Friday, 19 February 2016

Conversations in Supermarkets

I needed to drop off a cheque at the bank which meant that I might as well stop in at Target seeing as it was on the way. I could pick up a jar of curry sauce and that would be tonight's dinner sorted out. For some reason they don't sell curry sauce at HEB, or at least they don't sell it at the branch I visit nearly every day at the end of my morning ride. I could make the curry from scratch, as I once did, but it's cheaper to buy a jar; and in any case I lost my curry mojo a year or so before I moved to America. Every time I made curry I would vary the improvised recipe just enough to keep it interesting until I ended up with something I didn't actually like that much, and which I could no longer reverse engineer back to its former glory.

I'm in Target and I've got a jar of curry sauce, naan bread, Cadbury's Dairy Milk - which is difficult to get here in the US for some reason, and a box of Slim Jims, which is beef jerky and one of the things the kid will actually eat but which HEB no longer sell; and I'm in line at the till marvelling over having just seen copies of the new David Bowie album here in Target, which strikes me as weird. The cashier and the woman she is serving are talking about video games, Nintendo or Wii or something of the sort. I'm not listening but I gather they are discussing video games as something annoying, or which contributes to annoying behaviour.

The person stood in front of me decides that the time has come for him to chip in. He is a young male, maybe about twenty-eight, with a beard and a small child in tow. He is buying curtain hooks. He waits for a pause in the conversation and then contributes, 'they're not annoying when you make $750,000 from each one.'

The two women look at him.

He smiles and adds, 'I own a games company.' He puts a little spin on the statement punctuating the sentence with a chortle at the halfway mark just so that we know he isn't taking himself too seriously, and that he would be equally surprised and amused to encounter someone like himself at the checkout at Target. The chortle is his way of letting us know that he isn't just some tosser bragging to complete strangers in a supermarket on the Austin Highway.

Quick as a flash, I knock his spectacles from his nose and grind them beneath the heel of my shoe.

'Give us your dinner money, Harry Potter,' I growl.

I don't really, but I like to think that I would have done were my actions guided by the greater karmic forces of the universe. Nothing to do with a video game has ever impressed me, and certainly not grown men and women clinging stubbornly to their childhood whilst whining they have really interesting stories now, and you should check them out. My suspicion and distrust is further aroused by how much importance Junior attaches to the games he plays on his iPad, and how he still seems unable to grasp that we don't all feel the same way, that in his absence we don't sit around trying to work out which is his favourite Skylander. I once heard him attempt to dispel an unrelated accusation with I do know a game that I'd like. We'd found a plate of six week old pizza crusts in his room or something of that sort, and in his world the case for the prosecution could be derailed fairly easily with this announcement of some new game to which he'd given consideration.

'What can it be?' we had all asked ourselves over and over, and soon we would know.

I stare hard at the video game mogul, giving him that look which I perfected during my twenty-one years as a postman. Give us your dinner money, Harry Potter. I stare hard but say nothing and in the next minute he is gone. My head is still spinning as I pay for my curry sauce, naan bread, Cadbury's Dairy Milk, and Slim Jims.

They're not annoying when you make $750,000 from each one.


I get back out on the bike with my stuff in my backpack and cycle through Alamo Heights to the nearest branch of BBVA Compass, along Chevy Chase, then Haskin Drive, then Country Lane - which may well be a lane but is cartographically within the city limits, so who knows? Chevy Chase is similarly a mystery, and my wife and myself presume it must have been named after the actor, although we have no idea why.

The cheque is a refund from the dentist. We overpaid, which is probably something to do with changes to whoever is providing our dental insurance. I fill out a slip and deposit the sixty dollars in my account, then head out on the Nacogdoches Road towards Salado Creek, past something called Sir Winston's Pub, a distance of maybe two miles. It's a route I would have avoided had I not had to go to the bank, but is by far the quickest given that I did. Typically I get a blast of car horn as I cross the bridge over the creek, just as I have been subject to a honking every other time I've cycled on this road. I get a blast of car horn because someone in a truck the size of Gibraltar is overtaking an even bigger vehicle on the inside lane and is presumably irritated to experience the inconvenience of an Obama-loving Communist faggot on a bike on a road surfaced by his tax dollars. How the fuck dare I, he is asking, assuming it's a man at the wheel. I shout tosser and give him the hand signal popularised by Sir Winston Churchill, the man whose pub I passed about five minutes before. I expect that one day I will gesture at a vehicle, having received a blast of horn for no good reason other than a general dislike of cyclists, and the vehicle will draw to a halt and disgorge an angry hillbilly with a firearm.

I suppose I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

I've just crossed the one over Salado Creek, and now I head through Ladybird Johnson Park and onto the Tobin Trail, the greenway along which I cycle fifteen miles every morning. It is peaceful, cold but sunny, with not many others around. The greenway follows Salado Creek which itself crosses an undeveloped flood plain, so it isn't like being in a city at all. You see the occasional building and pass beneath a few highways, but that's about it. I cycle along Morningstar Boardwalk to My Hill, then stop to have my ceremonial pee at the top. I can see the city from the summit, and the airport and Wurzbach Parkway, but I'm fairly certain that even as I pee I will be seen only as some tiny figure in the wilderness, and I can see along a mile of greenway in both directions, so I know when someone is approaching before they see me.

Anyway I have my pee, relieving my bladder and further laying claim to the land between Wetmore and Wurzbach, then I sit and drink the bottle of iced tea I always bring with me. I sit for a couple of minutes then get on the bike and head back.

At the end of the trail I take Corinne Drive up to HEB. I need to buy cat food and oranges and all the things I didn't want to buy in Target because I didn't want to have to carry them around all morning. I have become such a regular at this branch of HEB that I give out Christmas cards. My wife says she finds this branch depressing and it has the reputation of being the 'hood HEB, which just means fewer white faces, excepting people from the trailer parks down by the creek. This doesn't bother me. They don't bother stocking curry sauce because I guess there isn't much you can teach Mexican families about hot, spicy food, but it also means that I don't have to look at all the face-lifty heiresses you see squeezing kumquats and scowling in those other branches of HEB. I fill my basket and unload all my crap onto the belt at Cherie's till. I'm calling her Cherie because I don't want her to get in trouble, although it isn't her name. She's a black woman, about my age or a little younger, with an accent so strong I probably wouldn't have understood what she was saying five years ago. She holds some sort of in-store record for the speed at which she whizzes stuff off the belt and charges you for it. The manager came along and gave her a cheque - her prize money - as I was buying cat food a couple of months ago, and Cherie explained the award to me and how she had held the title for a couple of years by that point.

She's pleased to see me, but then she seems pleased to see everyone and it never comes across as sales patter.

'You got yourself a new one,' she says happily as I fill my backpack with stuff. 'You'll be able to get a lot more in there, for sure.'

I'm not taken aback that she remembers me, but it's weird that she even notices I have a new backpack. I suppose when you work the tills you'll take whatever gets you through the day.

'How much were these?' she asks. 'Two dollar sound about right?'

The price tag has come off my bag of onions. 'I think it was more like three dollars, maybe two ninety-five?'

She shrugs. 'Let's call it two dollar.'

'Three is fine. I don't want you getting into trouble.'

'I'm sure they about two dollar.' Tap-tap-tap-tap bleep and I have my onions.

This is why I like this branch of HEB, even if they never have curry sauce. Even when no-one is really saying anything beyond just the noises of social interaction, the standard of conversation is better; and I don't come home annoyed with myself for having failed to take anyone's dinner money.

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