“Clean-up on aisle nine.” A nasal voice interrupted the drone of soft rock music playing over the intercom system. “Can we get a clean-up on aisle nine, immediately please.” The second time around, the voice on the intercom spoke more pointedly, enunciating each syllable with frantic determination.
Simmer down, I thought to myself. What’s the urgency at eleven o’clock in the evening on a weeknight? I wandered down the potato chip aisle, running my hands along the cool plastic bags filled with cheese and salt dusted delights. I could hear a commotion on the next aisle over and considered checking it out. Then I looked at my list. Mintz was specific about the list: black fishnets – size large, vodka – half a gallon. He added a gold star sticker next to my name on the list with the words, “Hurry home Chicken.”
We’d been working on a music video for friends of ours for the past forty-eight hours. Mintz was directing, which amounted to him supplying the cast and crew with a steady stream of ketamine and alcohol while he sent me off on errands to the grocery store. Less than two hours ago, I was here picking up eggs and sponges.
Mintz installed the cameras and lighting equipment about a week ago and invited the cast and crew over for a get-to-know-you, pre-production party. Mintz wanted to capture the footage in a cinema verité style. What he wanted was to catch the band in various states of intoxication. It was working. We had a house full of carnival acts with a guitarist groping egg yolks in ceramic bowls, a lead-singer gluing sponges to the bathroom mirror, and a scantily dressed tambourine player pacing the living room dragging a stuffed unicorn on a leather leash behind her. Mintz was getting great footage.
Luckily, I was in my finest formal wear; a floor length sequenced purple gown with a plunging back and neckline. Mintz rented all these thirties era costumes for the film shoot, and the band and I fought over this dress, but Mintz stood up for me. “Chicken gets the gown,” he told the crew. And what Mintz said was never questioned.
Our local grocery store was a dimly lit market with cluttered aisles and grumpy employees, but it was within walking distance from the house. I already had the fishnets, size large, in my basket. It was just a matter of grabbing the half-gallon of vodka, paying for my things, and making the ten minutes walk back to the film shoot. As I rounded the alcohol section, the voice on the intercom said, “Chicken, we need you on aisle nine.”
On the one hand, I was mildly annoyed that the voice on the intercom kept interrupting my only chance at listening to soft rock without a diatribe from Mintz about its destruction on the human kind. “Two-part harmony is the root of all evil,” Mintz always said whenever I played my Hall & Oaks albums. On the other hand, I was curious about the clean-up on aisle nine and how the voice on intercom knew my name.
I knew that aisle nine was full of boxed meals and canned goods. Worse case scenario, a can of spaghetti and meatballs hurled itself off the shelf, increasing the potential for a slip or a stain. At the very least, I could offer my condolences to the lost dinner and my admiration for quick and efficient damage control by the voice from the intercom. Neither one of my good intentions had the opportunity to transpire; instead, when I arrived at aisle nine, I forgot how to blink.
A string quartet, instruments down, was spooning up Campbell’s chunky soup from the can and tossing their empty tins on a pile accumulating at the foot of a tall, slender man wearing a tuxedo. Once the string quartet saw me, they threw their half-eaten cans of soup on the pile, chunks of processed meat and sauce spilled out in all directions, and raised their violas, violin, and cello. They began to play Dustin O’Halloran’s Quartet N.2.
The tuxedoed man walked towards me and held out his hand. He twirled me up and down the aisle with passionate self-assuredness as if we’d been dancing together for years. I could hear macaroni noodles and bits of rice cheering us on, tossing themselves up against one another to make noise inside their usually quiet boxes.
It was not soon after he took my hand that our bodies began to rise. I waved goodbye to the basket with the fishnets and the half-gallon jug of vodka. Transformed by an amazing song with an unexpected dance partner, my familiar neighborhood market with the dimly lit, cluttered aisles appeared altogether different. From above, it was a pastiche of colorful, muted shapes, something not unlike a Cezanne landscape.
The man in the very smart tuxedo wrapped his arms around my waist and twirled me around as I waved, like a parade float princess to the produce and vegetables. Bananas stood up in erect salute, peaches, apples, and oranges rolled around on one another in celebration, and the lettuce moved their leaves back in forth in a slow, romantic gesture.
I thought briefly about Mintz and the cast and crew back at the house, but I was only mildly sad that he was missing my grocery store moment. This clean up on aisle nine was mine and mine alone. “Chicken gets the dance,” I thought to myself.