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Military folks not immune to Mondays

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: September 4, 2020

“Oh for criminy’s sake!” I spat when I realized the commissary was closed. After decades of military life, you’d think I’d remember that on Mondays, commissaries traditionally close for restocking. But there I was, once again, in the empty parking lot, my grocery list in hand.

As always, I turned a big donut and hightailed it out of there. Hunched low in my seat, I sheepishly exited the gate and headed to Aldi to stock up for the week ahead.

Aldi is interesting, with its weird copycat brands, gazillions of snack foods and interesting European items. Regardless, I prefer commissaries to all other grocery stores. Commissaries are my turf, where I belong.

After 27 years as a military spouse, I understand the layouts, products and customs, and am comforted by this familiarity. I relish the fact that we pay a dollar less per pound for deli meat. I like that those in uniform take priority. I take it in stride that the produce section is, at times, inconsistent, offering mushy nectarines and heaps of fresh corn one week, and green bananas and sprigs of cilantro the next. And I am only mildly perturbed that the meat coolers are sometimes completely out of boneless skinless chicken thighs for no apparent reason.

With all its advantages and aggravations, the commissary is home.

Approaching the Aldi entrance, I felt the pang of anxiety that usually stems from not knowing where to find the items on my grocery list in a cavernous civilian supermarket stocked with national brands, store brands, off brands, specialty brands and generic brands. I can easily feel lost and confused at our humongous local Stop & Shop, where the produce section is roughly the same square footage of our house. Sure, civilian supermarkets have everything, like pine nuts, smoked mackerel and pickled watermelon rind. But it isn’t worth the plantar fasciitis flare-ups to push my cart up and down 20-some aisles in search of birthday candles.

Outside Aldi, I dug through my purse for my mask and a quarter, fishing both out of a linty corner that was also hiding a forgotten tube of Chapstick. After inserting the quarter in the cart lock contraption — so European — I entered the relatively small store of only five short aisles. But I was still anxious, knowing I’d have to substitute many items on my list.

No Barlett pears, but plenty of Medjool dates. No almond milk coffee creamer, but lots of jalapeno cheese curds. No Wheat Chex, but a 10-count box of blueberry pancakes and sausage on a stick. No King’s Hawaiian Rolls, but dozens of Deutsche Kueche Bavarian soft pretzels.

After filling my cart to the brim with bizarre foodstuffs, I headed to the checkout line, waiting behind floor tape to be called by the cashier. I glanced at my phone screen when suddenly, I heard a whistle. I looked up to see the cashier flailing her arms. There was no one behind me, but her irritated gestures implied that I’d better hurry it up, slowpoke.

I scrambled ahead and lobbed armfuls of food frantically onto the moving conveyor belt. While she scanned and beeped, I inserted my debit card and punched buttons. A few seconds later, the cashier’s hand rap-rap-rapped on the plexiglass enclosure. With all the scanning and beeping, I hadn’t heard the ping telling me to remove my card. “All right already!” I was afraid to say out loud.

I snatched the receipt from the cashier’s outstretched hand and moved quickly to the self-bagging area, where my soul ached for commissary customs. I had only brought four bags to this bagless store — again, so European — which I packed to the point of bursting.

My organs nearly broke loose lifting the overfilled bags into my car, which gave me even more determination to retrieve a consolation prize for my substandard shopping experience. If it meant I had to walk a mile, I was going to return that cart and get my darned quarter back.

Perhaps next time I’ll remember: Never go grocery shopping on Monday.

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com
Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@googlemail.com

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