A Pound of Fruit
May 16, 2004
I was shopping at Whole Foods this weekend.
I am not a hippie.
You may think the above two statements are contradictory—an enigma wrapped in a puzzle shoved in a riddle and fried on a skillet—but, really, those two sentences do exist in harmony. No, really, they do.
When faced with the decision to buy either a $4.49 one-pound carton of organically grown strawberries or a $1.99 one-pound carton of conventionally grown strawberries, I opted for the conventionally grown because (a) cheap makes me smile and (b) I, unlike most hippies, like the taste of pesticides.
The guy at the checkout counter, who I will call "Marcus" because his name happens to be Marcus and because I have no tact, rang up my strawberries at a whopping $4.49. I said, "Whoa," and told him he charged me wrong. And I repeated to him exactly what the sign said, about the organically grown and the conventionally grown blah blah blah. He told me that I was mistaken. A one-pound carton was $4.49. If I wanted strawberries for $1.99, I could only have a pint. He glared at me with his CAUCASIAN eyes. And in that gaze, I felt wrong. Not wronged. I actually felt that I was wrong, that I was some prick trying to squeeze a couple bucks out of The Man, no matter how environmentally friendly he might have been.
"You wanna go get a pint?" he asked.
"Yeah. I'll go get a pint," I replied. I walked over, dejected, to get a pint. And I would've returned to the counter with my pint and been on my way in a matter of seconds if I didn't reread the sign, which, incidentally, said: "$1.99. 1 lb. Conventionally grown strawberries."
I went back to the checkout. I told Marcus that I was right, and he was wrong. He didn't believe me. He called over a Woman Who Looked Knowledgeable. He asked her what the deal was with the strawberries, fluttering his CAUCASIAN eyelids as if to say to her, "Hey, Bambi, help me out here, would ya?" But she didn't know for sure what the price of strawberries were these days.
I repeated to both of them what the sign said. And I was transported. I felt like I was an old Filipino woman at a Chinese bazaar in Shanghai, haggling over the price of fish balls. Two and a half bucks was really not worth all this effort. If the hippies want my money, the hippies can have my money. I mean, if it's so important to them, fine, here, have it, Jesus Christ, just let me out of here, I'm suffocating from all this Shanghai traffic exhaust!
The Woman Who Looked Knowledgeable escorted me like a prisoner walking the green mile back to the strawberry display. She looked at the sign. I looked at the sign. We looked at each other. I was right, and he was wrong.
Back at the checkout counter, I shoved my one-pound carton of strawberries into my paper bag as Marcus and the Woman Who Looked Knowledgeable exchanged words of confusion. Marcus muttered, "Sorry," and chuckled embarrassingly.
"English is my first language," I wanted to say. But instead, I told him, "That's okay. Thanks."
In all fairness, I know that my being Asian American had nothing to do with the whole interaction. I'm not suffering from racial paranoia. I'm sure he would've given elderly Jewish women and black teen girls the same hard time he gave me. And that's a comforting thought.