Wednesday, when I returned from my much too brief West Coast escape to my exalted position of low reward as floor and wall tile sample emissary between my boss, Elsbeth, and sidekick, Greg, I noticed that I was running low on breakfast cereal. A week earlier Elsbeth and I locked horns over my eating my cereal during the ten o’clock hour instead of the usual nine o’clock hour, the hour before she enters the premises. The conversation went as follows; Elsbeth is in her office and I am sitting at my desk situated outside her open door.
Elsbeth (bellowing): Can you come in here?
Me (mouth full of organic wheat carbuncles): No.
Elsbeth (dumbfounded): What?
Me (mouth still full): You heard me.
Elsbeth (insistent): Come in here!
Me (chewing): Is this an emergency?
Elsbeth (demanding): I need you in here!
Me (slurping milk): Hold on.
Elsbeth (breaking point): Why?
I finish my breakfast and enter Elsbeth’s office with my ever-ready notepad. Her hair looks electrified.
Me: I was eating my cereal.
Me: There’s only a two minute window between crispy and mush.
It’s so exasperating having to explain the fact of cereal eating to Elsbeth, but her ideal desk-breakfast, the kind she usually denies herself due to staggering calorie content, is a bagel with cream cheese, an egg sandwich, or possibly her favorite indulgence, a sugary, buttery and flaky pastry. I have never seen her spoon anything floating in milk ever.
Elsbeth: You should have eaten your cereal earlier.
Me: I couldn’t. I was taking care of all the things you told me you needed done “first thing” this morning. I had to delay eating my cereal.
I resist adding “because of you” but my superior knows exactly what I am thinking. She also knows me well enough that she can hear the abacus inside my head calculating that for most of the 1,461 days that I’ve been sitting at that desk outside her door I have ingested my cereal by half past nine.
The cereal discussion concludes.
As for what it was that my Lord and Master wanted me to do with such urgency, it completely escapes my recollection. It was not as remotely memorable to me as our sparring over my cup of organic wheat carbuncles, but I suppose that after 1,461 days of fulfilling floor and wall tile requests, they all start to blur a tad.
This week, when I return from my much too brief West Coast hiatus, Elsbeth is quite content to have me back in the fold. For the two days that I have been absent, she has been unable to locate a box of tile color chips we received earlier in the month. I walk over to her bookshelf, remove the box, and hand it to her. She finds my powers of sample location in her lair remarkable. I resist asking, “Can I go home now?”
Greg tips me off that although it is quite hot outdoors I will not suffer heat stroke since there is a welcome breeze. Armed with this information, during my break, I decide to run my cereal errand. Since it is warm, I travel light with only my i.d., some cash, and cell phone. I traipse down to the Whole Foods in Tribeca that is near my office.
Once in the store, I pick up three organic bananas, and two boxes of cereal, items that are all I can carry without drop kicking anything. I make a beeline to the express checkout, a little wary since there was that mishap the last time I was in the store when a fellow shopper failed to follow the rules and went to the wrong register wreaking a few moments of blood pressure raising havoc for me. Fortunately, today I am in the company of Mensa shoppers. Everyone has extraordinary powers of proceeding to the appropriate register without inciting any brouhaha. When it is my turn to check out, I place my three items on the counter and have this exchange:
Clerk: Do you need a bag?
Me (what I want to say): How else do you expect me to carry all this stuff, on my head?
Me (what I do say): Yes.
And I feel defensive about this response.
I understand the need to conserve and recycle, and I do conserve and recycle, but sometimes I think basic practicality is ignored. On the other hand, I suspect that this line of dialogue has been programmed into this clerk, so even if I were purchasing ten boxes of cereal and nine bananas, he’d ask the same question. Plus, many customers shop with their own bags, such as the ones that Whole Foods sells. I would carry one of those bags if Whole Foods would pay me an endorsement fee. Hm, one way to supplement my meager income. If I were really thinking, or possessed a scintilla of the intellectual acuity of my fellow Mensa-member shoppers, I would have carried my own Whole Foods logo paper bag, possibly one of the many I’ve stuffed inside the storage locker at work. Had I planned ahead, I would not be suffering a guilt trip now over saying yes to another paper bag. Will I remember to bring my own bag the next time I do a cereal run?
Clearly, I’m ready for another, and much longer, vacation, or maybe I just need to do the truly unthinkable and eat a bagel for breakfast. Then, when my boss bleats for me, I can immediately answer her call, and gift her desk with crumbs.