“The supermarket shelves have been rearranged. It happened one day without warning. There is agitation and panic in the aisles, dismay in the faces of older shoppers.[…]They scrutinize the small print on packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. The men scan for stamped dates, the women for ingredients. Many have trouble making out the words. Smeared print, ghost images. In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of our age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.”
― Don DeLillo, White Noise
Goodness. Unoriginal really to start a blog post with a quote. Especially one from a Don DeLillo novel. A little bit literary and hoity toity of me perhaps? Don’t worry it’s the only one I’ve ever read. American Literature 101 back the worry-free days of an undergraduate arts degree. Perhaps that will come in useful some day?
(*taps foot impatiently and waits*)
In the meantime, I’ll tell you why I suddenly thought of this final moment from White Noise.
It’s because I went to Aldi on Sunday.
I know. GROUND BREAKING.
Well it was for me. I don’t like trying new things. I’m not good at it. I’m not very adventurous. Especially if adventurous means trying out a different supermarket. Sure, I’ve tolerated the so-called “fresh food people” with their mouldy, crushed tomatoes, their limp lettuce and the cold-stored mandarins. It was easy and convenient. I knew where the tinned salmon was. I didn’t have to go searching up and down the aisles for the milk. I knew how to work the self-service checkouts and that the nice young man who works on Sunday morning would help me when the fruit went through as an error.
But Wendy! Live a little. Aldi’s just a supermarket.
I know that my friends. But here’s the point. It was one I had never been to before. Yes I know. And the more that people embraced the Aldi way, the more I became determined not to go there. Just like when everyone raved about Forrest Gump. I’ve never watched the movie and I never will because people told me it was good. Or Shane Warne. I didn’t like him when he was playing cricket and I refuse to like him now. UnAustralian. (Sometimes I would barrack for whoever is playing against Lleyton Hewitt. Just for fun). Whatever. Logic has little place here.
But Adrienne had introduced me to the fresh truffle and mushroom Aldi pasta. It was delicious and cheap. I really wanted some. I checked the map. There’s an Aldi 700m from my house. What was stopping me?
I had no map. I was lacking in the cultural capital (mildly fancy cultural studies concept alert) to understand the ways of Aldi. I talked myself into. You can do it. If the meek can inherit the earth surely you can go into a new supermarket. This was a map I was going to have make for myself. I was an explorer on a bold and exciting journey. Everything would be shelved differently. I wouldn’t recognise the brands. How would I even FIND the pasta?
I parked the car and moved towards the entrance. Not for Aldi the fancy Woolies entry where you can go in and out of the same space. NO. Once you are in you have to buy something or try to awkwardly get out through the checkout lines without anything to purchase. Embarrassing. Space management 101 perhaps?
Inside was a little bit dreary. I don’t think there was any muzak playing. I couldn’t be sure because I was one of those people anxiously scanning the aisles, reading labels and wondering if “this” was the pasta I’d been looking for.
I found it. I took two packets because it seemed silly that I would go to all that effort and then only walk out with one measly packet of pasta.
Good. I’d know where to go next time. Map drawn. Now to escape. And here’s where it became all very disconcerting. I had two packets of pasta. Everyone else was buying a week’s worth of groceries. I settled in, Woolies-style, to wait for ages in the queue, but they waved me through to the front! What madness is this? Manners, kindness, compassion for the slightly worried woman with her pasta? Could Aldi….possibly…be a more caring supermarket? Is this the supermarket I’ve been looking for.
I was no longer dismayed. I didn’t feel betrayed or that I had betrayed Woolworths. Aldi had provided with pasta and humanity in the face of confusion and discomfort. For a moment we were all one in the Aldi queue, just Sunday afternoon shoppers trying to stock up for the week. I was part of a little community. It felt good.
And so it turned it that my journey into the depths of Sugarland Aldi was not the tragedy of modern life so exquisitely described by DeLillo. It was full of hope.
(I also bought two books on special on the way out). Bargains!
*apologies to all Star Wars fans