Three-Minute Memoir

April 3, 2016

-2 Revelation

By Florence Newman

It had been a mistake to go to the Safeway, even though the snowstorm wasn’t due to arrive for another two days. The aisles were already crowded with shoppers stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper–the Holy Trinity of disaster preparation everywhere. The stereotype of Baltimoreans is that they panic and rush out to the stores at the first threat of a snowflake, but this time their anxiety was justified: forecasts called for 18-24” of snow over the course of the weekend, with blizzard conditions possible. Still, you’d think that hitting the grocery mid-day, well in advance of the storm, I wouldn’t have had to contend with frantic survivalists. No such luck. My usual route through the store—a pass around the healthy perimeter, with brief forays into the shelves of preservative- and sugar-laden cereals, crackers, packaged dinners, and canned goods—was now an obstacle course of bodies and shopping carts. I navigated my own cart, part stealth bomber, part battering ram, among the rest, collecting provisions, then headed for the self checkout machines, which I use almost exclusively these days because 1) I usually don’t have to wait in line and 2) I like the autonomy of ringing up my own purchases, being in full control of the process (until, of course, the scanner goes out of whack). It never occurred to me that I might have another reason for preferring the machines to human cashiers.

The throng at the front of the store was so thick that it took me a moment to realize, in astonishment, that the two self-checkout lines snaked as far back as the lines for regular checkout. I almost abandoned my errand right there. But I hadn’t invested all that time and effort just to go home empty-handed. I decided to try the “15 items or fewer” lanes: those lines had to be shorter, or at least moving more quickly. Unfortunately, they were also at the opposite side of the store. “Pardon me.” “Excuse me.” “May I cut through?” Finally I reached the express lanes and positioned myself at the end of one of the lines. A woman nearby tapped me on the shoulder and pointed behind her: the line actually ended seven or eight carts back, midway down the aisle. One look at the impenetrable mass of folks waiting single file and folks milling around the aisle shopping and I resigned myself to wheeling my way down the next aisle over, rounding the bend, and joining the queue from behind.

I didn’t remain the last in line for long: a grandmotherly type looking particularly glum took the spot at my back. For a while, we made small talk about the weather. Then she mentioned that her bank had closed early because it had been robbed, leaving her without cash for groceries. The conversation sort of trailed off after that. I turned to face forward again. The young man immediately in front of me had his foot propped on the base of his cart and his head bent over the glowing screen of a smart phone. Every so often, without taking his gaze off the screen, he would give the cart a shove with his forearms, and grandmother and I would shuffle forward a few inches.

Suddenly I noticed a burst of color. It was a bouquet of bright flowers wrapped in cellophane in the child’s seat portion of the cart two spots ahead. The possessor of the cart was a tall woman with a dancer’s posture, graceful and erect, and gold-silver hair that swept up to show a bit of neck above her scarf. (I only saw her from the back, so I can’t describe her face—though I’ll bet it was beautiful.) She wore a dark wool coat, which stood out among the puffy jackets that made the rest of us look like a flock of Pillsbury Dough Boys. Still, I could hardly take my eyes off the bouquet. There’s a blizzard coming, for God’s sake, and this lady is buying flowers! I took in the other contents of her cart—two small whole chickens (or perhaps they were guinea hens), a bag of brown rice, some fresh vegetables. Then I looked down into my own cart: a four-pack of vanilla Frappucinos, two Fuji apples, a box of low fat Triscuits, a jumbo chocolate chunk cookie, and a packet of sugar-free gum (tropical fruit flavor). The necessities of life.

In my imagination, the tall woman sits at a linen-covered table, the flowers tastefully arranged in a vase at its center. Candlelight flickers over the silverware flanking a china plate full of fragrant slices of fowl, steaming brown rice, and roasted vegetables, as outside the frosted window the winter storm rages.

I glanced again at my own cart: what a pathetic scenario it brought to mind. I realized at that moment that the self checkout lane appealed to me not just because it improved my efficiency, not just because it enhanced my autonomy, but also because it shrouded my purchases in privacy. Ahead, the colorful bouquet drifted down the conveyer belt and disappeared into a bag. The clerk rang up the rest of the elegant lady’s elegant items, and soon she too had vanished. The young man in front of me, having pocketed his cell phone, began placing his stuff on the counter. Before long, it would be my turn. I had waited impatiently for a good half hour to reach the head of the line, and now I dreaded the prospect. There was nothing for it but to follow through. The gum, the jumbo cookie, the vanilla Frappucinos went up on the belt to be lifted and swiped over the scanner by the clerk’s beefy hands. “Busy day, huh?” I said. “Everybody’s getting ready for the snow,” I said. I was babbling, trying to distract the clerk from the hodgepodge of barely-comestibles I’d offered up for inspection. It turned out that my subterfuge was unnecessary: the clerk hardly glanced at what he was ringing up. Although his apron-clad torso remained turned toward me, he was looking over his shoulder at the other lanes teaming with other customers. I decided to take a risk: “Funny the kinds of things people buy during an emergency.” For a few seconds, the clerk faced my way, then his attention was again elsewhere. “We see it all,” he murmured. “Believe me, we see it all.”

