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A Neighborhood Story


She’s behind me in line at the corner grocery. I don’t recognize her. She doesn’t look local, not Mid-City at all. Black skirt, fashionable pumps, ironic hair cut. I’m guessing she’s staying at a nearby AirBnB.

This neighborhood is lousy with AirBnBs.

She’s holding her market basket in the crux of her elbow so she doesn’t have to touch the handles. And so she can keep a firm grasp on her phone while she unloads her groceries onto the conveyor belt – a small collection of fancy meats and cheeses – typical Whole Foods fare that even small, local groceries stock these days to compete.

Acai, asiago, amaranth, arugula, at cetera.

The line grows behind her because I’ve got a bunch of stuff that doesn’t begin with the letter A – not that there’s anything wrong with that – and people start talking, as people do around here.

The guy behind the ironic haircut is an old friend of mine, a musician from the neighborhood, and he sees me and asks: “What do you think of the Jazz Fest schedule?” (It just came out that day.)

The cashier has just started scanning my goods but her head pops up and she asks: Who’s playing?

“Yes, they are!” I say. Because the Who actually is playing this year. And because I’m funny.

The ironic haircut is disengaged from the conversation, rocking back and forth on her heels. Very nice heels, by the way.

The cashier says: “What about the Beach Boys? I heard they’re on the line-up, too, right?” She pauses between scanning my soups and crackers and says: “But I guess they’re not really “boys” anymore, are they?”

She slowly scans my milk and eggs. When she gets to my produce, she pats around several pockets trying to find her reading glasses so she can see the numbers on the scale. Then she pauses and looks up over her bifocals and says: “I bought my son tickets to see Brian Wilson when he played at the Saenger Theater a couple years ago. He said it was great! Is he still in the band?”

The grocery clerk stocking shelves nearby looks up and says: “I think the Beach Boys are all back together. At least, the ones who are still alive.”

“Right?” I say. “Pretty soon it’s just gonna be the Beach Boy.” Then I make a joke that there’s only one original surviving member of Three Dog Night, so they ought to just be called One Dog Night.

Someone way back in line asks: “Wait, are they playing?”

“Nah,” I say. “I was just making a joke.”

The guy stocking shelves sings: “Jeremiah was a bull frog!”

The ironic haircut is gazing intently upon her prospective purchases, separated from mine by one of those plastic dividers.

The woman behind the guy behind the ironic haircut pipes in: “Stevie Nicks is playing!”

The cashier pauses, a tomato in hand, flipping it up and down like a pitcher on the mound ready to toss a curve ball. She says: “Well, that makes up for Fleetwood Mac’s cancellation last year.”

A woman three customers back says: “Yeah, didn’t she have a throat something – or the flu, maybe?”

The ironic haircut exhales audibly, a sound not unlike like that which my girlfriend makes when I take too long at my turn in Scrabble.

I know that sound.

The cashier, scanning my oranges and apples, pauses and tries to recall: “Yeah, weren’t they supposed to replace the Rolling Stones? Because one of them got sick, too? Or something like that?”

The woman in the way back asks: “Is she playing with Fleetwood Mac or by herself?”

The ironic haircut starts tapping numbers on her phone, staring at the screen. Stock boy says: “I think solo.”

The cashier pauses with my roll of paper towels and waves it at the gathered assembly and says: “You know what? I had tickets to that Stones show. That pissed me off when they canceled.”

The ironic haircut has finished a text and put her phone back in her purse.

The cashier rings up the last of my groceries, my Doritos and sweet tea, and says what I owe: $52.50. I pull out my wallet and give her a wad of bills and then riffle through my pants pockets for the correct change.

I gather up my groceries and turn to the assembled folks behind me and bid goodnight. But I notice there, on the conveyor belt, is an abandoned collection of fancy meats and cheeses, with no one to claim them.

She’s a Gone Girl now, the ironic haircut. Presumably in an Uber to take her to the real Whole Foods nearby where, very likely, the woman in line behind there her will inquire: “How’s your mom’n dem?”

And over in the corner, with a smoldering cigarette in his folded hands, the ghost of Rod Serling says: Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

More like: Welcome to New Orleans.



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