On Monday I spent a pleasant hour grocery shopping at the Publix in Coral Gables. I never realized having a car to load up with groceries was a privilege until I didn’t have a car to load. Maybe I went a little nuts – four kinds of apples instead of my usual two; twenty-pound litter instead of fourteen; 18-pack of eggs instead of a dozen; regular bacon and Canadian bacon; milk, Indian River orange juice, Bolthouse 100% Carrot, Bolthouse Green Goodness, and V8 – but I had a trunk to fill. Besides, my fridge was nearly empty. I promised Becky fruit smoothies for breakfast. It would be nice to have a few juices to choose from for blending, not to mention opening the fridge and seeing nothing but food instead of glass shelves and light.
“Nope,” the cashier says when I run my card. Her tone is curt, matter-of-fact, smug.
“Really? I just deposited my check on Friday.” I run my card again.
“Nope.” This time she shakes her head to emphasize her point, and she still comes off smug. I imagine as a cashier in Coral Gables, she eats shit from customers all day. If rich folks are good at one thing, it’s making people behind counters feel worthless. This is Yvvone’s chance to turn the tables. Derisive laughter courses just beneath the skin of her professional demeanor.
“It’s the only account I have…” I trail off, mortified. I don’t carry cash, and I cut up all my credit cards when I got into debt in the mid-nineties.
I’m no longer worth eye contact. Yvvonne suspends the transaction. She asks the bagger to put the cart in the freezer.
Watching the cart (my cart-my cart-my cart) being wheeled away, my heart sinks. Minime’s flea treatment isn’t working, but she won’t be getting spray or shampoo anytime soon. What else was in that cart? A Greenwise London Broil like proof we were meant to eat meat. A California Cabernet Sauvignon. Several ears of sweet Florida corn. The strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, quince (seriously), and banana which would have gone into the smoothies I promised Becky.
There are also little splurges I don’t usually allow myself because my backpack only has room for the necessities (and yes, the wine is a necessity because I opened a bottle last week and the empty space in my wine rack picks at the OCD part of my brain while I’m trying to sleep). Like chips and salsa. A pack of chocolate chocolate chip muffins. A tin of Smokehouse Almonds.
Not having the money to pay for groceries means I don’t deserve indulgences.
Public will close in fifteen minutes. I call Wachovia, like there’s something to be done at 9:45 at night. The cashier, the security guard, the people waiting in checkout lines, the people waiting at lotto and for cigarettes, they’re looking at me while I dial. I’d like to say it’s my imagination, but the groceries went in the wrong direction. I feel like I’ve been gut-punched. I can’t dummy up. Couple my longing stare with the departing cart, and you’ve got the whole story.
A deadbeat, here in the Gables? their eyes say. How did he get in?
I don’t want to imply that there’s accusation in their flat, curious eyes,. They aren’t filled with the cashier’s schadenfraude either. Mostly it’s a but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I satisfaction.
For their benefit, I try to appear indignant. What I really feel is humiliated and useless. A banking error is all it takes to put me back in school (if you can call a deposit slip marked “funds will be available on 5/24” which should say 5/25 because Wachovia doesn’t actually make the funds available until midnight an “error” rather than “a deliberate deception designed to maximize overdrafts”), being judged by my peers and found lacking.
The bank isn’t responsible for one truth in my life; I turn thirty-eight this year and I still live hand to mouth.