Saturday, January 15, 2011

Once Upon a Time at the Neighborhood Grocery Store

    “Gold’s Food Market” was the perfect place to pick up those items my mother had forgotten during her weekly safari to Shop-Rite.  Even though it was pricier than the glitzy supermarket across town, the little grocery on the corner did have the advantage of being within easy walking distance for the family errand boy.  Me.
    It had been around as long as I could remember.  It was as much a neighborhood fixture as the Windmill Colonial Tavern or Fat Annie, the Crazy Cat Lady.  Plus, the cops never had to be called there to break up a brawl nor did it smell like a giant litter box.
    If you looked up Corner Grocer in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Morris and Sara Gold.  This real life odd couple combined shopping for eggs with the pathos of domestic life played out in regular daily shows.  They made Archie and Edith look like Ozzie and Harriet.
    Sara, an immensely overweight woman who couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall, ran the register.  Resembling one of those blow-up clowns that pop right back up once you smack them, she delighted in dispensing pearls of wisdom such as how to make the Indian princess on the Land O’ Lakes carton look topless. 
    Raised in New York City, she moved to Connecticut with her new husband, Moe, shortly following the war.  Determined to secure their piece of the American dream, the newlyweds saved the money they earned from Moe’s job as a dishwasher in a Greek diner and Sara’s in a now-defunct textile mill.  They were convinced their hard work would pay off when God gave them a “sign.” 
    Then, when the last shoemaker in town died while shoveling snow, God finally came through.  Seeing their chance, Moe and Sara quickly bought up the newly vacant Hank’s Happy Heels and re-opened it as Gold’s Food Market. 
    “My parents weren’t too happy about me owning a grocery store,” she’d often say with a touch of sadness.  “They wanted me to be a dancer.”
    Whenever she said this, I always thought of those dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia.
    “Of course,” she said with a wink, “I was a lot smaller then.”
    By this time, it was apparent that the honeymoon that was the Golds’ marriage was definitely over.  Whenever she got carried away with her stories, Moe would holler, “Get back to work before I come up there and dance you out the door!”
     A couple years before I left St. Stan’s, Moe removed the store’s candy from behind the cash register.  Complaining he couldn’t trust Sara around the Chunkys and M&Ms, he relocated them to the front shelves.  Just at knee level for young customers.
    Of course, since Sara was too short to see over the counter and was usually too distracted when telling her stories, it was a simple matter for us to slide the odd piece of Bazooka or Tootsie Roll into our pockets.
    So, you see, we didn’t really mind listening to her tall tales.
    Moe, on the other hand, was a horse of a different color.  While Sara wore a differently colored tent to work, he sported the same blood-stained clothing and paper hat everyday.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a closet full of identical pre-blooded outfits just waiting to go to work.  
    Trained as a butcher by his father, the bald-headed, bespectacled Moe could usually be found in the back, whacking away at some huge slab of cow, pig, or brontosaurus with an evil-looking cleaver.  When he wasn’t rendering one of God’s creatures into neat little paper-wrapped piles, he puttered around his storeroom or berated Sara for annoying the customers.  
    No pre-wrapped slices of baloney in airtight plastic bubbles for Moe, nossir.  His meticulous display case of animal flesh was only eclipsed by the macabre abattoir he kept in his huge, walk-in freezer.
    Moe was a friendly enough guy, though.  Always telling corny jokes, he only got aggravated with his wife.  During those times, he’d flail his cleaver like a slaughterhouse Leopold Stokowski and punctuate the air with all manner of abuse.  Sara was never one to take this treatment lightly and would retaliate with an assault of her own.
    It made for quite a show.  Like a couple of fat, aging, and bald dinosaurs, they’d lumber towards each other, arms waving like crazy windmills and voices screeching like psychotic owls.
    On the bright side, their antics gave us plenty of time to stuff our pockets full of Milky Ways and Three Musketeers.
    Even so, it was with a little apprehension that I accepted a job as their delivery boy.  I was worried about being collateral damage whenever they went at each other.  But, after a lengthy harangue from my father over the value of money earned, especially when he didn’t have to fork it over himself, I decided to give it a shot.
   I worked from noon until four on Saturdays, their busiest day of the week.  My jobs included sweeping floors, stocking shelves, and removing trash from the back storeroom.  I also helped Sara deliver groceries to lazy people and delivered cases of Black Label to Mrs. Belconti, the widow who lived around the corner with her collection of yard gnomes.
    Actually, I really think I went along to help Sara drive.  Since she was so fat, she had to push the car seat as far back as it would go.  And, since she was so short, she couldn’t reach the pedals unless she taped wooden blocks to them.  The end result was that she couldn’t see much above the steering wheel.
    I went along to guide her around obstacles like other cars, telephone poles, pedestrians, and garages.  In effect, I was Sara’s radar.
    For all this, I was paid the princely sum of $1.00 an hour.  Yep, saving up for that car.  Matchbox, Hot Wheels, whatever.

 Next: Good As Gold's


  1. I thought it was bad when I was a teenager, I made $2.40 an hour. Now, teenagers work for $7.40 an hour, which still isn't much. Slave wages. lol

  2. Yeah, a frikkin' dollar! Can you believe it. But, at least Moe fed me lunch Never the good lunchmeat, though. Always olive loaf or meat that was threatening to go bad. You know, the kind with little rainbow streaks running through it.