Tuesday, February 22, 2011


My second submission piece for my fiction class.

I walk across the asphalt from my car to the grocery store entrance. My long, brunette hair is blowing in my face but I have an image in my mind; that my hair looks like the hair of a model on a shampoo commercial, so I don’t pull it out of my face and eyes. The automatic glass doors don’t jerk open fast enough and I stutter step to avoid running into them. Someone must have seen the incident and thought I looked like an idiot. I can’t decide between a big cart so there’s enough room for my larger items or a smaller cart so I don’t have to apologize to someone when I accidentally get in their way. I opt for the smaller cart, gripping the blue and gray push handle with resolve. As I pull my grocery list for one from my back pocket (a small, folded, yellow Post-It note), I realize that no one probably noticed such a small piece of paper in my hand. They must’ve thought I was just touching my butt.

I glance over at the grapes on sale right in the entrance to the store, but there is already an elderly woman in a red fleece vest with a cream turtleneck standing there. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by standing close to her, inspecting grapes. Plus, I probably would’ve picked the wrong bag of grapes and she would’ve pitied me for being so grape-ignorant, not that she even knows me. She looks like my grandmother, with gray, curly, short hair. She even smiles at me and I am surprised she has such nice teeth. But, I know she would’ve judged my grapes. I look right to avoid eye contact with my grandmother and am tempted by the Pop-Tarts. But I know what people think of Pop-Tart eaters, so I veer to the left and head for the bread aisle.

I don’t like bagels that much, but they’re convenient. And, everyone thinks they’re healthy, right, which is a good reason to buy them. I wonder if passing customers (like that man with too much hair gel on his comb over) notice my shopping savvy as I grab the on-sale brand of bagels advertised by the neon yellow sign on the shelf. He probably thinks I am a cheapskate, buying the gross bagel brand just to save a few bucks. He might be six feet tall, but even with his four inch height advantage I think I could get away from him if he were to attack me. I only buy the cinnamon raisin variety because I eat them without any spread. At first I thought I didn’t put cream cheese on my bagels because I was too lazy to put cream cheese on my bagels. I realized I just didn’t like buying cream cheese. I wonder if this overweight, obviously single man thinks less of me without the cream cheese (because really, who eats a bagel without cream cheese?) or if he would think less of me if I had cream cheese in my cart. Of course, I could have cream cheese still in my fridge at home. But, I bet some people have seen me shopping here before and know that I never buy cream cheese. Maybe not overweight flannel shirt guy, but some people. I consider shopping at a different supermarket from now on.

Around the next corner is the open produce area. I know I should buy vegetables but I am nervous to pick out some that aren’t “good.” I only eat vegetables with ranch dressing, and then it becomes more about the dressing than the vegetables so why bother? I don’t know many people who go to the grocery store without buy vegetables. The absence of vegetables in my cart must be alarming, especially to that eccentric looking woman with fly-away auburn hair, who looks kind of like my mother. She seems preoccupied with her apples, and flirting with the middle-aged produce clerk, but I’m pretty sure she saw me walk right by the cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce. I want to get some apples, I eat one every day, but I really don’t want that woman to ask me about my lack of vegetables. I decide to skip buying the apples I really want, that happen to be on sale, and push my cart through the different displays of bananas, cantaloupes, and oranges. Right past the apples.

I stop in the middle of the thoroughfare because the two dollar bags of corn tortilla chips are always on the end of the aisle, nearest to the produce. I try to think about who I could complain to about that. Every time I stop for tortilla chips, my cart is in the middle of all the foot traffic and I know people start to hate me for taking up aisle real estate. That’s why I usually try to get a small cart. I know customers like those two 20-something men in horizontally striped polo shirts, who that are talking to each other and run into me and profusely apologize and then keep walking, did it in on purpose. They wanted to show me what they thought of me being in the way and buying the tortilla chips. The store manager should really think of a better place to stock these chips.

I turn into the next aisle over, the cereal aisle, which always takes the most time for me. I never know what kind of cereal to buy. I look thrifty because I’m buying Malt-o-Meal. I’ve never actually done a price comparison to see if Malt-o-Meal really is a better deal than the box, name brand cereal. The young mother with two children hanging out of her large shopping cart must think I eat cereal every night. Even she doesn’t buy a Malt-o-Meal bag of cereal, and she has a family. I almost put the cereal back, but I don’t want to look too picky so I keep it in my cart. It’s crushing my other groceries and obviously doesn’t fit very well, but I’m still glad I picked a smaller cart, I think. One time I bought the off brand of Malt-o-Meal and it was disgusting. The college student in sweat pants and slippers walks buy me and grabs one such off brand bag of cereal. I know she thinks I’m rich because I buy Malt-o-Meal, and I wish I could tell her I’m not.


After gathering all the items on my list, I pause to brainstorm some other meal options. I’m starting to feel panicky, and for no reason my face is turning red. I know employees and customers have seen me walking through the aisles and if I take too long, they’ll start to think and talk about me. I can hear the cereal mother with her kid, telling her husband on the phone about me. I can see the overweight comb over man chatting with his online friend about the weirdo in the grocery store he saw tonight. Too quickly, I walk to a checkout lane. I start piling my groceries on the conveyor belt, my anxiety growing. The couple holding hands in front of me has ground beef, vegetables, raw pasta, seasoning packets, and more; all the makings of having a good week’s worth of dinners. They know how good their groceries are too, because they’re smiling and talking. I don’t make eye contact with them; I don’t want to read the scorn in their eyes. I know it’s there. I purposely stare at all the other items around the counter. Celebrity gossip magazines with shouting headlines, candy bars, gum, breath mints in really metallic and flashy packaging, fingernail clippers. I’d buy a candy bar, but I know those people in front of me would see it. Then the cashier would see it too.

