ACROSS THE SUBURBS AND INTO THE EXPRESS LANE
(originally published in United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine)
I was deep in the rear advance of the long line at the Express Lane at the Von’s
in the low brown hills on the outskirts of town. You couldn’t say it was in town
because it was a suburb but we didn’t know that when we lease-optioned the condo
and it felt like a town to me. Maybe that’s what a suburb did.
I had driven my hunter green sport utility vehicle there to hunt for some milk
of the lower fat variety, some swordfish and a stuffed dog. I knew it would be
dangerous during the running of the commuters but I had been a member of the
elite Von’s Club for some time so I had lost the fear. I had tried to find it at
the lost and found but all they had there was a generation. Someone said it was
perdue but maybe he was just chicken. It was tough to know and maybe I was not
tender enough to understand.
As the front lines advanced I executed a simple veronica and just missed the
charge of a soccer mom and her troops. When I saw The National Enquirer I knew
my time was near. The Enquirer was like death. You tried not to think about it
but it was always there waiting for you right above the spearmint Tic Tacs and
the ChapSticks of various flavors and there was not a thing you could do about
it. You might find out that Elvis was seen at Le Sélect or even that they had
discovered Hemingway’s Things To Do Lists and would publish them in the spring.
That’s how it was in the Express Lane in suburbia only we didn’t know it was any
different than anywhere else. Maybe suburbia was what we had instead of God.
I finished off a fiasco of chianti and reached into the J. Crew safari coat I
wore on Fridays of the casual sort and retrieved my Von’s Club Card. I counted
my items again. There were three and it made me think of the number of serial
ports on my Toshiba laptop. I had heard some men had three but that was probably
in the city. In the suburbs you really only needed two or at least that’s what
we told ourselves then.
I tried not to notice the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition until
I remembered that my wife was at aerobics. The model was blonde. The Swedes were
very popular in those days. Beside her picture was a story about Robert Cohn
fighting for the over-45 middleweight championship at the Y. I was wondering if
I had seen the girl of the cover on Baywatch or maybe during happy hour at
Harry’s Bar & American Grill.
When my turn came I was all alone on a small rise at the front facing the cold
hard stare of the young checkout girl in a uniform of the same color as the
Italians. They were damned fine chaps but I was not sure if it was politically
correct to say so.
I placed the milk of the lower fat variety, all two-and-a-half pounds of
swordfish and the stuffed dog on the swift moving blackness of the conveyor belt
that would have reminded me of the trout streams of the Irati if my wife had not
decided to take the kids to Disney World instead of Spain last year. Disney
World was like Harry’s, it was swell and good but not Spain. Most places
weren’t. The seńorita of the checkout had to call for a price check on the
stuffed dog and it was something like the road to hell.
“Is that all?” she said in that manner some checkout girls with the rank of
Assistant Manager will use. It was a kind of dialect but I understood.
“Isn’t it pretty to think so, my little rabbit?” I was pleased not to have left
the stuffed dog unbought.
“Paper or plastic?”
It was a question I hated because I never knew how you were supposed to answer.
My wife always knew but her cell phone would be turned off. For a moment I felt
the weight of the whole environment on my shoulders and it was maybe the
toughest thing I ever did.
“Nada. Nada y nada y pues nada,” I said, as I pulled my ATM card through the
machine and walked out the automatic sliding doors into the warm suburban air
without even waiting for my receipt. I felt some remorse about leaving the
receipt with its redeemable coupons behind but it was a casualty of the battle
that you had to pay to win the war.
I knew there would be other purchases and other opportunities to wrestle with
weighty environmental value decisions but that day I was sure that I was a man
who knew how to shop. There is never any end to suburbia and the memory of each
person who lives there differs from that of any other. Or is it just the same. I
would ask my wife. She would know. Maybe I could page her.
Following Hemingway’s footsteps across Europe, this year's
writing contest winner, Scott
Stavrou, ran with the bulls at Pamplona, lived in Europe and even valiantly attempted to drink
in all of Hemingway’s former haunts abroad. Now he haunts Los Angeles where he
another Hemingway hobby: writing.