The last four times I have been to Stop 'n' Shop I have had the good fortune to have as my bag lady none other than Shuffles, our peculiar cabbage-faced neighbor. (Our affluent neighborhood welcomes those from all walks of life. It is home to the butcher, baker, barber, cab driver, ice-cream truck driver, mail carrier, illegal multi-family slumlord, limo driver, envelope-stuffer, bottle collector, and one lonely guy in a suit.)
Shuffles is perhaps our most recognizable character, with her jet-black wiggy locks and her thick black eyeliner. And, of course, her manner of shuffling right down the middle of the street. But as a bagger at the grocery store she has no equal. Not only does she bag with tenderness and extra-special care (taking note not to squish the fragile raspberries and the delicate bread loaf), but she actually sorts the food by type. That's right. I got home and realized that one bag contained only wheat products, another fruit, another frozen, and another dairy. And she does all this AND protects the food. She is a miracle of efficiency.
This week I turned into the checkout line and there she was again, waiting to do the job she does best. She looked at me with her big, owlish eyes. The cashier started ringing my food through. But suddenly, everything came to a halt. The cashier stopped the conveyer belt and held up a small bottle of Saffron.
"Do you realize that this spice costs 16 dollars and 99 cents?" she said, somewhat accusingly.
"Um, yes, I know."
"Do you...still want it?"
"I need it for a recipe."
Both the cashier and Shuffles gazed at me with blank, uncomprehending stares. Several seconds passed without anyone stirring an inch. Shuffles' left eyebrow raised almost imperceptibly.
"Are you sure you want it?" asked the cashier. "It costs 16 dollars and 99 cents."
"Yes, I'll go for it," I said lightly.
They both shrugged as if to suggest that this extravagant purchase would soon bring ruin upon my family. Its rare and bitter taste, redolent with money ill-spent and for foul purpose, would make our meal turn to ash in our mouths. The cashier sighed loudly and rang it through. (I wonder if this sort of thing happens at the Scarsdale Balducci's?)
I felt compelled to say something. "Well, it had better be tasty!" I said sternly. No one smiled.
Shuffles gazed at me as she dropped the Saffron into the last bag. "I know where you live," her mournful eyes seemed to plead. "And you cannot and must not buy this spice."
The Saffron was very good.