This is a tale based on true events of a person named Todd who went to the grocery store, a grocery store named Whole Foods. He was simply trying to get supplies for dinner, a loaf of bread, maybe some breakfast basics for the week, nothing extravagant. To this day, he isn’t entirely sure what transpired.
I'm off work at a reasonable hour, why don't I swing by Whole Foods on my way home, thought Todd. This shouldn't take too long, thought Todd.
He walked through the sliding doors and grabbed the top basket from the stack. This should be plenty big for the food I'm getting; I just need a few veggies, a loaf of bread, some cereal and milk, maybe a rotisserie chicken, nothing extravagant. Why, I'll be in and out in a jiff!
A second set of sliding doors parted; Todd raised a hand to protect his eyes from the kaleidoscopic arrangements of flowers, stacked fruits, rowed vegetables, prepared foods and spreads, all shimmering mirage-like under the fluorescence. As he took in his manicured surroundings, a smile spread across Todd's slightly open mouth, pupils dilating.
Without much thought Todd shuffled through the fresh produce section. I’m not quite ready to pick out the right vegetables. Todd was already feeling a little overwhelmed. Just then, a regularly timed mist clouded the nearby top shelf of parsley and cilantro. The soft sound calmed Todd.
He picked up the pace somewhat past the friendly butcher and his glistening display. The meat looked especially plump this day, recently alive. Todd could have sworn he saw a muscle twitch on a flank steak. He knew it wasn’t possible, but the thought made him uneasy.
Todd had almost made it past when the butcher spoke to him. Can I help you with anything today young man? Todd stopped in his gait and turned to the meat cutter. No, thank you, not today. It was the first time Todd had looked at the man’s face closely. His features were obscured in the shadow of a uniform cap, but still Todd could see his eyes were a sickly yellow, his grin too wide and, this time Todd was sure of what he saw, there was a spot of dried blood at the angle of his mouth. I don’t need anything today. Todd hurried off.
Todd recuperated with a free sample of white cheese. This only counts as one sample if I can grab three cubes with one tong-thrust, thought Todd. Somewhere, deep down, he knew this wasn’t the actual rule, which is why he concealed his pieces as another pair of shoppers approached, seeking their own chance at free cheese. A man and a woman, middle-aged, normal-appearing, with the exception of their dragging feet, slumped shoulders, and downward gaze. The woman appeared especially pale. Must have stayed out a little too late last night, thought Todd.
He did feel noticeably better after the cheese. OK, now I need to start checking things off my list, no more goofing around. He was closing in on the long refrigerated dairy aisle, one of his important stops. Near the entrance to this aisle was the array of yogurts, toward the end was the milk and the eggs. He had planned on buying all three, so had to prepare to navigate the crowd and dodge carts for the whole stretch. There was rarely an easy pass through the dairy aisle.
Todd arrived behind a stagnant collection of three or four people staring at yogurt. He couldn’t quite reach the yogurt he wanted without asking someone to move, and he wasn’t in the mood to be assertive. What are they thinking about? Todd wondered, annoyed. They’re adults, they should know what yogurt they buy. At least take a step back while deciding. Todd did his best friendly nod and made a quick movement between onlookers, to pull open the case and grab his tub. The other shoppers moved very little, responding only minimally. These people are zombies! Must be really invested in their podcast.
As Todd prepared to progress further down the aisle he felt the vibration of a text. From his wife, Don’t forget PB :-), it read. Todd briefly lost his temper. Who do you think I am? What have I done to give you such a low opinion of me? Forget peanut butter!? Who would do that? He took a deep breath to collect himself before texting back, Of course honey! Chunky as usual. Love you. A response came quickly from the other end, Love you too Toddy.
As he looked up from his phone, Todd noticed a dim recess a few feet to his right created by a narrow gap between two refrigerated shelving units. He hadn’t seen it there before. No one else seemed to be paying it any attention. Something within drew him toward the space. Todd placed his basket on the ground, safely out of the center of the aisle, and stepped toward the opening.
He looked in, curiously. The cleft was deeper than it had initially appeared, and continued as a dark, tapered hallway. Todd couldn’t see where it ended. Without knowing why, without looking back, he slid his foot sideways into the passage. Solid ground. He shuffled further into the darkness. He thought he saw the outline of a doorway just out of reach; suddenly Todd was unsteady, was falling, was feeling himself disappear…
Twisting catheters pulsed smooth and red, connecting unconscious figures to a central whirring centrifuge. Shadows in sterile coveralls and reflective face shields moved among the bodies with purpose. Many worked over a metallic trough with large syringes, carefully injecting items; aging salmon, tubs of hummus, bruised tomatoes. Others were standing in front of green monitors watching the movement of erratic horizontal lines and flickering numbers. The crowded room was lit by a single bulb in the corner of the ceiling, shining dim and orange.
