It was the best of meats and it was the worst of meats. It was the season of paprika; it was the season of salt pork. It was a tale of two grocery stores, one for the rich and one for the poor.
"Look at those pineapples," exclaimed a woman inside the Safeway Store in Georgetown. "Only $1.49 a pound. What a bargain!"
Her shopping cart was almost filled with a colorful assortment of foods: fresh vegetables, an armload of brand-name canned goods, milk, juices, breads and specialty items such as mushrooms and olives from the delicatessen. Underneath, there was a large bag of charcoal briquettes and a box of potted plants.
An enchanted baby rode in the cart seat, goo-gooing at herself in the mirror of a Revlon cosmetics kit.
The woman casually loaded up two pineapples and continued the ride. She did not use a shopping list, just perused the aisles selecting items to her heart's content. The bill would come to more than $160 and she would simply write a check, hassle-free.
"Oh butcher?" she called politely. "How much is the top round boneless?" It was on sale for $2.69 a pound, he replied. She ordered six of the juicy red steaks, then inquired about the imported sausages and cheeses--some of which cost twice as much. Of course she had to have some Perrier, so she asked a stock boy to bring a case of water out to the Benz.
Now, there is another Safeway Store in the southeastern part of town that does not have a delicatessen, but a section called "Appetizing." And here another woman was doing the weekend shopping with her daughter, an older girl, too big to ride in the cart. Together, they contemplated the day's featured appetizer: pork hocks.
"What's this, Lord?" the mother asked, lifting a pack from the meat rack.
The daughter read slowly, "Pork hocks," then laughed. It was a funny-looking meat, resembling a clubfoot and wrapped just like bologna.
It cost almost as much as the top round boneless, and the mother's mouth watered. "Put it back," her daughter snapped. For these shoppers, this was a day of hard choices, wanting this, weighing that. Adding it all up and frowning.
"How much money do you have?" the mother asked the daughter. They each carried a coin purse, one stuffed with food stamps, the other with a few dollars and loose change.
"Not enough for no hock," the daughter said curtly. The shopping cart was a potpourri of nondescript generic canned foods. They had beans, rice, bread and a hunk of salt pork. There was not much money left. Most of their purchases were nonfood items--detergent, bath soap, toothpaste and laundry starch. Somebody in the family was graduating next month.
"What color shoes do he wear?" the mother asked, studying a rack of shoe polishes. "Brown, but he needs some black ones," the daughter replied. So into the basket went a can of black dye.
As they prepared to head for the checkout counter, an argument ensued. "We need some sodas," the daughter said, pawing at a carton of colas. Her mother shoved the cart past her. "Pleeeze," the girl moaned as she picked a carton from the shelf. "Put that back," the mother snapped.
No hock, no Coke.
Now came the counter scene. When the woman in Georgetown approached checkout time she had 12 of 17 cashiers to choose from. No line contained more than six people. Only four of nine counters were open at the store in Southeast. All lines were long. When time came for the woman and her daughter, they had the tab subtotaled after each item as they double-checked their purses.
When all was added up, they were way short. Food stamps could handle only food. Shoe dye, some soaps and starch had to go. They weren't so much embarrassed as hurt. "He needs some black shoes," the daughter whispered. Mother just shook her head.
When the woman in Georgetown had driven away in her expensive car loaded with choice groceries, I couldn't help thinking about some of my own fancy recipes. But watching a mother from another part of town despair because she can't afford a pork hock and a can of shoe dye just took my appetite away.