Why is it that all paths lead to Whole Foods? I got on my bike today to yet again search for the elusive trail that I’ve heard exists on Lawrence, just north of my house. My husband called me at 1:50pm to tell me that it was beautiful outside, and that if I didn’t go out and enjoy it I’d regret it. Good weather is hard to come by in Chicago, and I’d already spent the entire morning playing online scrabble. A friend of mine introduced me to scrabble a few months ago, and I’ve quickly become an addict, sometimes playing as many as half a dozen online games at a time. I’m not that good, but that doesn’t stop me.
On the "Host" and "Join" tables people post their stats, and their preferred dictionary (TWL, the standard American dictionary; SOPWODS, the standard British dictionary; French, or Italian). Your stats get posted automatically – I’m currently 1294, and I can’t tell you what that means. When you request a game, you must ask for either a regular or challenge game, and dictate the speed – fast, moderate, or slow. You also have to chose “yes” or “no” to the question “Is this request for Adult users only?”, because, amazingly, people troll the scrabble boards looking for someone to talk dirty with. At any given moment you can read game requests like:
“**** PLZ READ **** scrabulous is 1st & foremost but open 2 NAUGHTY CHAT (women only). no cheats or i will delete. similar ratings. *** TYPE 2625 TO LET ME KNOW THAT U'VE READ THIS OR I WILL DELETE.*** thx”
I’ve lost as many games as I’ve won, partly because I’m foolish enough to try playing French games occasionally. Judging from the comments on the Join Table, people must accidentally start games with French speakers all the time before realizing their mistake, typical French requests read like this:
“Partie RAPIDE et EN FRANÇAIS SEULEMENT avec joueur +1600 SVP **************** FRENCH FRENCH FRENCH *”
The trouble with playing scrabble in French, besides the fact that it’s not my native language, is that people communicate with their opponents via instant messaging, and I don’t understand French texting. I sweat it out, trying to look up incomprehensible abbreviations on wordreference.com, only to reply with meek statements like “Jai trop de voyelles” (I have too many vowels), or “je suis encore vivant” (I’m still alive). I never fess up that it’s not my langue maternelle, but I have a feeling they figure it out – I typically lose by about a hundred points. So far on the French boards I’ve lost to Richard D. 250 to 338, Sylvie D. 221 to 333, and to Marc G. 267 to 356 – even after scoring 43 points for EX, and, inexplicably, 45 points for FREAK – who knew it was a French word?
Panicked by my husband’s warning that I would regret it if I didn’t get outside to enjoy the weather, I stopped what I was doing on the scrabble boards, and jumped on my bike without any real destination in mind. I headed north a bit, looking for the elusive trail I mentioned earlier, and ended up at Granville, then headed east to the bike path along the lake. The bike path is great, but on sunny Saturdays it can be treacherous – everyone was out: rollerbladers, bikers, and couples strolling hand in hand, it makes for some of the most dangerous biking in the city. I navigated my way south to Belmont, and turned off into boys town because the wind was getting to me, and I was feeling a bit peckish. I biked up Broadway looking for a suitable spot; the neighborhood was teeming with Saturday traffic. Outdoor seating had sprouted up everywhere, but I didn’t want to stop at any of the bustling cafes – an unshowered 37 year old woman seated alone at a cafe in boys town is a tragedy; but at Whole Foods its par for the course.
I worked at Whole Foods years ago as a cashier, and as a result the grocery chain has created in me a sense of familiarity and safety that I’ll never shake – like a grown bird might find comfort in its fledgling nest. And so I found myself perusing the salad bar at the Whole Foods in boys town on a Saturday afternoon. I chose my greens, and proceeded to the front end, where the cashiers are located. My cashier was a young man with spiky dyed black hair, copious amounts of black eyeliner, and black nail polish. He had a pallid complexion, and was reedy as a bamboo stalk. Next to him was a copy of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, one of my all time favorite reads. As a former Whole Foods cashier, I feel compelled to make conversation with others of my ilk. I once went shopping at the Whole Foods in Cambridge with my mother, and after observing the exchange between me and the cashier, she asked:
“did you know him?”
“No,” I explained, “I’m just nice to cashiers.”
There’s an understanding between cashiers, an understanding that you too have had to memorize long lists of PLU codes for fruits and vegetables – both organic and conventional, numbers that mean nothing to the customer but are vital to charging them correctly. After a few months I had the entire produce inventory memorized; it was like learning the vocabulary of a language that had no grammar, no native speakers, and no practical application in the outside world, and yet it adhered to my brain quicker than any other language I’ve studied.
“Reading ‘In Cold Blood’?” I asked my new friend, stating the obvious.
“Yeah, it’s going pretty slowly,” he said, opening the book and fanning through the pages to where he’d inserted a bookmark, “but it’s starting to pick up.”
“Once it gets going you won’t be able to put it down,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. This is the first true crime novel I’ve read.”
“Have you seen the movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman?” I asked, hoping to engage in mutual admiration of PSH.
“You know,” the cashier said, cocking his head slightly and putting the book down, “that movie was like white noise to me.”
“Really?” I asked as flatly as possible.
“Yeah, it just – I watched it, but I was like… it just…”
“It just wasn’t for you?” I interjected helpfully.
“Yeah, it just wasn’t for me.”
“Catherine Keener was in it,” I said, hoping that this would salvage the movie in my new friend’s kohl-rimmed eyes.
“Yeah, you know, she’s great. I loved her in ‘John Malkovich’. Have you seen the original ‘In Cold Blood’?”
“No,” I replied.
“It’s from the 50’s, Robert Blake is in it, it’s great.”
“Wow,” I said. “I’ll have to check that out.” He told me what I owed him for the salad, and I paid him.
“Enjoy the book,” I said.
“Okay, thanks, enjoy your lunch.”