Turkey Day Turmoil

We’ve all heard stories of “Black Friday” massacres and man’s inhumanity to man during holiday shopping, but I can say from personal experience that shopping for Thanksgiving necessities at mid-day on the Sunday before Thanksgiving is an experience that should be avoided at all costs. The tale that follows is at least partially true.

My daughter and I arrived at the grocery store at about 11:30 AM with a well-prepared list, a stack of coupons, and a feeling of dread. Our first indication that we were in for a challenging shopping trip was the fact that the only parking spot available to us was the last spot in the farthest aisle from the doors, next to the dumpsters. Fortunately, we had worn running shoes for maximum traction, comfort, and speed.  As we walked up to the door we took pains to select a cart with the best possible wheels and turning radius. After a brief team chant to psych ourselves up, we entered the store and were instantly assaulted with a rush of loud conversation, the clammy aura of too many people in a confined space, and artificial pumpkin pie scent.

We began our trip in the produce department, and a woman in black yoga pants and a fluorescent green flowered blouse was following behind us exhibiting annoyance whenever we paused to make a selection. Though at many points she had an opportunity to pass us, she continued to huff and puff with exasperation, staying about two feet behind us. Her cart was loaded with various canned fruits, Jell-o, Cool Whip, and marshmallows. Apparently, we were blocking her trajectory to the bananas, the final ingredient needed for the Jell-o mold I pictured her making when she arrived back at the trailer park. Once she had selected her bananas, she made a wide circle around the other tropical fruits, and continued her journey toward the seafood department, disappearing from view.

As we continued on, we had the opportunity to take advantage of a special holiday coupon: With the purchase of a fully-cooked brisket or turkey, the store gave you free salad mix, a block of cheese, an aluminum roasting pan, frozen corn, salad dressing, and sweet tea. My daughter and I perused the available turkeys and briskets, seeking the smallest and least expensive one we could find. Many other shoppers had the same goal and we were elbow-to-elbow with them over the cooler, pulling vacuum packed slabs of meat from the bottom of the pile and scrutinizing the labels. The larger selections were stacked up toward the back, creating a precarious wall of protein that threatened to collapse with each arm that reached into the cooler. The smaller options were being cradled to the bosom of women who continued their search, just in case they could find a better choice. Though I said, “Excuse me,” several times after receiving elbows to the ribs, the responses I got did not reflect the usual Southern charm and manners. Instead, I heard, “Hmmph,” and “Uh huh”. I even thought I heard one of them growl at me, but she might have just passed gas as she strained herself, stretching forward to move a heavy turkey.

There was a sudden yelp behind us as a frozen turkey was “accidentally” dropped on the foot of a man who was at odds with another patron to purchase it. We took this as our queue to retreat from the meat department, and quickly chose a small brisket; then began the scavenger hunt for the free items that we needed to fulfill their special offer. One would expect that there would be some sort of display near the briskets and turkeys that contained all of these items, but that was not to be. My daughter took the coupon with her and ran repeatedly from one end of the store to the other like a caroming billiards ball, gathering these items and catching up with me in the aisles as I continued our shopping.

At one point, my cell phone rang; it was my daughter standing at the end of aisle six, the aisle in which at that very moment I was perusing the selection of pumpkin puree. “I can see you, but I can’t get to you. There’s a blockade of old ladies and a single dad with four kids at one end of the aisle, and two women arguing over the last of the condensed milk that’s on special at the other.” I was trapped. I briefly considered taking on the old ladies and the single dad, but thought better of it; they outnumbered me, and old ladies can be scrappy. I walked to the end of the aisle with the arguing women and reached for the last can of evaporated milk, rolling it past them and causing a momentary pandemonium while they both grabbed their carts and scrambled after it, enabling me to escape into the next aisle.

My daughter had gathered the last of the items to fulfill our coupon and joined me, while we had our annual Thanksgiving quarrel — cranberry sauce: jellied or whole? We ended up getting two of each to ensure that we would accommodate the tastes of all of our Thanksgiving guests, but this dispute is still far from settled and promises to continue next year. While we were distracted by our own argument, a small and precocious child completed the building of a fort made of cans of cranberry sauce nearby. When a shopper attempted to take a can from his fortress, he shouted, “No!” with such a percussive quality that the shopper panicked and kicked at the structure, and it collapsed. “Clean up on aisle seven!” sounded on the loud speaker, and the addled and injured child was pulled from the cranberry wreckage. Several cans had broken as well, and it was difficult to tell where the cranberry ended and the blood began. Oh, the humanity!

As we approached the area in which one could find stuffing mix, there was a man with a pallet-jack and a huge box restocking the shelf, which was bare. As he put each packet of stuffing mix on the shelf, a small, withered woman wearing sandals, a muumuu, and a long red scarf reached up with an arthritic claw and put it into her own cart. After about twenty packages, the stocker asked, “How many do you need, ma’am?” She didn’t reply, instead pointing urgently at the empty space, mutely indicating that he should carry on putting stuffing on the shelf. He continued, shaking his head, as she proceeded to take the next fifteen packages of stuffing off the shelf, putting them into her cart.  Then she turned away and slowly made her way down the aisle, presumably seeking thirty or more cans of chicken broth.

The remainder of our shopping was concluded without incident, except when we got to the check-out. After the usual jockeying for position, we swooped into a spot, barely beating a woman pushing one cart in front of her and pulling another one behind. One of the carts contained a squalling infant with the distinct fragrance of dirty diaper emanating from his seat, and wearing a onesie that read “Shake hands, not babies”. We began placing our items on the conveyor belt, avoiding eye contact with the young mother who was now directly behind us in line. As I grabbed the cream cheese and pumpkin puree, I had a sudden realization: I had forgotten to get graham crackers for the crust on the pumpkin cheesecake! After some hurried instructions, my daughter darted away from the checkout and back into the store, dodging the crowd and leaping over small children and displays of green beans, mushroom soup, and cans of fried onions. She returned to the check-out breathless and victorious, the graham crackers in hand.

With the checkout complete, we walked about 200 yards to the back of the parking lot, passing the young boy covered in tears and cranberry sauce as he was being pushed into an ambulance, and loaded the car with our purchases. We did this rather quickly, as a mini-van with stickers for no fewer than six local children’s sports teams was waiting with a blinker on for our crappy parking spot with cars accumulating behind it. We pulled out of the parking lot, and with a start I asked, “Did you get the green beans!?” knowing in my heart that the answer was, “No.” We both knew we would not be turning around and going back. The green beans would have to wait for another day, maybe even after Thanksgiving.

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