ACROSS THE SUBURBS AND INTO THE EXPRESS LANE
by Scott Stavrou (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 señorita 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 successfully pursues another Hemingway hobby: writing.