the store, come back five minutes later and get a second helping? Could seniors double-dip since they tended to make more daily visits to the throne than younger people?

As I stood there fantasizing, I glimpsed a flash of white set back in the shadows of the bottom shelf. My heart raced as I reached in and grasped it. A roll that had somehow eluded my competition was now mine. It bore no resemblance to any of the usual brands. It was clumsily wrapped in nondescript paper and looked as though it might have been previously fondled and rejected by several seekers less amorous than I.

I stared at the roll in my hand. I’ve learned a lot about toilet tissue while cruising the web. Number of layers and the thickness of each prominently jump to the top of the list of important characteristics. Some rolls have more sheets, but each sheet may be thinner. Or shorter. The status of your septic system may trounce all other considerations. These critical issues should cause one to pause as they review the qualities that most closely match their particular preferences.

Rolls made for commercial use often have narrow holes in the center of the roll that make it unsuitable for hanging on your common garden-variety tissue holder. Perhaps this deliberate impediment limits the number of rolls purloined by employees or visitors who don’t want a hundred feet of toilet paper cascading down the center of their bathroom. If you have ever attempted to re-roll a runaway roll, you know what I mean.

These industrial rolls are often sold in boxes of sixty or more. Rejected in normal times, these lifetime supplies from China are now in demand. However, one must often give up one full space in a two-car garage to house these monstrosities. And what about the impact on the neighbors’ sensitivities when seeing the over-sized cartons being wheeled off the large shipment FedEx truck. On the other hand, an otherwise cranky but needy neighbor can become your new best friend overnight.

There I was, holding an orphaned, undersized and rejected roll of paper. One that normally would have been consigned to the parking lot dumpster. But today, it was found gold. I placed it lovingly in the center of my shopping cart and began my march to the checkout station. And then I wondered what I was doing.

Had I become so besotted with my search for toilet paper that I had lost my sense of proportion? Was I so bereft of my senses that the acquisition of one runty ill-wrapped roll could consume me? Did I even know how many rolls I already had or even where I had stored them?

My accomplishment paled as I reached the checkout. I felt a twinge of embarrassment as I tossed my purchases onto the conveyor belt. I was sure the checker was thinking “Poor guy. Only one roll of toilet paper.  And then what?  I shudder to think.”

Bagging my purchases into my own ancient, germ-infested cloth bag revealed the extent of my shame. The toilet paper went first, to be buried by my other menial purchases before anyone but the checker could be made privy to my dismal situation.

Arriving home, I considered possible storage locations for the orphan. Housing it with rolls that had familiar pedigrees like Scott and Charmin just would not do. On the other hand, a dark, recessed place of its own seemed too harsh on the little fella.

I decided that anonymity was the best course of action. Unwrapping the roll gave it life and a certain air of mystery. Able to assume any identity, it is no longer an outcast as it hangs with honor waiting to serve me.

I think both of us are quite happy with the way it all turned out.

The most precious thing

What is the most precious thing in the world?

What are the characteristics that make it so? A short list might include beauty, timelessness, desirability and scarcity.

Until last week, my most precious list would have included a unique jewel much like the Hope Diamond. At 45 carats, about a third of an ounce, the Hope luxuriates in Washington DC’s Museum of National History. Legend has it that the diamond is cursed and the owner, or anyone else who touches it, will die. Sort of like forgetting to clean your doorknobs of the Corona virus. If the stone was in the Museum’s gift shop, its price tag would be about $350 million plus tax. Not sure if they offer gift wrapping.

The Mona Lisa is also in the running. Housed in the Paris Louvre, the lady with the mysterious smile is estimated to set you back nearly a billion bucks, plus tax. Framing is extra. The Italian noblewoman, believed to be Lisa Gherardini, was painted by da Vinci around 1503. She displays an enigmatic expression that undoubtedly reflects Lisa’s awareness that twenty-first century art connoisseurs would assuredly be foolish enough to pay her over inflated price.

Faberge eggs have captured the imagination since the 1800’s when they were produced in Czarist Russia. Most were made for royalty, but the majority did not survive the revolution, or the misguided melting of the undervalued eggs for their gold. One such egg, purchased at a flea market fifty years ago for $14,000, currently has an estimated value of over thirty million. The ignorant flea market purchaser kept it in his Midwest home located next to a highway and a Dunkin Donuts until an antique dealer spotted it sitting next to some cupcakes on the owner’s Formica kitchen counter.

