Publix, My Love… Aldi, My Mistress

                                                                                      

Ever since visiting Florida in 1974, I have loved Publix supermarkets. While staying with an aunt and uncle in Sarasota, the highlight of each day was biking with my cousin through the South Gate Ridge neighborhood to the Publix on Bee Ridge Road. In those days that section of town was relatively empty; Siesta Key was a sandy, green expanse great for bike riding. A young lady about our age worked there;  I purposely got into her line because she had a flip hairdo that I couldn’t help staring at– it was so radically non-Brooklyn!

Not only did it feature fabulous hair– Publix was also large and clean and bright, somewhat different from the supermarkets in my home neighborhood. The A&P wasn’t too bad, though I remember it being old and crowded but smelling of Eight O’Clock Coffee which you could grind at a special machine. A smaller market, Met Foods, was so cramped that two women meeting face on with shopping carts had to decide WHO was going to retreat backwards, like two Fiats on a narrow Roman Via. There was  a Pantry Pride you had to drive to, and Mom and Dad used to love dancing to favorite songs that would come over the Muzak system. She tells me that one time he put on a set of oven mitts while dancing; it must have been a formal affair. And one of the cashiers used to cash in coupons for us, even if we hadn’t necessarily purchased the particular products… what a racket!

When not doing weekly shopping at those three places, everybody patronized the local specialty shops– the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker– but the supermarkets were definitely places where you went to save money, and the Sarasota Publix was like a glimpse into a Stepford future. (Ira Levin’s book had been published in 1972.)

 

The Publix supermarkets near where I live today are larger, grander, and quite an experience; you can actually spend days shopping up and down each aisle, and I often do– tranquilly, with my organized list and a highlighter so that I don’t have to God forbid backtrack. I hate backtracking! When you buy sliced cold cuts at the Deli counter, they always give you samples, and there are always nice ladies in hair nets pushing samples of things at you, liked rolled slices of bacon daubed with peanut butter. They’ve done that for years; my old friend Gordon and I, in the days when you could smoke anywhere, used to traipse through Publix with cigarettes in one hand, cups of coffee in the other, and tiny paper plates of tasty samples stacked on the shopping cart’s kiddy seat. You could really count that as a meal each day!

While Publix is my dependable mainstay, days lived currently in the midst of this distressing economic downturn have necessitated visits to a newer, less costly supermarket: Aldi, based in Germany, is short for  ALbrecht  DIscount, begun by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht. It’s small, and decidedly no frills. Goods generally change on a daily basis and are stacked warehouse-style in their shipping containers.

Remember the supermarket Joan Crawford patronized in Autumn Leaves ? There’s a scene where she turns dramatically toward the camera, dark glasses disguising black eyes that her husband is responsible for (he threw a typewriter at her and smacked her around, but she still loves him). Aldi has that feeling– not of marital mayhem, but it comes across as somebody’s Hollywood idea for a supermarket: there’s something very “soundstage” about it.

 

Joan in Autumn Leaves, leading a pack of housewives on a rampage after discovering that the supermarket is fresh out of Febreeze.

You can really find some good deals at Aldi, though they aren’t name brands. Close looks at the labels will reveal telling information:  Product of Bulvakia.  Made In the Far Eastern Republic of  Bubostan Under His Majesty’s Authority.  Import of Slavavagochya.  But I’ve never been disappointed, and I’ve saved a lot of money. And everyone is just as nice as they are in Publix. Plus, you have to snap a quarter into a lock device to release a shopping cart, which goads you toward reclaiming your two bits when heading home– unlike the Publix parking lots, where I constantly see healthy Winter Park Yuppies leaving carts all over the place because they are too lazy to return them.

While many of my shopping needs and desires are satisfied by Publix, with whom I have had a beautiful relationship for 37 years, often I sneak down the street and pay a visit to Aldi. Sometimes I’ll run into someone I know, and we’ll look away guiltily, each of us silently vowing to keep one another’s secrets. It’s not like I’m cheating, exactly… it’s just that sometimes you gotta just take a walk around the block, you know? And if the shampoo special comes in a bilious green color, well… those are the risks you take. And besides, it all washes handily down the drain in the end.

