Saturday, January 9, 2010
Funny. As. Shit.
When good service, and Stroopwafels, go bad.
I submit this guest entry to my favorite blog.
I recently had an amusing grocery experience of my own, with a tangential
My girlfriend Kate and I went to
Next morning, it’s pretty clear that we both have food poisoning. She has it bad, I have a mild case. Unfortunately for her, the taste, smell, texture – the entire experience – of 4 days of food poisoning (2 bad days, 2 recovery days) were Stroopwafels.
Unfortunately for me, this meant the end of my love affair with Stroopwafels. I am expressly forbidden to have anything to do with them, and the several packages I already had in the flat there had to go. The sight, let alone the smell or taste, of them could no longer be tolerated.
I understand. We’ve all been there – some food or drink that serves as a visceral reminder of that Retroperistalsis disaster.
Stroopwafels are not a common find in the States’ grocery aisles, but recently have become more available. On a trip to Trader Joe’s months after the event, I saw they now carried them. Having the diminished memory capabilities that often plagues my gender; I expressed an interest, which earned me frozen-stare look of disbelief from Kate.
Oh yeah, right… I remember… I don’t get to like those anymore.
Fast forward a year. It’s a late Sunday afternoon, and she wants to go do a major Thanksgiving shop (one of several). I balk. It’s about the last thing I want to do. She comes up with a surprising, unbidden (heretofore unheard of) suggestion: “Why don’t you have one of your special cupcakes from the deep freeze, and keep me company?”
Oh yeah... those... Done! Off we go to Trader Joe’s. Great store. It's the kind of place I imagine just doesn't exist in
(I imagine someone walking in with a ski mask and a bloody ax would be greeted with a big smile and a genuine suggestion of "Hey, I just tried this new food product that goes great with fresh blood! And, if you're face is dry from the cold we have this great face cream!")
I grab a package of mini Stroopwafels, and pay for them at a checkout counter. Just the one item. It raises several eyebrows. I tell the cashier that I'm going to continue shopping, is it cool if I walk around chowing them? This is funny to him, no worries.
I proceed to joyfully pop waffles. I carry my open bag around in front of me, carefully avoiding the aisles Kate is loitering through, and offer the bag and a smile in silent greeting to just about everybody who enters my orbit, staff included. I chat with two staffers for a bit, named Mark and Tony. Nice guys, and we entertain each other for as long as they are able before briskly walking to their next task.
(A note on the Trader Joe's staff: there are a lot of them for a relatively small store, and they all walk around quickly, with purpose. It's something I never see at any other grocery store - heck, just about ANY store. Employees so motivated about their retail job that they literally run around a store with a smile, stocking shelves, and generally helping folks out?
I've made it about half way through my bag of caramel goodness, with a few folks helping deplete my bag (people who accept just-opened food from strangers in grocery stores is a sociographic study in itself, and something that I do on occasion.) My goal is to polish off the bag before checkout time, and I'm going to need help from fellow shoppers to do it. My thirst for Stroopwafels is finally, scrumptiously slaked.
I see the peanut butter filled pretzels low on a shelf, and bend over to get a few bags of a favorite snack. Out spill the mini waffles, in a pretty semi-circle around me.
My first reaction as I quick-scan: "Where's Kate? Am I busted?" It appears I'm safe. I put down the three packages of pretzels, and begin collecting the waffles in a squat. I have them all in my right hand, and I have the first cupcake zone-out. I'm caught in the image of my right hand, filled with mini-waffles, and another person's right hand next to mine, the owner out of sight above me. It is an odd image, and it takes me a full second or two to release the golden texture of the waffles, the familiar hand, and the unknown hand, and zone back in.
I look up. It's Mark, waiting patiently for me to... I can't quite snap to it.
"You want me to throw those out for you?"
"Oh, yeah... I was just wondering whether... I guess I do, huh?" Looking for reassurance.
"Yeah, you probably do." Laughing that it appears not to be a no-brainer for me.
(In my head, I agree that I probably do, but it's not a sure thing. I have no problem eating food off just about any relatively clean looking floor. I understand this puts me at a behavioral fringe.)
I carefully transfer the waffles from my hand to Mark's. I give him the bag too, with a few remaining waffles in it. "Better just toss it all. I'm stuffed anyway."
He trots off to the unseen, unknown depths of the back rooms. What goes back there? They must have a monster freezer for all this frozen stuff. How big is it? It'd be cool to get a tour...
Kate appears, and I fall in line with her, trying to hide the smell of Stroopwafel on my breath, looking for the next thing to entertain me.
After a few minutes, Mark strolls toward us, holding a new bag of mini Stroopwafels. Kate recoils in horror. She looks at me, back at Mark, and watches dumbstruck as Mark casually tosses me the product. I look at Kate, struck wide-eyed, at Mark, and just as casually, toss them back to him.
"What do I want with those?" I attempt. But it's clear that Kate has the whole thing figured out already.
I am busted.
I'm laughing so hard now I can't articulate something that would resemble a excuse. My laugh is infectious, and she and Mark are joining in, as Mark enjoys his unwitting part in some inside joke. He tosses them back - we are now technically quite good buddies, haven chatted, helped the other out, and now playing catch. "They are already written off. You have to take them."
"See! I have nothing to do with this" I exclaim, vindicated. "He's forcing me to take them!"
She's having none of it, amused by my latest inept machinations. "You can not bring those out of this store. You know that, right?"
I put on my mock sheepish air. "Maybe I'll just follow Mark around until you're done. How long until you're done?"
"About 10 minutes."
"Mark, how about a quick tour of the biggest freezer you guys have here until she's done?" Then in loud whisper: "I'll give you a bag of Stroopwafels!"
Laughing, he says, "Sure! Follow me!"
The unknown depths of Trader Joe's all become known to me. I cruise up and down the compact aisles of the massive freezer, efficiently packed to the ceiling with reasonably priced food that needs only a microwave to make any person a competent chef. I'm ecstatic.
I meet up with Kate half way through the checkout process. I try to explain the new bag of Stroopwafels in my hand has been paid for, but that I don't want them. This concept causes some confusion, until the cashier points out the cute "No Charge" sticker on the bottom, cleverly affixed by Mark. Unfortunately, I exacerbate the confusion by attempting to rid myself of the package in the 60 seconds I have left before we leave the store.
Ever try to give something of value away for free? To a whole bunch of people? Sometimes it just doesn't work, and it didn't then.
After announcing to the entire checkout community: "Would anyone like a free bag of Stroopwafels? Brand new? Anyone? Free? No? Really? They're good..." it seemed that the offer must be suspect. Katie is in hysterics.
I catch Mark's eye as he trots up an aisle. He waves and gives a nod (we're buddies now, and buddies can give the cool chin-bump "hey"). I give him the nod back, and casually toss the package over the heads of the folks still dumbly digesting my outburst -- a perfect connection, an instinctive passer-receiver intimacy. He catches it one handed without skipping stride, gives a final smile.
I'm out through the sliding doors, Katie shaking her head, leaving the masses to wonder what they're missing and, I imagine, thinking "What's a Stroopwafel?"