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The Shopping Cart Theater

PROLOGUE: By most standards my neighborhood urban supermarket is not super; it is, in fact, rather grimy despite the management's best efforts to keep the floors clean and thwart the sheer heavy use of the place, which makes it inexplicably sag. Under the right conditions, near the bread shelves, the place moans with humanity, too. This is a supermarket deep in Boston where public rudeness is an art form and a local newspaper columnist recently asked why Boston has such a bad reputation for political corruption when at least five other cities are just as corrupt. (I can answer that, but not now.)

On a recent Saturday morning I entered the crowded supermarket, resolved to single-mindedly shop and flee. Instead, something wonderful happened near the checkout stand. I fell in love with the supermarket drama, a play of manners among the shopping carts with an absurdist touch.

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Act One: teeming crowds; noisy, long lines at cash registers; express is not express; checkers are rude; woe is all. Toothless, slim older woman in a red, wool cap and frayed, blue coat shuffles here and there, quietly retrieving empty shopping carts and neatly lines them near the entrance door for shoppers entering stage right. She is not an employee. Hums, whistles, chats, carries time lightly.

Toothless woman (stopping by me): ``I make the men laugh [irrepressible grin, eyes dancing]. I don't struggle with them. It's the best menu ever written, he and she, he and she'' (does a little celebratory jig, goes away for more carts).

Older woman in front of me with purple hair: ``She's crazy.''

Older woman in front of her with reddest lips in the universe: ``She likes men.''

Muscular but very harried male checker with arm tattoo saying ``Richie loves Belle'' and five big, gold rings: ``Naw, she ain't crazy, she's birthday every day. She loves chocolate.''

Toothless woman returning with cart, stops: ``Watch this.'' Walks up to older man writing check at customer-service counter. Stands next to him, bangs her hip three times against his hip. They laugh. Whole store laughs. Richie hoots.

Act Two: Young married couple enters, she with list, he with small cart to take groceries home. Toothless woman offers them shopping cart, chucks surprised man under the chin. ``You're a cutie,'' she says. They laugh.

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Toothless comes to me (pointing to tabloid near Richie's checkout counter). ``He and she in trouble.'' (Headline says, ``Furious Di says to Charles: stop shooting toothpaste up your nose or we're through.'') I laugh. She laughs. Other people laugh. Richie shakes head.

Young married couple begins to argue over list. People stare. Tension rises. Toothless woman stops in front of them, does celebratory jig, tells woman that all day long men come and go like coats without buttons. ``Eat some chocolate together,'' she says. ``Button.''

Richie: ``Didn't I tell you?''

Woman with purple hair: ``She loves men. Men love her.''

Woman with reddest lips: ``She's crazy.''

Toothless woman does her celebratory jig near the tabloids. Whole store laughs.

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