These three items have at least one thing in common. None have any utilitarian value. If you awoke next Monday morning and discovered that your Faberge was cracked, your diamond shattered or the Mona Lisa looking like DC Comics’ Joker, you would probably shrug and say something like easy come, easy go. Then turn over in bed, snuggle with your sweetie, and your morning would go on as always, without the diamond, the painting or the egg.

The most precious list takes on a wholly different flavor when we are faced with something that can seriously impact how we live. The current Corona crisis helps put things in perspective. Especially at the grocery store. Tough times with real or imaginary shortages of taken-for-granted items, often reveal some of our baser instincts.

In 1967 we lived in Chicago when we had 27 inches of snow in a single day. The freeway shut down and people used it as boardwalk to the nearest market. Gallons of milk disappeared from store shelves, probably into homes where it was never consumed. It surely spoiled before it could be wolfed down by people who hadn’t had a glassful since they were in Mrs. Weintraub’s first grade class.

Moving to Los Angeles that same year to avoid future blizzards, we were welcomed with earthquakes. The worst was the 1994 Northridge quake. No electricity. No open markets. We became a third world country overnight. Hot dogs from our non-functioning freezer were roasted over our still operating gas stove. Candles provided light. Empty fifty-gallon metal barrels appeared on the street; their burning wood scraps providing a place for people to gather. We avoided driving our cars, fearful that we might never find fuel in gas stations that could no longer pump it. Hush hush messages were shared with friends whenever a secret stash of store-based vitals was discovered; we invariably arrived too late to grab anything that we didn’t really need anyway.

The blizzard cleanup and the quake reconstruction were short term impediments to our lifestyle. They were localized, allowing billions of people to be mere TV voyeurs watching the drama unfold without being directly affected by the events. We intuitively knew that our lives would be restored to normalcy before the next Olympics.

In agonizing contrast, the Corona madness has the entire world at its feet. Any permanent respite is impossible to predict with any certainty. At seven every morning we watch ABC’s George Stephanopoulos lean forward in his Good Morning America swivel chair and tell us how god-damn awful this thing is. How the rate of infection will soon fill every hospital bed, the Superdome and all the sea-going Maersk shipping containers with victims who have no ventilators and no hope. How anyone George interviews is deemed crazy by him if they say things are getting under control. We multi-task by staring at the streaming crawler spewing more bad news at the bottom of our TV screen…repeating these disasters every sixty seconds. Like lemmings, we are too paralyzed to turn it off and switch to the fifteenth episode of the fourth year of our favorite depressing Netflix series.

Images of food shortages race through our frontal lobe. Some of us remember World War 2 ration books, victory gardens and meatless Mondays. We mentally inventory our available foodstuffs. We have no idea when this worst of all flu seasons will end. We see the Vons’ parking lot filled from six in the morning into the night. Cars sliding snail-like up and down the aisles looking to catch a break. We think they must know something we don’t. So we join them.

We grab an available cart, ladling germs onto the palms of our hands. We enter through the automatic doors, thankful we don’t have to touch them. We grab a disinfectant tissue and wipe our hands and the cart’s push bar. We dispose of the tissue on top of the overflowing garbage can.

Once fully inside, we stop. Where are we going? Left or right? So much to choose from. Better make up our mind quickly before someone else snatches our number one item while we procrastinate like Lot’s wife. We finally decide.

We stare at the overhead signs. And then we spot it. Paper Goods. We move quickly. Our heart is pounding. We look down the chosen aisle. Our eyes shift right. A sea of off-white metal meets our gaze. Having never seen an empty Vons display rack, we are momentarily stunned, unable to move. How is this possible?

Now we know what the most precious item is. What will change sensible shoppers into glutinous hoarders. What we can’t do without. Names that had little importance two weeks ago have come to the top of our most precious list. Northern, Charmin, Kirkland, Angel Soft, Cottonelle, Scott. All gone.

The Hope Diamond, the Mona Lisa and Faberge eggs are still available. But who gives a shit?


Drove the Help of Ojai bus yesterday.  Not very busy.  Oak Tree House was still shuttered for the holidays so my passenger list was short.  I usually take a book anticipating a block of spare time but hardly ever crack it open.   Generally find something else to do like nudgey Jan, eat a few bites of sandwich and visit Java and Joe for a big cup of dark roast coffee.

