Friday, February 24, 2012


I live directly above a cozy, family-owned fruit and vegetable dealership. The owners, a set of white-haired, mustached twins, greet me each morning with an enthusiastic "Buongiorno!" and each day, I stop to admire their gorgeous display of vibrantly colored gifts from the earth. Their shop is the embodiment of people's fantasy about the way Italians do their grocery shopping, including myself.

The unfortunate reality is that if I want to purchase a local vegetable from a non commercial mom & pop veggie stop, I have to be prepared to live in desolation for two weeks. 'Expensive' is an understatement. A few weeks ago I spent $8.00 on four potatoes. 

Enter, the PAM.

The Pam is my corporate food outfitter. It is flanked by a giant neon white-and-green sign. Prostitutes linger on either side of the corner out front. It is not a cute local grocer. It's actually more like hell on earth. But, it's affordable. 

The Pam is chaos at its finest. The store is compact, the aisles, like the waists of Italian women, are bloody tiny; just wide enough to get your cart through without knocking all the crap off the shelves. I have also never seen so many old people in one place in my life. I have nothing against old people, I actually kind of like them, but the pace at which traffic flows in this shop is an exploit to be witnessed. For a person whose most dizzying pet peeve is people who stop at the terminal end of an escalator, you can imagine my anxiety every time I realize I'm out of lettuce. 

The first time I ever went to the Pam alone, I witnessed a verbal argument ensue as I was waiting in line to check-out. There are probably five check stands, each one unfailingly boasting a minimum of five patrons; the cashiers assume no twinge of a sense of urgency. Anyway, at the time of said incident, I couldn't speak a lick of Italian, so to this day, I lament not knowing what could have possibly precipitated a verbal assault between a tranny in her late forties (this is no hyperbole) and a man in his 70's. They screamed at each other shamelessly, AND during Pamania (the hours between 5 and 8pm when hell is at its hottest). From what I can tell, Italians are very concerned with how they are judged by the public, so this bellicose act amongst a crowd of onlookers struck me as particularly significant. In any case, while most stared in astonishment and concern, I stared in amusement and ignorance.

Each episode at the Pam is without a doubt,  an adventure. But recently I've experienced an enhanced set of debacles during my shopping trips. 

Not too long ago, I witnessed a second fight, once again while waiting in line to check-out. This time however, I was in the "self service" line and this time, the fight involved two males- one skinny chap in his twenties, and another, stout and fit, in his early sixties. The older fellow was in line behind the younger, and I was in line behind the two of them. In the heat of Pamania, the younger one withdrew a large plastic bag of change and began paying for his groceries - one small coin at a time. Personally, I found this hilarious, but the old man did not agree and instead, kept sighing, tapping his toes, running his hand through his balding hair, and showing signs of generally increasing distress.  Finally, in a hasty tone, he said something to encourage the young man to speed it along. The young man answered politely, but carried on with his inefficient payment option. The older man said something again, and then again, and then again- each time in a crescendo of conveyed impatience, until finally he reached his threshold, cocked his right arm back, and unapologetically punched the kid right in the face. It was truly bizarre; shocking and hilarious to see a twenty year old being bullied by a grown man over something so trivial. The police came, a multitude of expletives were exchanged, additional punches were thrown, though missed, and that was that. 

Not too long after, I went to the Pam in the middle of the day to buy some coffee. I love going in the middle of the day because it's empty and I can usually get in and out quickly- important considering it was during a very intense period of exams when I didn't want to interrupt studying for anything. I had been wearing the same flannel pajamas for days. I couldn't remember the last time I had showered or brushed my teeth, and I'm certain that I reeked of cooked pepperoni and raw onions. But as I said, we were fresh-out of coffee and I was desperate. So I put on my long black coat over my flannels (which is basically a duvet with armholes), grabbed a 100 euro bill which was all I had, stuffed it in my pocket, and shuffled to the store.  I happened to walk in just behind one of the homeless dudes who lives in the park by our house. I also happen to give this particular chap high-fives and fist bumps whenever he asks for them, so when he acted like he knew me inside the Pam, I could understand the security guard's dubiousness.

