Do you have Trader Joe’s in your town? They can be identified by their brightly colored decor and fun-looking signs that lull customers into thinking they’ve spent the afternoon buying carob-coated pumpkin seeds and miniature quiches in a cross between an Army PX and Disneyland’s Tiki Room gift shop.
[Note: Trader Joe’s is NOT to be confused with Whole Foods. Whole Foods can be recognized by its euro-woodsy decor, heaps of local weeklies toppling in the doorway, and (in anywhere but New York) parking lots clogged with honking Land Rovers, their drivers flipping each other off while wearing organic cotton t-shirts printed with sayings like “Practice Random Acts of Kindness” and “Namaste.”]
Regardless, I am a fan of Trader Joe’s. Why, you ask?
I live in a volatile bubble on the time-space continuum on a somewhat equal distance from five (count ’em) five various grocery stores, buffeted by the unique socio-political vibrations of each. Each store has its individual quirks: the questionable and near-expired knockoffs lining the aisles at Gristedes, the glacial pace of the “More than 10 Items” line in Broadway Market, and the thicket of righteously angered New Yokers (one of which I swear fired a poisonous dart into the back of my neck) that one must hack through to enter Fairway.
The matter with which I take issue is one that pertains to almost each of these stores, nay (that’s right, I said “nay”) every New York store I ever entered.
They are all too SMALL.
Yes, SMALL. As in bite-sized. As in Lilliputian. As in I should be able to fit down an aisle sideways without my shoulder blades emptying the shelf behind me and my nipples wiping out the shelf in front of me.
I’ll admit, at 6’0″ I’m not petite. I get that. I have to say, however, that I never worry about banging my forehead on a ceiling-mounted security camera when I’m in Albertson’s. No, it’s only in Manhattan grocery aisles that I feel like I’ve morphed into a water buffalo upon passing through their entrance door.
Oh, sure, some of them try to fake you out with those little weirdo shopping carts that aren’t built to human scale. You have to bend at the waist to reach the handle and if you arrange things just right they’ll hold a grape and a box of Tic Tacs.
Then there’s the tricky packaging, designed to make you think you’re in a normal-sized store. Should I buy 20 grains of rice, or splurge and get the economy-sized box of 50?
Why am I there, you ask? Well, honestly, I forget. I walk out in a grump with my bags (which upon returning to full-scale land, I discover are the size of paper lunch sacks), swearing that I’m never going back and rubbing my ankles, raw from being sideswiped by the exotic olive barge.
Then, six months later or so, I am desperate for some fresh idea for dinner and I figure it can’t be as bad as I remember, right? I was probably just having a bad day.
Which is what happened yesterday when I found myself mooing and swishing my leathery tail down the produce aisle, my cloven hooves cracking the distressed wood floors with each step and my horns spearing bundles of value-pack granola bars with every toss of my head.
Come on. Who was I kidding? I’m a child of the Southwest suburbs, where the parking comes in above-ground and multi-plex form, TP comes in 48-roll Costco packs and my neighborhood grocery store is roomy enough to grill a good trip-tip steak in a ’91 Dodge Caravan without riffling a single page of The National Enquirer.
I learned my lesson. Thankfully, I must not be the only New Yorker who prefers having a spacial comfort zone because now there’s a Trader Joe’s on 72/Broadway. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread – unless it’s during the after-work rush. Then I’m just screwed.
I end up leaving Trader Joe’s in a tiff, drag my slouched frame into the closest closet-sized store to my apartment, and attempt to mask my internal shame and disgust.
By the way, as long as you’re here, could you help me load that pallet of bite-sized Triscuits onto my forklift?