Tonya Malinowski
Jan 11, 2016 · 4 min read

Grocery shopping has never been something I consider a burden. In fact, I actually love it. It’s cathartic. I think it’s the oddly satisfying way the apples are so neatly and uniformly stacked.

My favorite thing by far is to look at what people have in their carts and build elaborate narratives about their lives. Once I saw a young mother with two little ones fighting over a toy. One of them had the red, blotchy face of a recent meltdown. In the carriage she had organic, free range ground turkey — but also a pack of Oreos. I found it endearing because I figured she’s trying, but — like all of us — she also knows sometimes you’ve just got to do whatever it takes to get through the day.

Recently I found myself near an old couple in front of a display of prepared, stuffed chicken. They were well kempt, the woman wearing a quilted jacket and a small string of peals, and the man in a wool blazer. He carried the basket, which contained two cans of tomato paste, a bag of dried pinto beans, and a loaf of potato bread. They seemed to be talking idly, and I got a little closer to them, both because I wanted a package of the chicken and because I was curious as to what two people talk about after presumably spending a short infinity together.

“Last time we got that it was fucking disgusting,” the woman said.

My head whipped toward her so quickly that you would think I’d heard a gunshot.

“No, it was the cordon bleu that was horse shit. This is spinach,” the man said.

By this point, the rest of the world had ceased to exist. So great was my shock and appall that the sound of my cell phone ringing in my purse was foreign and unrecognizable.

Profanity from teenagers and young adults doesn’t even register in my field of perception. I hear it, but never bother with a fully formed recognition. But this! — this was like a chicken that can play the piano. This was something of a spectacle.

I started to wonder — doesn’t retirement and old age in general provide a utopia free from any daily irritants that would inspire a stray fuck? No rush hours, no Janice from accounting, no coworkers eating your yogurt out of the communal fridge.

“Well they both look like fucking horse shit to me,” the woman replied. By this point I became aware of the loony smile on my face and tried to get rid of it, but it was useless. This was a gift from the universe, and I was giddy over it.

Though I’m unsure why, I was reminded of the time I saw a stunningly beautiful young woman on an airplane who was missing a chunk of hair on the side of her head. There wasn’t a scar to indicate it was shaved for surgical purposes, nor an attempt to hide it. It was just there, and its existence drove me to the brink of curiosity-induced insanity.

The more I heard this old couple speak, the more I felt that same insatiable hunger to know everything about them. Were they Trump supporters? Was English their first language? What do they do with their time? What on earth kind of music do they listen to? Would they enjoy one of those cutesy but profane cross stitches?

“Then let’s just have the goddamn leftover ziti and be done with it,” the old man grumbled. There was some annoyance in his tone, but he had also put his hand on her back and gently rubbed it for a moment. The gesture was so loving, in such stark juxtaposition to the profanity, that my head almost exploded.

It wasn’t the old man’s cursing that knocked my socks off. Though somewhat surprising, it wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Like seeing a cat stand up on its hind legs. But the woman — she delivered it with such nonchalance that it was clearly a regular part of her vocabulary. It wasn’t reactionary; there was no pretense or fanfare. She hadn’t burned a pie crust and in a moment of frustration said, “Ah fuck it.” This was just…her normal.

I caught up with them again a few moments later in front of the frozen fruit. As the man reached into the freezer case for a bag of blueberries she said to him, “Get the Dole — those other ones leave the fucking Tupperware stained.” By now, I was certain I was on some reality show. I looked around slowly for a camera crew, still absentmindedly holding a package of English muffins from two aisles prior. With my weird, slack-jawed grin I probably looked like a trauma victim in shock.

As I watched them go through the checkout line, I realized I’d grown to really like this old lady. I was suddenly sad to see them walking out of the store and found myself wishing I knew them personally, like I could just call them up and say, “It’s fucking January 11th and someone wished me a happy New Year today. Do you believe that shit?”

Instead, I strained longingly from my spot at the register only to see them disappear in between cars. I hope they enjoyed that goddamn leftover ziti.

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Tonya Malinowski

Written by

Producer for ESPN’s E:60. Creative nonfiction freelancer. Perpetual work in progress. Here: personal stories. Instagram: tonyamichelle_

The Coffeelicious

Home to some of the best stories on medium. Look around, relax and enjoy one with a sip of coffee.

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