Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Shopping with Headphones"

            He actually enjoyed Sundays. The only hardest decision he had to make was to skip the vanilla meringues for another box of pad Thai or maybe something else. The choices and alternatives could go on and on just like the wide but congested isles of any Trader Joe’s. And for Simon, living conveniently so close to the one off of College Avenue was a perfect arrangement, a much loved routine. He always planned out his groceries well for them to last at least two weeks.
            The little wheels of the cart turned the corner, leaving matte skid marks across the glossed floor. He couldn’t hear it; his headphones were in. Having his iPhone on music whenever he wasn’t forced to converse with anyone seemed nonchalant to Simon—to him, everyone had whispering into their ears. He never cared for the random looks other shoppers gave at this oddity, his eyes were for the mark-down on organic cheese puffs or for today, the special pricing of wines on the tiki chalkboard behind the bustling registers.
            A simpleton like Simon kept to himself, reasoning his music that only he could hear wouldn’t disrupt others. His eyes were in focus mainly on the food items and sharply dodging or blocking others. From experience, when he hadn’t the headphones with him, Simon found the track-suited middle aged women, old men gripping their veteran’s newspapers tightly against their baskets, and the reserved young parents with strollers to be bothered the most by traffic. It was a low show at Joe’s, to his relief. Picking and debating items carried on faster much to his chagrin—he could pay better attention to the songs. He just had it on The Smiths; the shuffle took hold and brought up Joy Formidable’s “Whirring.”
            Staring down the clear aisle of packaged pastas into which he started, he couldn’t imagine what would be going on a Sunday that dragged its regulars away from here. But he wasn’t alone. Just as he had made his round there, he made for the corner to syrups. Someone tapped his shoulder.
            “Jesus!” he spat softly to himself and turned around. An older man in his sixties—nothing of the veteran newspaper-wielding type, thank god—had his brows arched and was staring up and down the young Simon. “Does it work?” he asked amusingly.
            “Huh?” Simon said, removing his headphones. “I’m sorry?”
            The man didn’t change his concerned expression. “Music and shopping?” he sounded perplexed. Simon stood squeamishly with his mouth open. He couldn’t help but study the man; he had no basket, just a box of wheat thins and packed raw tri-tip slice crooked in the gap of his fat left arm. It was nearing summer, but the man seemed unnoticing with his layered plaid flannel under a big YOSEMITE sweater.  “I uh, I guess it does,” Simon shrugged.
            The man twisted his mouth in an odd way of disapproval. “Don’t see how.”
            “But it does!” Simon said meekly, almost impatiently. He hated being bothered by people in public—that’s why he had his headphones for most times, didn’t he? “I—I just focus better with them.”
            “The real world don’t rely on music, son” the man continued quickly, rudely standing within inches of Simon’s own body. Simon turned at the waist 180 degrees to mock browse the shelf that was right there—Mrs. Meyer’s organic house cleaners marked down 85 cents. “Guess we live in different worlds then, Sir,” he said stiffly to the man, looking down contemptuously at the sale and swiping some bath cleaner into his cart. He didn’t really want it.
            The man was unmoved. “My granddaughter’s the same. She comes to see me with her family, her music’s in one ear at least. She gets to drive the family up to my place or family parties—she puts the radio on blast. It’s alright for you, kid, if that’s your thing, but something so dull as shopping for groceries! Don’t you ever get in anyone’s way?”
            “Not if I can help it,” Simon replied softly. “Excuse me, I really do have to get moving on.”
            A laugh came from the older man. “As you wish, have a good one,” he returned in conclusion and walked off.
            Simon raced two aisles over. Fuck that, he thought before replaying the iPhone.
            He was back in balance by the time he got to check out. Three spaces before his turn, Simon hummed almost muted to the Temper Trap on the play now. It was almost summer, he remembered. He could even tell by the way Trader Joe’s was decorated, in faux bamboo wall covering and vibrant blue crepe paper swaying from wall to wall. The fake tropical flowers were just strung on each check-out station that past week; they weren’t there Thursday when he came in to quickly restock some Sailor Jerry rum for Armand and Kayla’s engagement kick-back at his place. He looked ahead at the cashier. To his dismay, it wasn’t the pretty little blonde with the dented sparrow necklace draping from her throat that usually snuck him a free stick of Toblerone chocolate—“Think of it as a sample,” she winked the time he accidentally grabbed two and was paying for the price of one. This time he saw Sandra, the other cashier he readily dealt with, a jolly plump Peruvian who tried to recommend some Motown tunes to Simon when she looked up and saw his headphones.
            “Hey look!” Simon could hear pierce through the music. The dark-haired child in the aisle over was seated in the cart looking wide-eyed at him. She was about six, or seven, wearing a bubbly purple floral blouse and white cotton shorts. “He’s got something in his ears, Mommy.”
            The young mother looked his way and smiled. “He’s listening to music,” she said sweetly to her child. “Better leave him alone, it’s probably a good song.”
            “I know a good song!” the child nearly cried. “The one Sebastian sang in The Little Mermaid—we dance to it all the time, Mommy!” Her mom began laughing and shaking her head. Simon good-heartedly waved to her in mutual amusement. He looked straight, it was almost his turn up.
            He could still hear the little girl rambling on excitedly. “I think when I grow up I want to be cool and listen to music and feel happy all the time,” she was telling her mom. “Do you think that boy is happy with his music?”
            Simon sighed and gave a quick laugh. His headphones had been off by the time the girl finished—now he replaced them back onto his lobes with satisfaction.  He’d heard enough.

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