By Fenton Hammersmith
Why is there an elderly couple racing, panic-stricken, through the supermarket parking lot?
Consider the man not far behind them, the one pushing a monstrous orange shopping cart he stole from a nearby home-improvement store. It seems grandma and grandpa were unaware of the long and complicated list of things this man despises. And now they are paying the terrible price.
Maybe it was their matching track suits, which, upon closer inspection, did not precisely match. Maybe her walker scraped the pavement too loudly. Maybe one of them chose to whistle a tune from a Chevrolet commercial. Whatever grave error in judgment these senior citizens have made, this beast has responded, as he is wont to do, with threats of unspeakable brutality.
They won’t be the first couple to arrive at the supermarket breathless and wild-eyed and screaming for the police as an orange shopping cart rumbles behind them in close pursuit ― and they won’t be the last. Not until he decides the time has come to spare the world his peculair brand of misery. And that time will very likely never come.
This orange cart of his is far too wide to be pushed down the supermarket aisles without knocking everything off the shelves; he is well aware of this delicious fact. But will the cart even fit through the automatic doors? Yes, of course it will, if it is rammed into them with no small amount of determination. There is the sound of shattering glass. A security guard leaps aside, the two septuagenarians duck behind the customer-service counter, and other shoppers wisely scatter ― making way for Supermarket Badass.
His first order of business is to choke the Coinstar machine into inoperability with pocketfuls of things that are not coins. Today he decides to force-feed it a mixture of gravel and paper clips, which quickly produces the desired effect. Yet he cannot shake the feeling that ground sausage meat would have somehow worked better. It certainly did last week.
Now he heads for the produce section, stopping at the bananas. They come in bunches of four to six and should not, according to the sign above them, be broken up into smaller bunches. Supermarket Badass tears off a single banana and throws it in the cart. Then he tears off the sign and throws that in the cart, too. Will the produce manager say something? Not if he wants to keep his trachea.
Supermarket Badass moves swiftly toward the deli, where a kindly old woman named Miss Evelyn cheerfully slices meats and cheeses while customers wait to place their orders. How unaware they all are of the horror emerging from behind a rack of hoagie rolls! With lightening speed, Supermarket Badass descends on a free-sample plate piled high with cubes of Black Forest ham. He does not spear the cubes one by one with a toothpick, but corrals them together in massive handfuls, to be shoveled into a mouth twisted with perverse glee.
When the plate is empty, Miss Evelyn asks Supermarket Badass if he enjoyed the ham, and would he like to buy some? Ignoring the question, he instructs her to hurry the fuck up with some samples of provolone. Miss Evelyn begins to sob, and Supermarket Badass throws back his head and roars with the laughter of a depraved lumberjack. Then he falls silent and waits for his free cheese.
Everyone in line silently agrees: This monster cannot be stopped.
Nearby, Carl was most certainly praying that the bakery would be spared. No such luck. Supermarket Badass orders an extra-large sheet cake to celebrate a college football game that never took place, won single-handedly by his son, who never attended college. He demands Carl top the cake with a football-shaped mound of chocolate frosting, with vanilla for laces. And, with clenched fists, he warns him to have it ready in two hours, though both men know he’ll never pick it up. Carl is already adding the cake to his mental inventory of celebratory baked goods that Supermarket Badass has ordered and subsequently abandoned that month. This includes four wedding cakes and a giant, frosted cookie commemorating his nephew’s alleged spacewalk.
No sooner does Carl begin work on the football cake than a stream of white-hot profanity issues from the pet-food aisle; Supermarket Badass can’t find his favorite generic dog food ― only much costlier, name-brand offerings. With the fury of Thor, he pummels a forty-pound sack of Science Diet until it begins to hemorrhage kibble. Satisfied, he pushes his cart toward the checkout, and stock boys rush in to remove the defeated bag.
A young cashier waits nervously as Supermarket Badass takes out a wallet stuffed with at least a dozen Super Saver cards. Each one was applied for under a different name. His array of aliases serve no apparent super-saver-related purpose, but uses them all anyway, for sport.
“Who am I today?” he asks the cashier, handing her one of the cards. Experience has taught her there’s no correct answer to this question, so she says nothing. Supermarket Badass clearly savors the moment. “You don’t know me,” he growls, leaning closer. “Nobody knows me. Nobody. Remember that.”
One banana, a can of clams and two dozen bottles of wart remover roll down the conveyor. He hands the cashier a crumpled wad of coupons she knows will be both expired and for products nowhere in sight. Yet she dutifully accepts them, breathing life into the illusion that he has also bought depilatory cream, low-fat granola bars and kale. “You gonna double those bad boys?” he says, and she does. She always does.
The supermarket manager now rushes from his office to triple-bag each item and place them gently, one by one, into the giant orange cart. A nearby wall, deeply gashed and smeared with pancake syrup, attests to what can happen when this procedure is not followed quickly and correctly. Supermarket Badass takes his receipt from the cashier and examines it for errors. Then he rolls it between his fingers into a small ball and sticks it in the manager’s ear. “That’s what I think of your rules,” he says, and the manager is left to wonder, yet again, what exactly those rules are.
“Have a good day, sir,” he says softly to Supermarket Badass, who unplugs the soda machine as he leaves.
“I already have, motherfucker,” he calls over his shoulder. “I already have."
(Decorated Crimean War veteran Fenton Hammersmith today makes his home in south Florida. Hammersmith was inspired to write this short but powerful tale after witnessing some particularly boorish behavior at his local grocery store.)
Saturday, April 08, 2006
By Fenton Hammersmith