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I need my groceries now. Now! Now!

DAVID SILVA

I confess to feeling conflicted over the ongoing supermarket strike.

On the one hand, I want to be supportive of the grocery clerks, for

whom I feel the same deep affection I feel for anyone who feeds me on

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a regular basis.

On the other hand, I’m really missing my fresh produce.

When the strike hit, I knew it would mean some inconvenience on my

part, but I vowed to tough it out. The first couple of days found me

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leaning on my horn in support whenever I drove past the picketers.

“YOU GO, FIONA!” Honk! Honk! “HANG IN THERE, BARBARA!” Honk!

“WE’RE WITH YA, ATTILA!” Honk! Honk!

By the fourth day, weakened by the disruption in my dietary

routine, I was still honking in support, but much less

enthusiastically.

“You go, Lupe.” Honk. “Hang in there, Tony.” Honk.

By the second week, I was simply driving by the picketers with a

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disgruntled look on my face.

The strike has forced me to take a hard look at myself and my

tolerance for disruption. Previously, I fully believed my capacity

for putting up with inconvenience was near boundless.

No further proof of this was needed than the fact that for two

years, I put up with a computer mouse that simply refused to point

where I wanted it to point. Clicking on anything was an exercise in

patience and manual dexterity. But I never complained, never grumbled

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about it to my friends. Finally, while in the local Fry’s on an

unrelated matter, I spotted a cheap optical mouse and decided to give

it a try. After installing it and discovering how fast one could zip

around the information superhighway with a working steering wheel, I

walked downstairs and told my roommate, “My capacity for putting up

with inconvenience is near boundless.”

“Well, that explains all the dishes in the sink,” she replied.

But it was my bad fortune to discover the grocery workers’ strike

has struck at the heart of the one area in which I have the least

tolerance for inconvenience: food. Neighbor’s dog barking all night?

That’s life in the big city. Telemarketer calling in the middle of

dinner? Hey, we all have to work, don’t we? But make me wait 15

minutes for a waiter to come take my order and I’m like an old man

who didn’t get his Sunday crossword puzzle (“This is outrageous! I

demand to see someone in charge!”).

My Achilles’ belly wasn’t something I’d seriously considered prior

to the supermarket strike. It’s a human characteristic that we take

our blessings for granted until they’re taken away from us. No one

really notices the simple beauty of a light bulb until the power goes

out. Staring at my dwindling pantry shelves, longing for my Vons

French bread and deli meats, I look back over my long relationship

with food and realize I was a fool to think the grocery workers’

strike would be anything but a major crimp in my lifestyle.

The signs were all there. One of my mother’s favorite stories is

of when she would take me to a local diner, and I would sit at the

booth with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other and pound on

the table top for the waitress to take my order now. Now! Now! Even

then, I couldn’t wait graciously for my food to come.

And it’s only now that I recall the days when I lived down the

street from a Pavilions on one side of the road and a Vons on the

other. For seven years, I would invariably turn right into the

Pavilions parking lot rather than left into Vons, perfectly aware

that this would mean paying an average of $20 more at the checkout.

Why? Because I just didn’t have the patience to wait the extra minute

or two for traffic to permit me to make that left-hand turn. I needed

my groceries now. Now! Now!

But now my path to grocery shopping has narrowed to two unpleasant

options: cross the picket line or haul my growling belly off to the

smaller food stores or specialty markets. So far, I’ve been choosing

the latter approach, though I make no promises about how long I can

keep it up.

Previously my specialty-store shopping was supplemental in nature

-- high-end condiments to round out my palate. But now I’m expected

to somehow come up with a complete, balanced meal out of 101

different kinds of cheeses. Call me a Philistine, but I wouldn’t know

what to do with 101 different kinds of cheeses. Only four or five

cheeses are any good for a quesadilla, and the rest -- well, let’s

just say I refuse to eat anything that smells worse than my brother’s

feet.

The smaller grocery stores are OK. But they’re expensive and

designed to handle a much smaller crowd -- of, say, hobbits. No one

else would be able to comfortably maneuver through those aisles. And

with so many people choosing to honor the strike, shopping at the

smaller stores these days is as easy as trying to squeeze 20 clowns

into a Volkswagen.

Of course, there’s also the health food stores, where I can buy

sprouts of every variety and chickens that were raised in open fields

until they died, presumably of contentment. But I’ve spent most of my

life trying to avoid such foods, and it galls me to have to start

now.

In a fit of melancholy, I stopped by the supermarket near my house

on Sunday, and spoke with the strikers for awhile. It was a hot day,

and we stood in front of the store, fanning ourselves and

commiserating about our plight. We all wanted similar outcomes to the

situation: They wanted to get back behind the register, and I wanted

them to get back to ringing up my groceries. But it was not to be --

not for the foreseeable future, anyway.

Before I left, I told the strikers I was going to step into the

store for awhile, just to see how it was holding up. I promised I

would be out in two minutes.

I knew I didn’t need to ask for permission, but, well, some of

these people know where I live.

Inside, a moribund stillness hung in the air, and I counted maybe

five shoppers picking items off the shelves with grim, determined

faces. The rest of the store was almost devoid of life. I walked

around the store for awhile, my footsteps sounding off the empty

produce and deli counters. “Echo,” I shouted. Echo. Echo.

It was like being in a high-end specialty store in Pyongyang.

OK, this is too depressing, I told myself, and decided to leave.

But before I did, I made a quick foray back to the stock room and

looked around.

Dang, no back entrance.

I left the store, and realizing I still needed stuff for dinner,

drove to the local Whole Foods. No way was I going to face Trader

Joe’s at that hour. If anything comes out of this strike, I thought

to myself, at least I’ll be eating healthier. The halcyon days of

taking food for granted are over.

The free-range chickens have come home to roost.

* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,

is an editor for Times Community News. Reach him at (909) 484-7019,

or by e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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