Living on a small island has a lot of advantages, but privacy isn’t one of them. As Victor says in his song, Small Town Grapevine, “Everybody’s business, everybody knows.” Not that I have anything to hide, exactly. Well, not much, anyway.
We drive a nondescript white truck, which is useful here on the island. Unlike our friend who drives a chartreuse minivan, you can’t always be sure it was us you saw driving hell bent for leather to get to the ferry on time. It could be one of about five white trucks. She can’t go anywhere without the entire population knowing what she’s up to though.
“Oh, saw you at the liquor store.”
“Oh, saw you at the grocery.”
“Saw you were at the beach.”
“Didn’t leave the party until midnight, huh?”
Unless you’ve made note of the dent over the left wheel of our truck, which in reality, you probably have, we’re pretty safe. Not so much in the grocery store, though.
In the city, if you get a chips and salsa craving, it’s entirely possible to run to the store before the hockey game starts. In spite of longer lines and those automatic check-out machines that require you to do all the work, but give you no discount for doing it yourself, you can still get home in time for the puck-off (or whatever it is, I’m a baseball fan). But here, going to the island’s only grocery store requires thought, planning, and vast amounts of time. And I’m not even talking about your shopping list.
You can always tell the tourists at the grocery store because they’re not hugging anyone. Or standing in the middle of the aisle planning a fundraiser. Or explaining how to barbecue tofu to a recent vegetarian convert. They might be wandering around slightly lost, but their carts are full, and they’re in and out, and off to the beach before the locals have made it past the entrance. When planning a grocery shop, I always give myself at least fifteen minutes to pick up five items or less, and forty-five to sixty minutes for a full shop. To give you perspective, that time is spent approximately twenty percent on getting groceries, the rest for chatting.
If we’re really in a hurry, Victor and I tag team it.
“Okay,” I say as we go in. “You run interference by socializing while I race over to the chocolate bars, and then grab two avocadoes, pay, and we’re out the door.”
“What if we see someone who wants to talk to you?”
“I’ll wave and keep going. Say I left a pot of soup on the stove.”
Most of the time, I love the social aspect of the grocery shop. There’s one thing that’s a little weird, though.
Sure, we’re all friends and we love each other, but in a big city store, no one cares, or even notices, what you buy. Love frozen pizzas and they’re on sale? Stock up! Want a box of Captn’ Crunch. Who’s stopping you? But here….
The other day, I saw two friends chatting in the deli and I went up to get my hugs and say hello (even though I’d actually already hugged, chatted, and traded gossip with one of them in the produce section ten minutes before that). As we were saying hello, one of them held up a bag of white sugar.
“This isn’t for me,” she said. “I don’t use white sugar. It’s for the humming birds. I just wanted you to know.”
We nodded, and I shifted a head of lettuce in my basket so it covered my vegan marshmallows while Karen (not her real name) deftly stepped in front of her cart so I couldn’t see her Sunday pot roast.
This happens at the library too. Lots of hugging, and carefully stacked books so fellow islanders don’t discover the latest Dan Brown novel in your pile. The real problem with the library is that there are only four or five people working there. That means, if you use the library as much as we all do, you know them well. Some of them have even been to your house for dinner. And yet, reading choices can be very private. Or sometimes, you wish they were.
Last year, I requested, What To Expect When You’re Expecting. While I consider myself way too old to even consider having a baby, popping out a sprog at forty-five is perfectly normal here on the island. As the librarian checked out my book for me and gave me a wide smile, surreptitiously sizing up my belly to see how far along I was. I said, “I just want you to know this is for research for a book I’m writing.” She laughed, pretending not to be interested in my reading choices, but you can’t help but feel that as she’s checking in the requested books, she’s thinking:
Hmmm….Janice Albright requested Menopause and You! This explains why she was such a bitch to me in the grocery store the other day. Running by with a wave and saying something lame about leaving a pot on the stove.
Ooohhh…who knew Richard Chase has sexual problems? He seems so virile. Well, I hope this helps, for Karleen’s sake. Especially since she checked out To Take A Lover and all those romance novels last week.
If I’m a hundred percent honest, I have considered, but have not succumbed, to the idea of actually ordering my chick lit novels and cozy mysteries and having them delivered to the downtown branch on Vancouver Island, which would require me to pay large amounts of money to take a ferry there and back, not to mention eat up half my day, and once there, I’d still have to hope I didn’t run into any other islanders over there for the same reason. On the plus side, I could stock up on marshmallows.