Grocery Store Martyrs and Love Removal Machines


(Writing from 2008.)

I just dropped the boy off at preschool. He goes two days a week. It’s called a Mother’s Day Out program at the church. I usually call it “Oh My God Is It Tuesday Or Thursday Yet?”

I live for those two little chunks of Me Time. I’ve tiled and grouted a kitchen sink backsplash in the last week. Next I’m going to paint another wall blue. Go me.


Today I stopped at the grocery store for a few things on the way home. A whiny fit-free shopping experience is the height of my pleasure these days.

(What? I can take my time and read ingredients and not spend the trip wrestling things from my toddler before he drops them on the floor? I am living in the lap of luxury. Lap of luxury, I tell you!)

When he was younger and I was more of a rookie, he once dropped an entire carton of eggs on the grocery store floor. I was looking at nuts. (Looking at nuts! AHHAHA.) Reading the cans. I wanted unsalted. As usual, the healthier version of anything existing in the Midwest was proving elusive.

I heard the whump of the Styrofoam container hitting the ground, with the thick, wet crackle of eggs breaking. Shit.

“Uh-oh Mommy,” he said in his cute little elfin voice. “I dwopped the eggs!”

Yes. Mommy is painfully aware that you dwopped the eggs. Thanks.

I have worked in a grocery store and never understood people who just run away from spills, leaving them for other unsuspecting customers to roll their carts through. It spreads the mess everywhere and irritates the employee stuck cleaning it all up.

(As that employee, when you hear the sickening crash of a product hitting the floor somewhere in the grocery store, you just pray for solid. Something dry. Or you think: “Not syrup, not syrup, not syrup, please not syrup…”)

So I rushed to the front of the store, spotted an employee, and asked her if she could get me some paper towels. I was happy to clean it up myself.

She rolled her eyes, grabbed the roll of paper towels and huffed over to the egg mess with me. My son was trying to say hi and introduce himself in the rabidly friendly way he greets all strangers, much to my shy dismay. She completely ignored him.

“Hi, I’m Miles! What’s your name? I’m two!” he chirped, holding up two fingers in a desperate attempt to engage this new person who wouldn’t even look at him.

(This is a huge pet peeve of mine. If a two-year-old is saying hi to you, is it so fucking hard to say hi back, maybe even smile? I know that all children are going to eventually learn that the world isn’t always a friendly place, and everybody isn’t always happy, but how about not at two? How about you give the two-year-olds a few more years of bliss before you slap them in their innocent little faces with your jaded asshole demeanor, you grumpy bastards? Is that so much to ask?)

She continued to ignore my sweet kid, while acting completely stressed out, telling me that she was supposed to be on the way to her lunch break right now. Total bitchy guilt trip. Like she’s never dropped anything.

I told her to just give me the towels; I really didn’t mind cleaning it up.

“Go eat your lunch. I can clean it up. I don’t mind at all,” I said.

She implied with a put-upon look and a dismissive hand gesture that I wouldn’t be able to do it right, and continued with the wiping and heavy sighing. She seemed to really be missing her cross and crown of thorns that day.

She made me wish I’d been the asshole who just left the mess on the floor and walked away.

As the employee, I was always the opposite with clumsy customers. I would say things to make them feel better, like “Oh, everybody drops things, it’s no big deal, happens all the time.” I’d also tell them we really appreciated that they told someone about the spill so we could clean it up quickly. I’m all about the positive reinforcement.

My first instinct is always to make anyone uncomfortable feel better, so people who seem to enjoy the embarrassment or unhappiness of others completely freak me out. For this reason, in the face of poor treatment, I never react the way I later wish I had. My brain can’t even process it. The behavior is just that foreign to me. I’m bewildered. Dumbstruck.

My husband is the opposite. He’s lightning fast and super smooth. He’s very outgoing, with a theater degree and years of audition and improv experience. Quick-thinking. I completely covet this quality.

It’s pretty amazing to watch as he processes the rude behavior and comes up with the best witty comeback possible, which he delivers perfectly every time. Oh, how I love to live through him.

There’s a Seinfeld where George Costanza comes up with what he thinks is the perfect response to a rude comment long after the moment is over, that response being: “Oh yeah? Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re all out of YOU!”

So sometimes I have this Costanza Moment, because, like George, I never think up the good response in time.

I seethe later, of course, once I am no longer in my shocked stupor, and it hits me that someone was mean to me. We’ll even mockingly quote the Jerk Store line in my honor. But my husband never has a Costanza Moment. It’s impressive.


Driving home from the grocery store, the Cult came on my iPod. I like the Cult. Their song Love Removal Machine came on and I remembered that one of the first bands I was in (The Glitter Kicks) covered it. I had forgotten.

We were an original band, but we worked up a cover song every once in a while for fun. 867-5309/Jenny by Tommy Tutone. Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday. Roxanne by the Police. The Wait by the Pretenders. There was talk of Fugazi’s Waiting Room, but that never came to fruition. Would have been cool.

We played Love Removal Machine for the first time live at a weird show we’d booked in which we were the only pop band in a line-up of metal bands.

Two really hard, loud metal bands played; then it was our turn. We were nervous.

The crowd was dressed in black, lots of long hair, and we were pretty sure our band would not receive a warm reception. We started the set, and were correct in that assumption. Then we pulled out Love Removal Machine.

I watched angry faces light up in recognition. Yeahs! were yelled. Fists were pumped. The crowd sang along with me. We had them, if only for a moment.

Because it wasn’t a movie, I didn’t get carried across the bar in a celebratory crowd surf, as the worlds of melody and metal came together in a loving musical hug or anything like that. I’m sure they still thought we were a flimsy pop rock band. But it seemed like the animosity was gone after that.

Whew. Thank you, ironically named Cult song.


I’m going to go work out now while I have the chance, maybe paint a wall or organize something. It’s an exciting life I lead, I know. Don’t be jealous. Don’t be a hater. Just go ahead and have a beautiful day anyhow, my friends.