The literary journal Literary Bohemian features a section called “Travel Notes.” This is a space for the vagabonds of the world to publish their thoughts on their adventures, but LitBo’s editors refuse to publish anything typical, or cliche. Travel Notes doesn’t have to be for the European jet-setter; in fact, editor Collin Lewis notes, “we never publish typical travel stories. I keep hoping someone will submit Travel Notes about visiting their local supermarket.” Challenge accepted.
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, as I walked across the street-lamp-lighted parking lot towards my friendly neighborhood supermarket. My step is accompanied by the ghostly clatter of shopping carts being pushed back into their rightful place in the store, by a sighing and red-vested boy. A woman in a shawl waits on a bench outside the store, under a sign declaring “Make Hummus Your Hero!” She is illuminated by the light of the store behind her, but she stares out into darkness. I turn my gaze away and proceed into the building, welcomed by the sliding doors. They make a whoosh and like that, I am swept up into a fluorescent lighted museum of sustenance, the neon fruit supermarket. It’s late now, and some departments have closed down, casting a darkness across the room. I walk around the islands of fruit, the days remains of still- hopeful baked goods. I think of what my mother used to tell me when I was a child, as I groaned at being dragged along for an afternoon of errands. “Supermarkets are small miracles,” she said, “so many people in the world don’t have access to aisles and aisles of food.” I see that now, I see all the promises the store declares. Its proud banners, its coupons and promotions. I walk through the empty aisles in front of me, the rows and rows of neatly stacked boxes and cans and packages, seemingly waiting for me, entirely at my disposal. Once, when I was younger, in the dairy section, I saw a hand come from the back to push in a whole new row of milk – I was awestruck at this magic and it still fascinates me. There’s a safety in supermarkets, with the soft-pop playing over head, the hum of the refrigerators, and the cheerful, resounding beep of the register ever-reminding you that you aren’t alone. But there’s such an eeriness, and a loneliness as well. I remember that book “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” about the girl and her brother who ran away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to sleep among the sphinxes and the sculptures. A sleepover at a supermarket wouldn’t do so well, with the lights turned down, as the meat rots, and the dairy expires. They’re waiting for us, but not forever. The eternity of the conveyer belts leads us astray – all promises run out.
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)