I like Java and Joe.  I avoid the Ojai Coffee Roasting Company.  The same faces are always behind the counter at Java and Joe.  Even though they aren’t the most engaging folks they know what they’re doing and do it efficiently.  When we first moved to Ojai my friend Steve asked me if I had been to the Star Wars Cafe.  I scratched my head and said I hadn’t heard of it.  Steve laughed “It’s the Ojai Coffee Roasting Company.”  You can probably figure out the connection.

On occasion I do stumble into the Roasting Company.  The faces behind the counter seem to change with the seasons.  The service is usually the same.  Takes awhile for them to recognize your existence.  Once you are blessed with their attention, what generally follows are a few quizzical looks and a half-hearted attempt to meet my needs.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a regular.  But I digress.

I  had about twenty minutes of spare time mid-morning.  Needed some stamps for a bunch of postcards that Sweetie and I prepared for our upcoming photo show at City Hall.   We don’t stock up on twenty-seven cent stamps so I figured I’d dash into the post office and get a bunch.   Parked the bus about half a block from the post office and hustled over.  There are two sets of doors at our post office.  The first set opens to the street.  The second set of doors, the ones the postal clerks hide behind, gives way to the inner sanctum where you generally queue up with half a dozen other people.

Not today.  The line inside the doors was backed up and flattened against them.  No more room at the inn.  It’s sort of a self-limiting queue.  After all, you’re not going to open the second set of doors and expose everyone to winter’s icy blasts.  The last woman in line behind the protective glass turned to me and shrugged her shoulders.  I left.  Strike one.

My bus shift ended after I dropped off the lunch bunch.  A really nice bunch.  Bob waits for the bus on a chair in his driveway.  Then hustles his walker down to the lift.  Oma has a cane and usually pinches my cheek.  Dottie has a walker and always says how wonderful we drivers are.  And Ellen at 90 has a cane, sort of hops up the bus steps and proceeds to brighten my day.  Bless ’em all.

My usual routine at shift’s end is to call Sweetie and ask if she needs anything before I take the fifteen minute trip up the hill.  “I could probably use some color-safe bleach.  No need to go out of your way.  It can wait.”  Sure.

Starr Market is only a block away from Little House.  I figured ten minutes tops including browsing.  Let’s see…as long I’m here, why not get some bananas.  They were all bright green.  Just two, they’ll be OK tomorrow or the next day.  No bananas with cereal today but we can handle it.  And why not some mushrooms.  $3.99 for an itty bitty container.  Oh well, nothing’s too good for us.  On to the bleach.  Let’s see.  Plain bleach, lemon scented bleach, lime fresh bleach…no color-safe bleach.  OK, too bad Starr.  Keep your green bananas and your high-roller mushrooms.  On to Vons.

Can’t fool me twice in one day.  First, look for the bleach.  If they pass that test, move to Phase 2.  Plain bleach, lemon scented bleach, lime fresh bleach, even high-intensity-turn-everything-bright-white bleach.   Aha, in the corner away from prying eyes…color-safe bleach…organic of course (what makes bleach inorganic?)   And three times the price of  the other bleach.   Nothing’s too good for us.  On to the bananas.  Almost over-ripe.  Two’s enough.  Mushrooms reasonably priced.  That’ll teach you, Starr.

On to the check-out stand.  Let’s see, only four items.  Express Checkout for me.  But wait, there’s a woman in front of me with a small child.  She’s got her stuff laid out on the conveyor belt.  But what’s this.  She forgot one item.  “Would it be OK if I run real quick and get it?”  Sure.  I scan the other check-out stands.  There’s one that looks promising.  I’ll wheel the cart over there.  But wait, there’s a woman with enough cereal boxes to end the famine in Ethiopia…and about fifty cans of cat food to boot.  No good.  Back to Express Check-out.

A Vons supervisor blocks my path like she was Dick Butkus.  “Get thee to check-out stand six…no waiting.”  I turn and sheepishly begin the trek to six.  There are three people ahead of me, each loaded down with duplicate Ethiopian famine ending carts.  Don’t listen to her, Fred.  Get back to Express Checkout.  Too late, the Express line stretches to Ethiopia…no waiting for them.

My turn at Stand Six finally comes.  “And how are you today, Mr. Rothenberg?”



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