When we moved to Mamaroneck, our proximity to the New Ro Stop-N-Shop came to an abrupt and tearful end. No more would we see Shuffles, bagging with an alacrity rarely seen in these here parts. Trader Joe, always a favorite, became our go-to destination for all things edible.
But woe: There are items that Trader Joe does not carry.
For that, we must turn to the local A & P, the branch of Mamaroneck Avenue fame. First of all, the place does not even have a sign out on the road, so unless one is in "the know," one would never happen upon the store for any reason whatsoever. We got the tip-off from a neighbor, and felt very smug about our little find. That is, until we realized that the A & P is merely a front for an old-age swinger's club. As relative youths, we had obviously trespassed into the forbidden zone, where cantankerous old birds nearing their 90th birthday pushed carts down narrow, wanly-lit aisles.
Everyone is the A & P is at least 76 years old, and there are usually about 345 of these individuals patrolling the aisles during any one visit. The lighting is ghastly, and doesn't do much to help the poor dears' complexions. The produce (which, by the way, is of very fine mettle--who knew?) looks yellowed and decrepit under the dim lighting, and some of the aisles are practically pitch black. You can hear the canes thwapping at the cereal boxes and the shouts of the geriatric patrons, trying to find Cream O' Wheat and other toothless-friendly foods. Sometimes an arm will reach out from the gloom and grope for assistance.
The store is also organized just to meddle with its elderly clientele. Where else can you find ant traps in the aisle next to the baby foods? I went looking for breads near the bakery, but they were down near the peanut-butter, mustard, and ketchup area of the store. I've been in the place several times but find myself wandering, hopeless and confused, unable to even consult my list in the inky darkness. I invariably return without a crucial item, and am at a loss to explain how I failed to see it. Someone is having a laugh at an old biddy's expense, no doubt!
It is when one enters the checkout lanes that the true "Waiting for Godot" nature of the A & P becomes apparent. The lines move sluggishly, if at all, and one can see the oldsters reading whole novels and withering away into nothingness as they wait their turn. Shoppers have vacant looks, and their hands dangle uselessly at their sides for whole minutes. Carts piled high with meat and Cheez-Its seem to simmer under the lights, and the air grows hot and stale. Sometimes, one feels like weeping. Each person brings 58 coupons to scan, and there is invariably a problem with 57 of them. Crabby Tina or Crabby Gert the cashier has to call the manager, and all the old ladies down the line moan and groan like a bunch of histrionic dominoes.
Every cashier is old, funny-looking, and kind of crabby. Actually, some are nice, but you get the feeling that crabbiness is but one unscannable bar code away. One time, we actually brought a coupon. It was for something significant, like $5. Of course, the cashier didn't know what to do with it. She fretted over it for several minutes, turning it this way and that, before calling on Crabby Sally to come help her out. Crabby Sally had to finish with her own customer first, thank you! That took about 6 1/2 minutes, including a cawing conversation about so-and-so's relatives. We sweated bullets while the people in line behind us shifted and murmured and some old ladies made growling noises. Should we call it off, just say forget it? No! We would stick it out, damn it! For God's sake! We wanted our $5 off! We paid for it, my friends, in the glowering disapproval of the octogenarian army.
Despite its aged population, the A & P is very strict in its alcohol carding policies. The first time I visited was my 40th birthday, and I was carded for a 4-pack of Guinness. I danced and skipped all the way to the car. My youth! My youth! I still had it.
Later, I learned that they will card anyone, and they will card them every single time they come through. No exceptions. They will card every old goat who shuffles through with walker and cane. Then, after carding the guy celebrating his 100th birthday, they will enter the alcohol purchase on a little chart and run it through the register for some kind of official validation.
If you are ever feeling vaguely old and wrinkly, just head over to the A & P and fill your cart with beer. Not only will you get carded, but you will be carded in a manner that suggests that you, feckless youth, are trying to pull something over on the eagle-eyed cashier. Not on Crabby Tina's watch, sister!