Yesterday morning I went to the Park Slope Food Co-op with my flat mate Charles. He is a member, as you have to be to shop there; and I had heard so much about it, from Charles and even from Irish people who had lived in New York at one point, that I had to experience it.
Charles brought me as his guest. It was “intense”. I was scrutinised by this weird old woman sitting at the security desk as you go in (organic + “security in tie-dyed vestments” = you know things are getting strange). I don’t mean that she asked me to identify myself, I mean that she looked at me sidelong, then I looked at her sidelong, and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant moment. The look meant: “spy in the house of organic love”.
Charles shopped as I wandered, my guest sticker on my chest, scanning the “produce”, occasionally putting a particularly unrefined and pure sesame oil in my bag for Chris to later buy on my behalf (guests can’t purchase. To be a member, you must agree to do 2 and 3 quarter hours of work in the co-op per month. Charles said, “man, they have me with the grunts in the basement, away from all the sexy shopppers on their way from yoga”). My pace was too slow for the organic frenzy. I was pushed along within the psychic self-involved clouds of the shoppers (leading me to conclude that no matter where you are, the New Yorkness of inhabitants will still bleed through the surroundings). Intently scanning heirloom tomatoes with labelling above each bin identifying the idyllic upstate New York farms the products had come from, this was not idylls of the king, or even the prince. They moved around me with their annoying, high shopping trolleys with the typical hand basket on a kind of high balancing structure, bringing to mind – to my addled mind – the double decker bikes hipsters have taken to cycling around Greenpoint and Williamsburg, like a bearded, shaggy team out of an as-yet unmade film titled: Mad Max: Beyond the Williamsburg Bridge.
The contrast between the restfulness of the healthy products and the people – in their Strand Bookstore t-shirts, the older women in the dyed print trousers looking intently, and somewhat balefully, at organic radishes with earth still on them, the yoga mats all rolled up in a corner promising “a free session” upon purchase, the members doing their “3 hour minus 15 minutes” shift pushing trolley loads of produce through the shoppers, wearing low-slung jeans, side burns and mutton chop moustaches, yelling “coming through, people” – began to create a noxious run-off in the river of my psyche.
(In my mind, it almost ranks with IKEA hell, though thankfully it cannot compare, because of the sheer amount of time one is obliged to be lost in the IKEA labyrinth. The only difference between Minos and IKEA, apart from antiquity, is that there are more minotaurs / employees in IKEA, and in IKEA they run away from you. You find them having sneaky chats in the most obscure and niche areas of the shop – the screw section, for example. And when you ask them for help, they behave as if they’ve been insulted.)
At one point, I moved out of one aisle, because I was afraid that either the female couple with piercings, or the thin, healthy metrosexual man, or the woman in Birkenstocks would mow me down. And, when I got “there”, a sanctuary which was no-where, just a staging post beside the tofu and the tempeh, as a child played with the hard little green mung beans in the bulk dispensers with the plastic spades for getting at such, and the mother told him to stop but he kept going in Park Slopian Spoilt Child fashion (cue 13 years, see him at blasé 18: “I’ll have a latte, double shot of espresso, tall, 1% low fat” – thus is bred the most entitled New Yorkers), as I got “there”, someone who’d been on his way there, too, moved in lizard-hipped, impersonal fashion to avoid me. It was like being an insect in an insect pit, and being crawled over. To express anger would serve no purpose.
Outside, the signage of the Tea Lounge cafe and the bike shop, all of which is casual, and broadcasts “pleasant” and “village feel” on most days, began to glow evilly, and askew. I noticed we were under a flight path. How had I not noticed the jets on their way to La Guardia, flying so low: so “New York low”, in fact? I began to feel like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, in terms of paranoia, and sweat.
I said to Charles: “is it normally that busy?”
He said: “no, man. That was quiet.”