Anyway, I grabbed my coffee and a few other items, checked my iphone for any other list items I could have forgotten, and reached into my pocket to pay. My cash was gone. Losing stuff is my biggest nightmare because I associate it with becoming demented. I immediately burst into tears, then frantically ran around the store looking between the aisles and staring at people skeptically as if to suggest that they had stolen my money and that they better give it back or else. Predictably, this method of intimidation failed and I eventually returned back to the checkstand sobbing. As I stood there crying and dressed in rags, I contemplated whether I even had the lexicon to properly ask for help. In this moment, I noticed a chubby, female cashier with yellow hair and black roots staring at me with her judgement cast- I could tell by the single, penciled-in eyebrow that was so diabolically raised in my direction.  In all my humiliation, I gathered the courage to explain the situation to her in between gasps of air and broken Italian. I was red and sweaty from panic. She took my phone number (assuring me that she would let me know if she found my 100 euros) and I left with tears down my face, dignity abandoned, and no fucking coffee. They never called.

Less than one week later, I returned to the Pam. This time I was once again poorly dressed, however not to the degree of wretchedness I'd assumed the week prior. I bought some pasta, a glass jar of tomato sauce, some spinach, onions, and a few other bits and bobs. As I waited in line at the self-checkout stand, I recognized the same chubby, yellow-haired girl with penciled-in eyebrows. She looked at me in a strange way- a cocktail of fear, curiosity, and skepticism I suppose. But anyway, I arrived at the check-out station, piled up all my goodies, scanned them, looked at yellow-haired girl to see if she was watching me, and then conspicuously took out my wallet to show her that I actually owned money. I felt proud in that moment.  I began to bag my groceries. And then, in the height of my confidence, time slowed and I saw the tall glass jar of tomato sauce start to wobble, left to right, right to left. I lunged for it as it tipped onto its edge and oscillated toward the floor. But I was too slow. 


glass everywhere. sauce everywhere. I looked at the chubby cashier attendant, this time with my eyebrow raised, at which point she stared at the floor, stared at me, then stared up to God and yelled something comprising the words "porca", "puttana" and "madonna".  It was Pamania, and I was the spectacle. For a moment I thought I would run out of the shop , abandoning my humiliation with my purse and groceries, but then my good sense arrived and I did the only thing I could- bent down to the floor and helped her clean it up. And in this moment, something transcendental happened. She looked at me softly as if it were her first taste of human kindness. Her eye twinkled with the sparkle of a tear, she smiled, nearly touched my face, and whispered: "cara. prendi un'altra bottiglia e vai via."   

And so it is, I'm beginning to cultivate my loyalties. 


Laine said...

1. This is the best blog post you have ever written. I laughed out loud in the middle.
2. You basically paid 100 euros for a high-five. Hope it was a good one.
3. I have a Nigerian grocery store here that sends me into a frenzy the moment I walk in the door. I go once a week, and without fail, the employees are lying down in the aisles sleeping. All. day. long. When I have to ask where something is, I have to (aggressively) poke one on the shoulder and then she will direct me to another napping employee, and then she to another, and so on until I can finally poke one who is willing to mumble out where I can find the Diet Coke.

Oliver said...

Love it. Thank you for making a day of chemistry revision bearable

Your Roommte said...

Me: Non c'e le carrote?
Ugly skinny PAM employee: Brava.
Me: Sei molto gentille.

He has weird sores all over his face now. I guess my evil eye worked.

The Schumanator said...

I really enjoyed this. And because I won't be bested by another bitch ANYWHERE, if I were you I'd find a new way to torment that cashier every time you end up in her line...."Momento (hold up pointer finger), my cell is ringing", "Hang on, my boyfriend is still looking for the soy milk, he'll be here any sec", "Say, I'm not sure how you say it in Italian, but could you take a look at this and let me know if you have any products that would help" (take shoe and sock off, place foot on counter)....

I'm here if you need help brainstorming.