Once, you see, I ran into a bit of trouble at the grocery store. This is not the best place to run into trouble, as one may imagine. Groceries are an essential staple of existence and therefore, grocery stores have become the Mecca of the modern man. It is there we go to fetch our daily sustenance and to drown our fears and sorrows in the brightly lit, neatly stacked aisles. It is there that we go to commune with the other Modern Men, those perfectly coiffed examples of humanity that shuffle through lines, checking their expensive watches at increasingly frequent moments in time until the Gods of the grocery store deem it their turn to offer up their sacrifice and walk away with a cartful of boons.
There is very little actual interaction in a grocery store. It is fascinating if one takes care to slow a moment and observe. Crouch there, just behind the pyramid of canned fish. Yes, that's right—examine the label on the can. Check for caloric content with one eye, but keep your true attention on your fellow shoppers. Fear not; you will remain unnoticed. There are mothers with small children and fathers with slightly larger children. Men and women dressed in suits, striding purposefully through the aisles on their quest for the Shrine of Heinz. Children already becoming oblates to the dual deities of Pre-Packaged Lunches and Plastic-Wrapped Sugar.
It is there that I met my problem. You see, I was looking for pork chops. There was no particular reason that it had to be pork chops, mind you. No guests would appear for supper that evening, no matter now neatly swept my kitchen, no matter how nearly vacuumed my floor, no matter how my stove sparkled. However, this does not prevent a certain longing for pork chops. One thinks that, with pork chops, the solitary meal planned for a Friday night will fade away into an elegant fete in one's head, an excuse for living alone.
"Two pork chops, please," I address the butcher with a certain self-assured manner that indicates both pork chops will be consumed by different people at the same time. Perhaps there will be a bottle of wine involved. Something to be said with a distinct French accent, as though snorting it through one's nose. Something that sets me apart from them, with the whining children and the too-tight suits failing to conceal rolls of insecurity.
"No pork chops today," the butcher responds, distinctly nasal, distinctly New York, distinctly unimpressed with my implied status as a Taken Man. He is wearing an odd butcher-hat and smiling about odd butcher-things running through his odd butcher-head. His hair is thinning and receding, and he has a very prominent nose. It is clear, in short, that he is the butcher. In fact, he is probably the sort of butcher that does not even eat meat: his own personal rebellion against a bourgeois society.
"Excuse me, sir," I re-emphasis my status. I am not the average man walking down the street. I have authority, a position in the world. I will be preparing two pork chops tonight. In fact, I may even purchase flowers for the occasion. Perhaps a tablecloth, to be laid across the table, providing a certain aspect of sophistication to the meal. One cannot simply throw these things together, you know. It requires a distinct skill; one that I am clearly accomplished in, and one that is clearly not. You can tell by the butcher-hat.
He eyeballs me. "We have a special on steak. But no pork chops for today."
There is a line gathering behind me, a line of squalling toddlers, disheveled mothers, anxious fathers, irritated businessmen. It is clear that each and every one of them has made it a point to put me at the center of their hatred at the moment. Me. All I wanted was a pair of pork chops. Was that too much to ask? A pair of pork chops and a glass of wine, to be eaten in my apartment. A pair of pork chops, a glass of wine, and some flowers, to be enjoyed at the end of my day.
"Very well," I attempt to retain a shred of dignity. "I'll take the steak."