I wrote a long piece to put up today, and pulled it. I fear that I become repetitive in my middle age, returning to a handful of themes that interest me enormously (my own enduring trauma from losing my job; the centrality of manners) and which bore and frustrate friends and supporters.
Instead, a small story to distract us while I pull myself together.
At our Trader Joe’s, our three busiest days are generally Sunday, Monday, and Friday; Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday tend to be our quietest. Tuesday is the most unpredictable – we can be packed with shoppers or our aisles can be empty. Tuesday is the wild card. Tuesday is also, statistically, the median day in terms of overall sales: three days have higher revenue, three lower.
I have a name for Tuesdays, and yesterday I shared it with a customer.
A man about my age comes into my lane. He is buying a baguette, some Greek yogurt, and a tub of grapes.
“How’s it goin,’ sir?” He is behind Plexiglas and we are both masked, so I project my voice into my best hearty bray.
“It is okay,” the fellow says with a slight Russian accent. “You are not so busy today as yesterday. Yesterday, very crowded.” He looks around, as if he sees the phantasms of Monday’s hordes, sighing in exasperation as they wait in our long week-beginning lines.
“Yes sir, Mondays are our busiest. Wednesdays are usually quietest. We call Tuesdays the ‘Goldilocks day,’ because it’s in the middle.”
I have said this line every Tuesday for nearly four years.
This day, a different reaction. My Russian friend steps around the Plexiglas, pulls his mask a little lower, and asks, in a genuinely curious voice, “Gold and lox?”
“It’s a fairy tale, sir? It’s about three bears and –“
I am interrupted. I am on register 9, and on reg 10, right behind me, Charles wheels around. Charles does not have a customer, and mine has bought only three items and doesn’t need help bagging, but Charles is concerned I am about to miss the crucial point.
“It’s about this little entitled blonde white girl who breaks into a brown family’s house and trashes it.”
Charles is as firm as he is technically correct, but I fear he has not helped elucidate things for our customer.
“This happened on a Tuesday?” My Russian looks around some more, perhaps for signs that Trader Joe’s endures a weekly forced entry by the young, female, and privileged. (Some would say that we have a surfeit of such in this affluent beach town.)
We are not crowded, and no one is yet in line behind the Russian, so I make a soothing gesture at Charles and attempt to start over. “It’s true that in the story, a little girl breaks into a house owned by a family of bears, presumably brown. The bears are out at the time she breaks in, and she’s hungry and tired and – “
Charles throws his hands in the air, and turns away, as a customer has arrived in his lane. “As if that makes it okay! I get hungry but I don’t break into people’s houses and eat their food! I’m not blonde! Hi, miss, would you like some bags?”
Charles’ customer, who of course is a 30-something-blonde, is drawn into the conversation. “Wait, are we talking about Goldilocks?”
“Yes,” the Russian says, eyeing her. “They are not telling me what it is about and what it has to do with Tuesdays.”
“Tuesdays?” The blonde asks.
“It’s about white privilege, not Tuesdays,” says Charles. Our backs are to each other, which is often how crew chat on the registers.
The blonde agrees. “Aren’t most folk tales really dark and depressing once you understand them?”
The Russian takes his bag, glances hopefully once more at the blonde, and returns his gaze to me. He reminds me suddenly of a world-weary vice-principal I once knew, a man prematurely aged by investigating the hijinks of reckless adolescents.
“Is there a way to quickly explain Gold and Lox and Tuesdays?” His voice is mournful, but his eyes twinkle. He is a man of his tribe.
I take a deep breath, steel myself against howls from Charles, and use my best teaching voice. “Sir, in this fable, this little girl tastes the oatmeal belonging to the papa bear, the mama bear, and the baby bear, and she finds the first too hot, the second too cold, and the third, just right. She does the same thing with the family’s beds. She discovers she likes what’s average, and Tuesdays are our most average day.”
The Russian nods, and I suddenly get the sense that he knows the tale perfectly well, and wanted to see what I’d say.
Charles finishes bagging his customer, and hands her her bag. The blonde smiles brightly at all of us, and – comparing us to an expensive store up the street, observes in parting that we are “the best,” and that she never hears conversations like this at Lazy Acres.
The Russian pivots as if to try to strike up a conversation with her, but she is too quick. He watches her go, and turns back to me. “Hugo,” he says with a nod to the name badge on my shirt, “I will come back on Tuesdays from now on.”
“It’s a good day,” I say, my voice a little softer.
“You come back any day,” Charles declares, waving at the departing Russian, and then, resting his hand on my shoulder, asks gently, “Why do you make things complicated?”
I shrug. “It’s what I do best.”
Charles pats me. “Do we have a Beauty and the Beast day?”
“Every time we’re scheduled together,” I tell him.