He starts scanning my items, smiling “pleasantly.” He is judging me too. He drags package after package of my Ramen noodles over the laser light, and tries to make small talk. I wish he would just say it. I wish he would just tell me what he thought of me and my groceries. I want to reach over the ATM pin pad, grab him by his apron, shake him, and walk out without saying a word. I wish I could leave my groceries behind.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Brian the Warrior

I just wrote out this whole, moving blog post about how much the Redwall series means to kids, with protagonists that work together, advocate for the defenseless, and take control of their own situations even though they are small in stature. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while I do believe all of that and see that as the genius of Brian Jacques with his series, I can't ignore the 3rd grader in me who started reading those books.

Laurie Banks, a problematic 3rd grader, seemed to only really be good at reading. Math, not her strong suit. Cursive, not her strong suit. Art, not her strong suit. She read books out of the bin marked "11" on the shelves and was the only one to do that, and she was proud. Real proud. She had temper tantrums, got sent to the principal's office, and cried a lot at school. She didn't think about much when she read Redwall except that it was exciting and they were cute animals that had cool, dangerous weapons that did good things for their friends or even strangers that needed help. There were riddles throughout the book that intrigued and challenged and added to the flair of the story. Above all, it was series. A long series. This world never had to end. The good guys always won and it was nice to be in a place where it was easy to tell who was supposed to get the crayons thrown at them and who was supposed to be on your soccer team at recess. It was fun, and continued to be fun through high school, so she kept reading all of the books that Brian Jacques wrote.

I hope kids keep reading these books. I hope parents bridge the word of mouth gaps and keep Redwall Abbey around for their kids. These are wonderful stories and not that I've ever met the man, but there isn't a kindlier looking jacket cover than the one with Brain Jacques smiling up at you. I could get deeper and (like I did in the first paragraph) really identify why kids relate to these texts so much, but let's not over think this. The Redwall series is fun, so let's keep reading fun. I hope authors and publishers and readers alike keep this mantra in mind. Reading should be fun.

Thanks, Mr. Jacques or as I will affectionately refer to you from here on out, Brian the Warrior. Thanks for making reading so fun.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gyro Combo

I sit in my office cubicle a lot. It's quiet, the computer has dual monitors, and there's a set of speakers so I don't have to use earbuds for an annoyingly long period of time in a library or common area to study. If I go home, I sit on my bed, facing the TV in my room. Either I end up turning it on and watching reruns of shows I don't actually like or I fall asleep. In my office I usually end up browsing the Internet for inordinate amounts of time, but I feel a little more productive in a quite office chair than anywhere else, even if it isn't accomplishing anything.

The weekend is no exception. But, on Fridays I usually indulge and think "if I'm not doing anything fun, the funnest option I have to get some good food." This particular evening I walked out of my office around 6pm. It's about a 7 minute walk to the student parking lot, across a busy road on campus. I waited for the light to change and started moving with the sound of the electronic bird tweets signaling the walk signal. I hadn't taken many steps when I saw a white, mid-nineties four-door sedan about 100 feet before the crosswalk. I stutter stepped because even though he could've slammed on his breaks and made the stop, I already knew he wasn't going to. He slammed right into a teal, early 2000's SUV of some kind. He caught the back, passenger side panel and spun the car around. His air bags deployed. Another guy was in the crosswalk with me and we both stopped for a second. I realized the red hand started flashing and we were just standing in the middle of the road.

We both kept walking. I looked at the driver of the SUV who was now facing south instead of north. We made eye contact as this middle-aged, dress suit clad, matronly looking red-headed woman took off her seatbelt. I kept looking back. "At least their okay," the kid walking next to me said. No one was getting out of the white sedan. I kept looking back. I heard another man I had passed on the sidewalk before the crosswalk, calling out to both drivers, "are you guys okay? Ma'm are you okay?" The last time I looked back, he was walking between cars. There were flashing blue lights from the BYU police squad car that had already arrived on the scene.

I went through a drive-thru and brought my food back to my office, so I could watch some TV on Netflix with a faster Internet connection than at my apartment. As I approached the same intersection in my car (it was late enough I could park any where on campus by this point), I wondered if it had gotten cleaned up. About 30 minutes had passed and the accident hadn't seemed to terrible to me. I rounded the corner and saw flares stopping traffic from passing north to south. There was an ambulance and a fire truck. Medical personnel was surrounding someone on the pavement. I couldn't see any more than that.

I'm a real jerk sometimes. People invite me to do things and I decline because I'd rather not hassle with the social expectations of laughing at a stupid joke, or pretending I think someone is making an intelligent critique on society when really they're just regurgitating some nonsense from their parents, teacher, or favorite political pundit. Don't get me wrong, I'm not any better, but I would venture that I'm a lot more self aware. Meeting people is hard. I used to be good at it but I forgot how, somewhere over the course of the last few years. I feel awkward and self-conscious when I try to strike up a conversation with someone who I'm assuming is thinking about my acne or my weight or my outfit.

Despite all of this, I really thought I was a good person. I thought if someone needed help, I would drop anything to lend a hand. I walked by those cars and for a split second thought "I should see if they're okay." Then I kept walking. I assumed they all had phones. I assumed that because I didn't see anyone slumped over in their seats that they were fine, just another traffic accident. And in reality, there are all sorts of lawsuits about good Samaritans who get the short end of the stick because they've given improper care at the scene of an accident. I'm not trained in emergency response. I don't really know what the right response would've been. It was probably more of a lose/lose situation. But I can't really change anything now. I didn't stop.