Strange Encounters Of The Aldi Kind

by Anne Gardner

Over my years of shopping at Aldi, I have had a wealth of experiences – bizarre, random and some even downright offensive.  I’ve seen the schizophrenic shufflers muttering to themselves as they push their carts down the aisle, the ghetto fab beggars wanting me to trade cash for food stamps, the produce fondlers who reach into my cart and squish my bread and handle my broccoli, the rushed retirees who can’t wait to hog the conveyor belt for their canned stew and bananas so they can get home in time for their stories, and, most recently, the baby entertainers, who touch my child’s face and make faces of their own to greet my son.  None of it has stopped me from going, though.  The patrons may be strange, but I can’t resist spending a third of what I would spend elsewhere on my groceries.  Sure, the store feels a little third-world, you have a limited selection of goods, and you feel like you might need a hot bath when you’re finished, but the savings are worth it.

So, this morning after I finished my decaf, I took my weekly trip to Aldi.  And, this morning, as luck would have it, when I was getting out of my car, someone was finishing with their cart.  I love when that happens; it makes life with a 13+ pound baby and baby carrier that much easier.  So, I offered her a nice shiny quarter in exchange for the cart (at Aldi, you rent your cart for a quarter and have to take your cart back to the store front before you leave to get your quarter back – sort of genius, actually), I unloaded my son in his car seat from the car and strolled toward the front of the store.

As I was walking in, an elderly couple was exiting, and they had in their cart a huge, 2 gallon, potted banana pepper plant full of peppers that were just swaying in the breeze.  I love it.  Not only does Aldi bring me my dairy, bread and coffee at profoundly discounted prices, but they take all the work out of gardening for me, too.

The lady could see the excitement plain on my face, so she said to me, “They’re on the other side of the store, just before the checkout.”

I replied, “Those are so nice!”

“Aren’t they, though?” She said, “They’re right over there,” and she pointed to the far side of the store.

“Okay.  Thanks so much!” I said.

She nodded, and her and her husband continued on toward their car.

I realized that I was moving rather slowly, blocking the only entrance to the store. When I looked behind me, I saw that an elderly gentleman in his seventies or maybe early eighties, had been standing there waiting as I discussed the peppers with the couple.  I felt a little rude that I hadn’t noticed him earlier or tried to move out of the way, so when he made eye contact with me, I spoke to him to sort of include him in the discussion, saying, “Those are really nice peppers.”

He then said to me, “I have something nice for you,” and he began to move his hand to his pants area.

At this point, everything seems to be happening quickly, and I’m thinking two things simultaneously.  First, I think, Please, God in heaven, don’t let it be his penis.  Also, I’m assessing the situation as a whole.  I think that if this same set of events had happened in a more remote location like, say, a deserted alley, this is the point in the story when I’d grab my precious baby and run like all hell.  But the circumstances being what I they were, I decided to risk it.

Much to my extreme relief, he reached into his pocket, instead of elsewhere, and pulled out a tissue-wrapped package.  Moving towards me, he carefully unwrapped it to reveal something I couldn’t quite identify.  I either had a look of puzzlement on my face or I actually said, “What is it?” I still can’t remember which because the event is sort of clouded by near-trauma.  He explained.  “I make fish out of rocks,” he boasted.

Sure as shit, in his hand was a rock about the size of a half dollar that had little googley eyes and plastic fins glued to it.  It sat proudly on a teeny clear plastic pedestal.  Understanding dawning, I said, “Oooohhh… that IS nice.”  I mean, what else could I say?  Really.

"Rock Fish," not to be confused with the Rock Band "Phish."

He held it out for me and said, “Here, you can keep it.”

I felt my eyes widen in surprise and I found myself stumbling over the words, “Oh…  Wow….  Thanks.  I think… I think my daughter will really love this,” as I studied it in what I hoped was an interested-looking way, and not a creeped-out and confused looking way.

He smiled, nodded and pushed his cart down the aisle to continue his shopping.

When he rounded the corner, I was still holding the, erm, fish in my hand with what I can only imagine was a look of extreme mystification on my face.  What the fuck just happened here? Let’s recap:  I commented on peppers to an older couple while blocking the entrance to the store.  I tried to smooth over my rudeness and disregard for the general public by including another person in the pepper discussion.  In my mind, then, I was almost assaulted by the exhibition of an unwanted and very old penis.  Instead, in actuality, I was introduced to the latest and greatest in a long line of retirement community crafts.

You know what I’m talking about, right?  My grandparents always had something they were working on when I was little: the landscapes made of carpet scraps held in place by a cross stitch frame, the needlepoint Christmas ornaments and tissue box covers, the sun catchers made of wire and plastic beads, the Barbie doll toilet paper covers with the knitted dresses (Barbie’s dress fits over the toilet paper so as to hide the ugliness of the roll), chandeliers made out of clear plastic cups and Christmas lights (my personal favorite), and now… pet rocks made to look like fish.  Okay.  Now it makes more sense.  Sort of.

But, what on the sweet earth am I going to do with it now? The little pet fish rock is sitting on my dining room table, awaiting its fate.  I hate getting rid of those little crafts because those older folks are always so damn proud of them; you feel bad if you throw them out. Well, whatever.  I’ll figure it out later.  For now, I am grateful that it was just a pet fish rock he presented me with, but I’m still shaking my head at what I’ve come to realize is a pretty typical shopping experience at Aldi.

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