The Cool Shopper

Contributor: Burt Baum

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“I need you to get some fruit and vegetables,” my wife said. We were having people to dinner the next evening and from her voice, her pallor and her glassy eyes I realized that she was in a state somewhere between high anxiety and complete panic. Now I’d rather subject myself to a colonoscopy than shop, but I agreed. I needed to get far away before she began her “you never do anything to help me” diatribe, invariably accompanied by her imitation of Mount Vesuvius.
She told me to go to the Pharmer’s Market. This is a new “cutesy” store and it’s not that its owners can’t spell. The name is meant to show that they sell fresh produce (mainly organic) as well as a variety of herbs, supplements, vitamins (from A to Z) and non-prescription lotions and pills that will cure anything from hangnails to halitosis. They even have a guy in a white coat called Herb, the Herbalist, who recommends botanicals for all occasions. And remember all those guys with ponytails from the 60’s and 70’s? Well, they’re working in this store. They’re just grayer, balder and paunchier.
I drove to the market and parked in a spot up front. I didn’t want to do any unnecessary walking since I knew once I went through those sliding doors I'd be wandering around. I never know where anything is, and I become completely disoriented by the bright lights, the big garish signs and the scurrying customers. What I generally do is grab one of everything in sight, take it all to the cashier and hand him my wallet. This time, however, my wife gave me a shopping list, and, to make sure that I got the most out of the experience, she included all the things she needed for a week.
Once I was in the market I noticed that, while I was wearing tennis shoes and jeans, everybody else seemed to be in sandals and shorts with thin volumes of haiku sticking out of their back pockets.
The first place I went to was the produce section. All the fruit was piled high in pyramids and I felt as if I were in Egypt, strolling along the Nile. Each piece of fruit shined, and the glare was so strong that I put on my sunglasses.
After about fifteen minutes of roaming, I found the first item on my list, navel oranges, on sale at three for a dollar. (I haven’t the slightest idea why they have that name, because no matter how carefully I inspected them I couldn’t find any that looked like any belly button I’d ever seen.) The oranges appeared to be the right color so I began to drop them into a plastic bag that I ripped off a roller hanging nearby and had a hell of a time opening. Just then I heard a feminine voice.
“How are the oranges?”
I started to say that I didn’t know the first thing about oranges when I turned to see a woman without any clothes standing right next to me. I mean not a stitch--she was completely naked. I looked for the cameras like on Candid Camera, but I didn’t see any.
Being quick on the draw, I dropped my oranges and said, “Uh…okay.”
The woman started putting oranges in her plastic bag and seemed no longer interested in conversation.
I grabbed a quick glance. She was fortyish, dark haired all over, and a little on the chunky side. She was no Playmate of the Month, but her figure was acceptable and everything appeared to be authentic. I went back to staring at the oranges, pretending to be more engrossed in their navels than in hers, but my insides felt like a disco on Saturday night. Maybe this was all a dream but I hadn’t dreamt about a nude woman since I was a teenager.
I looked around. Everything appeared normal. Customers were scrambling, clerks restocking and checkout lines moving.
The lady in question was now walking toward the barrels of cereal, where I was going to go next to get the steel cut oatmeal. (What exactly does steel cut mean? Is every oat cut with a knife?) I figured one encounter was enough for that day. I grabbed my bag of oranges and headed for the checkout.
I went to the line with the male cashier. He was young with short, neatly combed hair so I couldn’t figure out how he got a job there.
“Is that all for today, sir?” he said. I really hate it when someone calls me “sir”--like I remind them of their grandfather.
“Yeah, that’s it. By the way,” I said, trying to sound casual, “I noticed a woman shopping without any clothes on.”
“Oh, that’s Mrs. Jamieson. You know how some women like to clean house in the nude? Well, with her it’s shopping in the nude.”
I looked at him, not sure I was hearing right. I handed him my credit card, and I said, still casual-like, “You mean she does this all the time?”
“No, just on Wednesdays--that’s the double special day.”
“Doesn’t it upset some of the customers?”
“No, they’re too busy picking through the produce to notice.”
When I got home, before my wife could ask how the shopping went, I said: “Same old story--they were out of almost everything.”
“I knew it. I just knew you’d come back with nothing. You did it on purpose so I wouldn’t send you anymore.”
“No, it’s not like that, at all,” I said. “In fact I’ll go back tomorrow morning and make sure I get everything, even if I have to speak to the manager. Not only that, I’m willing to go there every Wednesday, and get all those specials.”
She smiled, hugged me and gave me a big wet kiss. “Oh, that’s just great, honey. I know that deep inside you're really a sweetheart.”

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Burt Baum is a former industrial research chemist who has been writing stories ever since he retired fifteen years ago. His work has appeared in a number of online and print publications.
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