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Possible Reasons Why I Can’t Sleep

It’s not even 4 AM; I went to bed around midnight, falling pleasantly asleep after reading much of Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. It’s very good, and what took place in his fictional 1895 applies today. Still, it was not too  unduly anxiety-provoking to cause me to rise wide awake at this early hour!

Being generally unaware of things as I am, I’ve had to wonder hard as to why I am up and ready to go so early; and this is hardly the first time this has happened!

Possible Reasons Why I Am Awake after Four Hours’ Sleep

I’d been taken up by the aliens and experimented upon; either they did a very thorough job and sent me back early, or I complained and fidgeted so much that they tossed me out of the mother ship before they were finished. Who can say? In any event, they must not have given me enough Back-to-Sleep Serum. At least they put me back into my warm bed rather than dropping me into a field in England! Not only would that be uncomfortable, but it would probably smell and I would wheeze and wake up with an asthma attack.

 

Another reason is that maybe I never recovered from adjusting to the European time zone I lived in for two weeks in the summer of 2009.  Maybe I am really a Florentine who, at this hour, should be hurling invective at a cab driver because, ONCE AGAIN, the Accademia is closed for renovations and I will not be able to see David.

Or, maybe I had a dream about Van Williams. I think he would keep anybody awake, you know? Either one would be jealous of that haircut, or resentful of the fact that we never emerge from within the depths of the tanning bed looking quite this healthy. Who is Van Williams, you ask? He was on TV in the 50s and 60s, therefore having damaged many of our psyches, including– apparently– mine, though I’d been unaware of him until last week. I think because at the time I was confusedly in love with Annette Funicello.

Maybe I couldn’t sleep because the idea for this column was rattling around in my brain like monkeys in a cage… therefore causing me to awaken excitedly and rush to the word processor… so I could write a piece about not being able to sleep: a classic instance of the time-space conundrum in which we all labor fretfully ever since the first astronauts went and poked a hole in the atmosphere.

When I awoke, I was thinking about waffles— sourdough waffles that my friend John sent me a recipe for. (It’s a good way to use the starter that’s been growing out of control in my refrigerator. Maybe it’s too warm in there? That would explain why the olives have grown beards.)

Maybe it’s because this song keeps running through my head; I can’t dislodge it. When I’m not thinking about Van Williams, or even Uhura, I am hearing this song:

Lala and the Lalaretts

Now it’s ten after four. I have great plans for today! Maybe I’ll write another chapter… fertilize the orchids… finish installing base boards! Or I’ll go to early Mass– it’s the feast of St. James the Hermit, who lived in 6th. Century Palestine and was the subject of numerous legends. I want to be the subject of numerous legends!  He lived in an ancient tomb to atone for his sins and died a penitent and miracle worker. Hmm; I don’t like the part about living in an ancient tomb. It’s probably dank in there and I would wheeze and wake up with an asthma attack, and there are no legends based on asthmatics.

Or, maybe I’ll just go back to bed; after all, it’s 4:15 in the freaking morning. Who the hell is awake at this hour ?!

Welcome to the 1964 World’s Fair!

It really IS a great, big, beautiful tomorrow… and it’s all laid out for us right here at the 1964 New York World’s Fair! I’ve never felt so happy like I do today, and all because we got a look at the future! Come with us as Grandma tours some of our favorite pavilions… right after we have lunch at the Brass Rail Restaurant!   P.S. We had a guidebook but Grandma accidentally dropped it into the fountain under the Unisphere after we kids argued who gets to look at it first.

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I love the Brass Rail. It’s fun sitting at a round counter with your feet resting on a shiny… brass rail!  If you’re a sneaky kid like I am, you can manage to look up people’s clothes by looking down at the shiny brass rail from a certain angle. But you have to ask yourself: do you really want to see your grandma’s foundation garments from below? I didn’t think so.