A deep voice cut through the chorus of industry.
“Fractionated progenitor cells can revitalize the spoiled meat for days, even up to a week in some cases…”
A large frame appeared, bathed in light from the monitors, a sharp striped suite and tie, the small golden chain of a pocket watch. He was speaking toward another, smaller figure, who was carefully taking notes on a clipboard.
“The percentage of the local herd with a taste for the modified haematocytes grows each quarter… they can’t help but return to feeeed.”
Todd awoke with a start. He was leaning on the bread shelves opposite the yogurt display. A sparsely filled basket was at his feet. Was I daydreaming? Did I fall asleep standing here? He had trouble remembering what he had been doing. The dairy aisle… I still need milk and eggs, and the peanut butter is nearby too. Todd scratched through his long-sleeve at an itch on his forearm.
His feet felt heavy as he started to lift them, one after the other. By the end of the aisle he was exhausted. He also felt hungrier than he had in weeks. The bulk section was just around the corner so he made a quick stop. Todd let flow the chocolaty-ist trail mix available, quickly filling a large bag. He made sure to grab a few small handfuls for himself in the process. Todd wrote the number for the cheapest trail mix on a twisty-tie and secured his haul for a small discount.
The chocolate and nuts and raisins had been a welcome snack, but Todd still felt an insatiable emptiness in his gut. He needed to fill his basket with everything. He couldn’t stop thinking about Boom-Chicka-Pop Kettle Corn. Todd felt out of control. He made his next detour down an aisle towering with delicious snacks and began aggressively adding food to his basket.
Seven dollar jars of pickles seemed worth it, dry bowtie pasta made his mouth water, an oversized bag of bran flakes gave him goosebumps… his basket quickly ran short of room. He was in front of an auxiliary refrigerated shelving space, displaying hummus, take-n’-bake pizza, sliced cheese and lunch meats. Hummus is healthy because those Mediterraneans eat it or whatever, thought Todd. He grabbed the roasted red pepper variety. This batch looks especially red, it must be fresh. He balanced this final item atop his pile and lugged toward the checkout.
The lines were lengthy, and most shoppers seemed to have filled their carts or baskets close to the brim. A calm came over Todd as he knew he was close to being out of the store and home with the spoils of his journey. As he approached the cashier, a bin with $0.99 caramels caught his eye. I deserve a sweet reward after all of this tough shopping. And for less than a dollar!
The total expense surprised Todd. I guess even the cheap trail mix kind of pricey. A glassy-eyed cashier smiled and handed over the receipt. Come back again soon!
Todd struggled to heft the two weighty paper bags out of the store. He was still feeling somewhat weak and dazed. He set the groceries down for a final adjustment before leaving. Then, standing near the exit, Todd saw a large man in a pinstriped suit, a man with a golden chain disappearing into a vest pocket. He looked emotionless, flat, surveying the scene, following people with his gaze as they left the store. The well-dressed man was accompanied by a smaller man, who was occasionally jotting notes on the clipboard he was holding.
Todd felt a rush of familiarity, of recognition, but he couldn’t place it. Who are these two men? Where do I know them from? …I must just be tired; I don’t know anyone who wears three-pieced suites. Todd picked up his bags and moved toward the men and the exit.
“… looks quite pale, perhaps too large an extraction today… based on weight, I may suggest a limit of three aliquots for the next visit…
… bags suggest he does appear to be responding nicely to our incentives programming.”
Todd wasn’t sure what they were talking about, though it sounded important. They must be the store managers or something. I guess Whole Foods is doing pretty well if the managers wear suits. I probably recognize him because I shop here so often. Todd stepped out, back into the world.
Like moths to flame, we are drawn instinctively into grocery stores. Food gives us energy to live. While outside we maintain some control, by making lists, taking inventory of our pantries, looking up recipes and strategizing for when we shop. But once inside those doors, past the initial row of check-out lanes, the best laid plans of man are powerless to the store's retail artists and flavor scientists. As Todd found out, Whole Foods has become an especially powerful store, an especially difficult store to avoid…