I needed artichokes.
I had an egg bake to make to use up a bunch of random crap in my pantry, and I needed one jar of chopped artichokes for said recipe. After a particularly stressful week – my last few days at work, trying to wrap up dozens (hundreds?) of miscellaneous little things and transition as much as possible, as smoothly as possible, my nerves were shot. Even making it through the doors of my local downtown Lunds felt like an utterly Herculean effort…one more line item to cross off the to-do list before three more mushroomed up in its place.
Basket slung over my arm, purse swinging off my other shoulder, I started working my way through the aisles of the store. It was a busy time to be there – in hindsight, I should have gone earlier or later in the day than the post-work rush. As my basket got heavier, my mind drifted away from the task at hand and on to other things…how to best pack my gallery wall pieces for safe transport? When the heck would the purchaser of my barstools commit to a pickup time? How does one actually clean a dishwasher? And I got careless. I reached up to grab a jar of artichokes, and my basket snagged on the shelf of jars below and knocked several of them off, which shattered – shattered, I tell you - all over the floor and my feet.
You know the feeling of everyone looking at you and quietly judging you? That urgent need to melt into an invisible puddle and just totally disappear from an utterly mortifying situation? I could feel my entire face flushing beet red from my neck up, hands shaking and the microscopic cuts on my foot starting to bleed just enough to look gruesome and alarming. Two Lunds employees converged on me to start cleaning up and make sure everything was okay, and immediately freaked out and started making a scene asking for a first-aid kit, as a concerned middle-aged woman came over and started proffering Kleenex and reassurance.
I, naturally, being a self-possessed and rational adult, burst into tears that probably made it look like what was happening was a lot worse than it really was, and apologized no less than twenty-nine times for breaking four jars of artichoke hearts. And they all started looking at me like I was certifiably insane, probably like “Okay, you loser, it’s four jars of artichokes, nbd,” but it felt like A HUGE DEAL at the time. Like – get your shit together, Liz, pay attention, who the hell just goes around breaking shit in a grocery store? And finally the little teenage Lunds employee who was sweeping up broken glass and artichoke juice put his hand on my shoulder and was like, “Dude, we have concrete floors. This happens six times a day.”
So I took a deep breath, and sucked in my quivering bottom lip and wiped my mascara tracks off my cheeks. I smiled, got my shit (sort of) together, and bought a pint of pistachio Halo Top (it’s totally the best flavor). And I got to the checkout line, and the middle-aged man checking me out started chatting (clearly having heard about the trauma, or just seeing that I was upset). We talked about random stuff while he rang me out, and he mentioned that his favorite pistachio ice cream came from Berthillon, in Paris. I perked up right away – Berthillon is the BOMB – and he gave me props for pronouncing it right.
“Zut, que vous avez une belle accent,” he effused, and I, being a self-possessed and rational adult (HA), responded in French. As one does. So then we had the most charming conversation about how hard it is to find French speakers in the Cities – though I seem to be doing a decent job of that lately – and how fun it is to find someone with whom to converse. And we wound the conversation down with lots of “a demain”s and “au revoir”s, and I figured that was that.
Then I went in there again last night after a family dinner to pick up some coffee (I’ve been out for days and it’s untenable), and he was ringing out. And the second he spotted me walking through the door, he bellowed “MON DIEU, C’EST LA PETITE PARISIENNE DE MINNEAPOLIS!” (My god, it’s Minneapolis’s little Parisian!) I turned beet red, but for such a better reason than shattering artichoke jars. And we chatted at checkout again, and I left for home with a smile on my face.
This is mostly a pointless and rambling story, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that there are such wonderful people lurking in even the most quotidian places, especially in this bizarre and transient phase of life. Here’s hoping that you find one today, whoever you are reading this.