The deadline for entries to the 2022 Erma Bombeck Humor Essay Contest was yesterday. They’ll accept only one essay per person, so I had to choose between two of my favorite pandemic-related pieces. Below is the one I didn’t submit:
How do I love our hometown grocery? Let me count the ways! Local produce. Freshly roasted coffee beans. Housemade tortilla chips. Twenty-piece buckets of fried chicken for $11.99. Real, live cashiers. Paper bags. It has only two drawbacks. One is the international aisle, sponsored by La Choy and Old El Paso, which lacks key ingredients for every ethnic recipe I’ve ever clipped from the New York Times. Ask the stock boy where to find umami paste and he’ll say, “Um… on Amazon?” The other is having to dodge horny widowers who think “Senior Hour” means “Tinder for the Elderly.”
A few days before Halloween, I pop in first thing in the morning to grab some necessities. I’ve forgotten 7-8 am is Senior Hour. I’m not technically old enough to shop then, but I quit coloring my hair years ago, so no one is the wiser.
In canned goods, a player in a buttoned-up cardigan pushes a cart with a marked-down grapefruit in the front that is already attracting fruit flies. “Excuse me, pretty lady,” he winks. “Are these the beans that are on sale?” He points to a tall pyramid of store-brand baked beans next to a fluorescent yellow sign that reads SALE—59¢. I nod and watch him load eight, ten, twelve cans into his cart. He clears his throat as if to continue the conversation and I skedaddle, as would any sensible woman who finds herself too close to a cheapskate who might spontaneously combust.
In the snack aisle, I’m approached by a casanova with bird legs and a low-hanging belly not fully covered by his shirt. He appears to be cheating on Lorna Doone. With Little Debbie. He leans in close and stage-whispers, “Are you gonna eat all that candy corn by yourself?”
Two more are prowling in Frozen Foods. The one wearing a flannel shirt has a stack of Hungry Man fried chicken dinners in his basket and says, for no apparent reason, “I’m a breast man.” Not to be outdone, the other one squints through his bifocals in the direction of my cart and says, “I sure would like to get a closer look at those pot pies.”
Me and my pot pies sprint to the end of the aisle and squeal around the corner so fast we almost bump into the stock boy, who’s arranging tortilla chips and jars of salsa on an endcap.
“Hey, ma’am!” he says brightly. “Did you ever find that tsunami paste you were looking for?”
I can’t tell if he’s clueless or a comedian-in-training, but it’s the best line I’ve heard all day. Hey, I might even share my candy corn.