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We always make sure to stop in and pay a visit to the Mormon Pavilion. They show you a cool film, and there’s a neat statue of Jesus standing there welcoming you… so lifelike! Grandma loves it because she can sit and relax. “The Trinity is composed of THREE separate flesh and blood people,” a nice man tells us. “That’s right… three separate beings!”  We children are confused– they didn’t tell us this in Catechism class!   “Mister, mister, do they all go to the movies at the same time? And do they all sleep in the same bed? We don’t understand!!”  “Well, never mind,” Grandma tells us as she gives the nice man a dirty look. “Let’s go buy Italian ices and then see the Pieta at the Vatican Pavilion, okay?”

Another fun exhibit is the Wonderful World of Chemistry at the Du Pont pavilion. Dancers do the Twist with giant fake chemicals and show you how much better our lives will be when we eat more of them; someday we’ll even be wearing them! Then you get to touch and smell and taste different products made with these wondrous new compounds. Parents especially love this part, because the kids fall asleep and don’t wake up until hours later!

Here’s the West Virginia pavilion, where you can watch some guy blowing glass and then take a walk through a fake coal mine. We don’t have glass blowers in Brooklyn; the only glass we see is in the refrigerator, or in the street stuck under the tires on Dad’s car. We met a lady guide who told us SHE was from West Virginia. I never knew anyone from West Virginia!  “I’m surprised she has all her teeth,” Grandma said after the lady chased us out of the fake coal mine for making too much noise.

“Let’s go in and see the future!” we jump up and down and scream when we reach the Futurama pavilion. “I’ll tell ya the future,” Grandma says. “In about five minutes I’m gonna smack you kids if you don’t stop yelling!”  Inside it’s cool and dark and you can see a lot of other grandmas settling into the seats for a snooze. They drive you through a miniature city which I decided I was going to build with Lego when I got back home. Did you know that in the year 1980 we’re going to have flying cars? And that we’ll be living underwater? “The next time the basement floods at home, you can practice,” Grandma says.  And there’s even a part where they show how Americans are going to colonize the frozen wastelands of the North Pole!  “I gotta defrost the Frigidaire when we get back,” Grandma said when she opened her eyes back up.

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Here at the Schaefer Center, Grandma wants to sit down and have a beer. She says kids aren’t allowed in so we have to wait outside and not move an inch or she’ll lose us on the subway on purpose, so help her God. Then we find out later that we WERE allowed in, because we could see a lot of other kids having fun while we were standing in the hot sun and not moving an inch. Grandma promised she would say the Rosary for us because of our sacrifice.

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At the Sweden pavilion we saw a lot of ashtrays on display. Well, at least we thought they were. Grandma says you can never tell with foreign things. Even though she’s from Italy, she knows a lot about the world. “Don’t you feel like you’ve walked around the whole world after seeing all these pavilions?” I ask her.  “I feel like something’s been around the whole world, and it isn’t my feet,” she says. “Let’s find someplace and sit.” We do a lot of sitting. Then Grandma gets to talking to another old lady who says that the Simmons pavilion lets you take half-hour naps on beds for fifty cents! Grandma practically drags us there, and we have to wait outside while she takes a rest on account of her leg problems.

Soon we’re on our way home again, and the train is filled with kids and grandmas, and tourists who are lost and starting to get upset because they’ve heard about our crime and garbage strikes and pollution. Some of them ask Grandma for directions, but she says she can’t speak English very well and then pretends to go to sleep. When we’re walking up the block back to our house, I say “isn’t it nice that there’s a World’s Fair with no wars and everybody gets along and doesn’t kill each other?” And Grandma smiles at me and goes through her pocketbook and then gives me a key chain with a tiny Pieta hanging from it. “I think I forgot to pay for this,” she says. “Say a Rosary for me.”