Whole Foods shoppers are easy targets, so busy choosing their imported wheat germ and organic kiwi that they forget about thieves. They are also wealthy, at least the ones who live in this town, where the median home value is a million dollars and the cars are typically high-end, like the Mercedes I park my Toyota next to. I’m a good sixty yards from the store’s entrance, far enough to complicate a getaway, I note, though by no means making it impossible. Security is light, and the odds of a passerby confronting a fleeing black man are slim.
I prefer coming here mid-morning on a weekday, when it isn’t very crowded, and that’ll be especially true now, since it’s been drizzling for the last hour. Once I’m inside, the weather works further in my favor, allowing me to spend several seconds wiping my feet while surveying carts for unattended purses. Right off I see two directly in my path near the apricots. A few feet beyond those, there’s another by the corn-on-the-cob. The purses’ owners are steps away, their backs to me as they make their overpriced selections. I could have the purses and be gone in a flash. Instead, I remain by the door holding my grocery list close to my face, studying it intensely, offering the possibility that I am a mere dutiful spouse struggling to decipher his wife’s scribble. [End Page 15]
The corn-gatherer isn’t buying it. We’ve made eye contact and now she returns to her cart, deposits her corn, and then lifts her purse and slips it over her shoulder. The apricot-pickers haven’t noticed me. I pry a shopping basket from the stack. Against my better judgment, I hurry forward, triggering what I sometimes imagine is an ultrasonic alarm; the two women I’m approaching dart glances over their shoulders, see me before I have a chance to get past them, and move to secure their belongings.
Another woman appears at my side—elderly, slightly stooped, light reflecting off the gems squeezing her pudgy fingers—talking about arugula. “You used to keep it by the broccoli,” she’s saying. “It was there just last week.”
“The arugula. Where did you move it to?”
“I don’t work here,” I say.
She looks confused.
“He can probably help you.” I point to a man watering daisies. Like all of the store employees, he’s wearing a brown apron with Whole Foods printed in large lettering across the front. I’m wearing a blazer, shirt, tie, and stonewashed jeans, a style, according to one of my graduate students, known as smart casual. A prideful part of me wants to mention this to the elderly woman, emphasizing that I’m a college professor, but I say nothing as she goes to the produce clerk, who leads her to a field of greens with labels identifying the various species. Perhaps I only look casual and a bushel of arugula will complete the ensemble; the thought occurs to me in jest, but nonetheless, I act on it. Next, I get some zucchini, scallions, beets, oranges, and bananas, checking each item off my list while working my way to the seafood. There, a man behind the counter, who at most is twenty-years old—exactly thirty-one years my junior—nods at me and says, “What’s up?”
I reposition the arugula, moving it higher for him to see. Then I bend toward the glass encasement, mainly so he can get a good view of the gray in my hair that, at least with my undergraduates, seems to discourage familiarity. But it doesn’t have this effect on the fishmonger. “Thanks, bro,” he says, after filling my request of a pound of Atlantic salmon. [End Page 16]
I check my list again. One more item, bread, located on the opposite end of the store. This time I use my phone as a prop, thumbing through emails while being mindful of more purses. I make it past four without tripping the ultrasonic alarm, picking up a bottle of...