Lightly breaded and packaged in a plastic container, it cost me less than a buck for 24 chicken livers. As I put the container in my cart, I told myself chicken liver is good for me. Whether it is or not, I haven’t bothered to check.
On Saturdays, I usually get a ride from a friend and we go to the Kroger on Ferguson Avenue to get our groceries. We know the layout of the store, can usually get in and out quickly and sometimes, for better or for worse, run into people we know. Like Didi.
I know Didi all too well. We both live in Westwood, often end up at the bus stop together and she’s always out of cigarettes. I was hoping she wouldn’t see me looking over the lunchmeat counter, but she did.
“What’s going on, Didi?”
“Oh, not much,” she said.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, I wanted Didi to just come out and say what she really wanted.
“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have an extra cigarette on you?” she asked.
“I sure don’t,” I said, lying through my teeth. “I’ll probably get a pack when I’m up at the cash register.”
“Maybe I’ll catch you then.”
“I may be a while,” I said.
“That’s all right. I’ll look for you.”
Didi walked away pushing her cart loaded with uncooked chicken wings, Pepsi and toilet paper. It occurred to me that I should put one of those Kroger plastic bags over my head.
That way maybe Didi wouldn’t spot me and try to bum some smokes.
I picked up a box of Kroger macaroni and cheese, the three-cheese kind. Really, it’s just as good as the Kraft brand. Following the instructions on the box, I usually add a can of tuna (drained) and a can of peas (also drained) to the mix, which makes it sort of taste like a tuna casserole. I figured up one time that this little concoction cost me less than three bucks to make and I get three meals out of it.
When I was in college, I would often pick up those packages of ramen noodle soup, as I was always running low on money and it was inexpensive. Some things never change. I’m still low on money and those noodles are still cheap. I like the chicken flavor the best, and as I threw a couple packages in my cart, I wondered how my chicken liver would taste mixed in with those noodles.
I’ve become an oatmeal person in my old age. I put a box of the instant kind in my cart. I like my oatmeal mixed with raisin, apple and walnut, and in the instant packets, the nut and fruits are already in it.
Over in the fruit section, I put a bag of clementines in my cart. God, I love these little orange things. As I headed over to the bananas, I told myself to try and not eat the whole bag all at once this time. I’ve been known to do this.
Looking over the bananas, I heard a familiar voice from behind me.
“At your age, I wouldn’t be buying many green bananas.”
It was Neal, an old friend from back in my married days when I was living in Colerain Township. That was years ago, but Neal and I still cross paths every so often.
“Hey, you still smoke?” Neal wanted to know. I thought he was going to ask for a cigarette.
“I don’t have any extra on me,” I said, once again lying.
“No, no, I’m asking because I know of a bar over here where the owner still allows smoking,” Neal said. “Give me your number and I’ll call you. Let’s hang out together. It’s been too long.”
I reached into my back pocket, pulled out my wallet and handed Neal a business card. Neal said, “I’ll call you soon.”
As I selected what three bananas I would purchase, I thought of how many business cards I’ve given to Neal over the years and how he never follows through on what he tells me. In other words, I don’t expect to be smoking with him in a bar anytime soon.
I put a bag of chopped-up romaine lettuce in my cart. When I did, I looked at the price of it — close to $3. I thought to myself I should just buy a head of romaine lettuce and cut it up myself. That would have to be cheaper. but I decided not to. I was tired of grocery shopping.
I lucked out in the checkout line. I was in Carol’s lane. She’s by far my favorite Kroger cashier — quick with a smile and quick with a joke.
“No vodka today, just tonic water?” Carol asked as she scanned my groceries.
“Now, Carol, you know I don’t drink,” I said.
“Yeah, and a bear doesn’t poop in the woods.”
We both laughed. I looked over Carol’s shoulder and saw my friend in another lane a few rows over. He’d also be checked out very soon.
I stood outside and waited for my friend. As Didi approached to ask for that damn cigarette, I thought to myself, “I want those chicken livers for dinner.” My mouth was almost watering.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org