“Oh for criminy’s sake!” I spat at my windshield when I realized that the commissary was closed. After decades of military life, you’d think I’d remember that on Mondays, commissaries traditionally close for restocking. But there I was, for the umpteenth time, in the empty parking lot, my grocery list in hand.
As always, I turned a big donut and high tailed it outta there. Hunched low in my seat, I sheepishly exited the gate and headed to Aldi’s to stock up for the week ahead.
Aldi’s is an interesting experience, with its weird copycat brands, gazillions of snack foods, and interesting European items. Regardless, I preferred commissaries to all other grocery stores. Commissaries were my turf, where I belonged.
After 27 years as a military spouse, I understood the layouts, products, and customs, and was comforted by this familiarity. I relished the fact that we paid a dollar less per pound for deli meat. I liked the fact that those in uniform took priority. I took it in stride that the produce section was, at times, inconsistent, offering mushy nectarines and heaps of fresh corn one week, and green bananas and sprigs of cilantro the next. And, I was only mildly perturbed that the meat coolers were sometimes completely out of boneless skinless chicken thighs for no apparent reason.
With all its advantages and aggravations, the commissary was home.
Approaching the Aldi entrance, I felt the pang of anxiety which usually stemmed from not knowing where to find the items on my grocery list in a cavernous civilian supermarket stocked with national brands, store brands, off brands, specialty brands and generic brands. I could easily feel lost and confused at our humongous local Stop & Shop, where the produce section is roughly the same square footage of our house. Sure, civilian supermarkets have everything, like pine nuts, smoked mackerel, and pickled watermelon rind. But it wasn’t worth the plantar fasciitis flares ups to push my cart up and down 20-some isles in search of birthday candles.
Outside Aldi, I dug through my purse for my mask and a quarter, fishing both out of a linty corner that was also hiding a forgotten tube of Chapstick. After inserting the quarter in the cart lock contraption — so European — I entered the relatively small store of only five short isles. But I was still anxious, knowing I’d have to substitute many items on my list.
No Barlett pears, but plenty of Medjool dates. No almond milk coffee creamer, but lots of jalapeño cheese curds. No Wheat Chex, but a ten-count box of blueberry pancakes and sausage on a stick. No King’s Hawaiian Rolls, but dozens of Deutsche Küche Bavarian soft pretzels.
After filling my cart to the brim with bizarre foodstuffs, I headed to the check out line, waiting behind floor tape to be called by the cashier. I glanced at my phone screen when suddenly, I heard a whistle. I looked up to see the cashier flailing her arms. There was no one behind me, but her irritated gestures implied that, I’d better hurry it up, slowpoke.
Sensing the cashier’s urgency, I scrambled ahead and lobbed armfuls of food frantically onto the moving conveyor belt. While she scanned and beeped, I inserted my debit card and punched buttons. A few seconds later, the cashier’s hand rap-rap-rapped on the plexiglass enclosure. With all the scanning and beeping, I hadn’t heard the ping telling me to remove my card. “Alright already!” I was afraid to say out loud.
I snatched the receipt from the cashier’s outstretched hand and moved quickly to the self-bagging area, where my soul ached for commissary customs. I had only brought four bags to this bagless store — again, so European — which I packed to the point of bursting.
My organs nearly broke loose lifting the overfilled bags into my car, which gave me even more determination to retrieve a consolation prize for my substandard shopping experience. If I had to walk a mile across that parking lot, I was going to return that cart and get my damned quarter back.
And hopefully, I’d finally remember: Never go grocery shopping on Monday.