Lies, deception and betrayal at Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s is a Southern California-based grocery store chain that specializes in gourmet, organic and specialty foods. Maybe you have one near you. Maybe you don’t. How the hell would I know? Answer: I wouldn’t.I tend to go to Trader Joe’s when I want to purchase food and drink for special occasions. On this particular evening, I planned on watching the conclusion of season three of “The Wire” on DVD. The only proper way to conclude one of the greatest seasons in television history, I thought, was with a bottle of Napa red and a flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. Did I mention I don’t have a girlfriend? What gave it away? Answer: Everything.

The checkout girl was the usual sort you find at Trader Joe’s – cute and friendly and chatty. If Trader Joe’s employs ugly, silent brooders – the type with a score to settle – they’re not in front with the public. They’re kept in the back with the raw meats. Up front it’s all talk-talk-talk and nicey-nice and “have a great day, sir.” In the back, if I had to guess, they’re sawing off shotguns, drawing on maps and worshipping Santeria. Do I have proof of this? No. Why do I think it’s true? Answer: There must be balance.

Death of a President movie My checkout girl – we’ll call her Betsy – picked up my delicious flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta and scanned it. Then she made a bold move – a move she would soon and forever regret. “This is one of my favorites,” she said. I immediately responded, “What side dishes would you recommend?” I’m big on side dishes. Side dishes and dipping sauces. Is variety the spice of life? Yes. If variety is not the spice of life, then why is there so much variety? Answer: Exactly.

Betsy blinked. It was a silent blink of epic proportions. She had been caught in a lie. We both knew it. She couldn’t think of what side dish she had enjoyed with her delicious flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta because she had never eaten said brand of delicious flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta. Or had she just imagined it, like Hillary with the sniper fire? Who lies about delicious flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta? What did Betsy stand to gain? Answer: Me. I’m one cool bowl of spumoni. In a way, I could not blame her. But in a different way, I could.

Betsy finally mumbled “baked potato” before looking down and away in childlike shame. She knew the harsh truth. She had destroyed whatever trust there was between us. She had broken the sacred code of the checkout girl. You know the code. When a customer buys a quart of whiskey, a box of prophylactics, Jell-O and a mop, you keep your damn trap shut. Same goes for an innocent order of delicious flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta. If you have a comment, you keep it to yourself. Take whatever thoughts are rattling around in that Betsy head of yours home and blog them or journal them or drink them off. I don’t want to hear it. Why? Answer: We both know what the Jell-O is for. But you’ll never guess what the mop is for, so don’t even try.

I haven’t been back to Trader Joe’s since. There is a taint upon that store, and you can interpret that to mean any type of taint you please. I no longer associate Trader Joe’s with spicy hummus or pineapple salsa or joy. Now when I think of Trader Joe’s, it’s all lies and betrayals and truth-rape. There is a Vons grocery store across the street. It’s not as flashy, but the employees are discreet. And that’s all a man can ask for these days. Is that really all a man can ask for these days? Answer: That really is all a man can ask for these days.

(To hear Mike, Sean, guest Ed Galvez and me talk about this column on The Second Column podcast on iTunes, click here.)

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