FloHdshot2Florence Newman is professor emerita at Towson University, where she taught in the English Department for 27 years.  A specialist in Middle English literature, she has published and delivered conference papers on Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and medieval women writers.  She grew up in Blacksburg, Va., reading books in her parents’ library and eating strawberries from her grandfather’s garden.  She currently lives with her husband in Towson, Md., escapes occasionally to their farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and travels farther afield when time, energy, and finances permit.

Copyright © 2016, Florence Newman

Today’s Poem

December 26, 2015

Bonfire-2:b&w

Solstice

By Florence Newman

All year we’ve banked the embers of our rage

and gathered brittle bitterness and grief,

stacked cords of hardened sorrows high to feed

the bonfire built against the darkening days.

Tonight a fiery feast at last repays

our abstinence; upon the pyre we heave

our heartache, the sacrifice we bleed,

bottomless libation, offering to the blaze.

Cast in the broken hopes, the stifled sighs,

recriminations, doubts, defeat, despair,

the fruit of many seasons, grimly grown.

Fill up the void with self-deceit and lies,

with unshed tears, unspoken pain and care,

and beat the drum until the very depths resound.

Copyright © 2015 Florence Newman.

Hip Shots

January 6, 2012

A. J. and the Boys

By Shawn Sizemore

(Click images for larger versions.)

The “Hip Shots” series of Doodlemeister.com photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method, the more frames  exposed the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that can be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own pictures, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.

Copyright © 2012 Shawn Sizemore.

Today’s Gag

December 6, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

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Photo Quote

May 28, 2010

“I guess I’ve shot about 40,000 negatives and

of these I have about 800 pictures I like.”

Harry Callahan, 1912-1999


Fort McHenry

January 6, 2010

December 22, 2009

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.


Ocean City: Another View

July 18, 2009

The following short essay is adapted from a longer e-mail responding to my post of July 3. The original post was a satire critical of Ocean City, Maryland, delivered by a fictional character called “Mort.” In the late 1970’s and early ‘80s I used Mort to do the heavy lifting in a series of satires on various subjects, most of which were published on the Op-Ed page of the Baltimore Evening Sun. My post of July 3, titled “Down the Ocean: Insulting Remarks from a First Time Visitor,” derived from a 1978 published essay. The blog version can be seen by scrolling down a bit. Meanwhile, I hope you will take a few minutes to enjoy Angela’s very different take on her first “whirlwind” visit to Ocean City.

OC:PCd:blur

By Angela Adams

For a girl originally from a small town near Lansing, Michigan, driving into Ocean City, Maryland, for the first time early last winter, I had the impression that the place was asleep but beautiful — and lacked something. We parked and walked along huge black rocksAngela:4 (the breakwater) out toward the sea. I looked out over the most beautiful, never-ending body of water I had ever seen. The wind was cool but the sun was out and warmed my face. We walked toward the end of the rocks as far as we could without getting soaked. The view simply took my breath away. I had never seen the ocean before.

Later, hand in hand, we strolled down the boardwalk, even though many of the shops were closed for the winter. I noted that the amusement rides did not compare with those of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, but I could imagine how alive the area would be once people started visiting again in warm weather. We walked the shoreline, picking up special rocks and shells to bring home to my children. The whole time, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to some day bring them to this place.

As we drove the main drag, I saw closed hotels and businesses that gave the impression that the place was recently vacated due, perhaps, to an incoming hurricane. I can’t say that I paid much attention to the presence of storm drains, or noticed an overwhelming amount of power lines, but I will trust Mort’s assessment on those points. I do remember that all the hotels on the ocean side of the road were built almost on top of each other and were very colorful. One was pink, the next blue, followed by a yellow one — I thought: Is it the end of the rainbow? What also crossed my mind was where would all of the cars park when they did return in the summer? On the West side of the drag, there were at least eight miniature golf courses and some go-cart places intermixed between various restaurants, something for just about any taste imaginable.

I couldn’t wait for summer to return to Ocean City. We took my three boys, ages, 7, 9 and 11, there the first weekend inBoys:surf April, during their Spring Break. The sun was bright but the wind was chilly and the water was down right cold. But that didn’t stop the boys, as you can see in this photo. Even though they were shaking from the frigid waves, we still had to make them get out. They can’t wait to go back.

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Angela Adams is 34, a single mom, and claims that she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. She recently moved to Baltimore for the employment opportunities and has a job with a new payroll company, Pay Partners, beginning in August. Angela has a Masters in Business Administration, another Masters in Human Resources, and a Bachelors in Healthcare Management, so I think she’ll be just fine.

Copyright © 2009 Angela Adams.