~ a short story
I never did like going to the grocery. I like eating; I don’t enjoy the buying of those things to eat. I am no creature of habit; I am a creature of chaos. It’s weird. Stupid, maybe. But, consistently, I have to build myself up to it. I skip designated days with app orders and fasts borne of laziness. When I do finally go, I naturally envision all of the processions of driving and walking and deciding before I step out the door, hence the building. Usually, I plan to listen to some music to pass that tedious, cart-pushing time. Meditate with some metal, or a new album serviced from my algorithmic overlords, the latest from that band I am supposed to like that I keep putting off in the day-to-day.
Or I fire up a podcast. Of the multitude millions that are out there, waiting, unlistened, I go and stake my claim upon one. One episode at I time, I go to work. Until at some point I realize I don’t even enjoy listening to it and am doing it just to fill out blank time. Then, I stop. But always, I return.
‘Listen to this’; ‘Listen to that,’ I hear. C’mon man, just listen to it. Be a person. You’ll feel better afterward, even if you don’t remember a single thing from the one-sided ‘conversation.’ Topical or evergreen, the pods relentlessly beckon my ears in a displaced hour of uncritical time mired in whatever machinative minutia I can manage to hold myself to with the earbuds as an ameliorating option to escape. Sometimes I do feel better having engaged the long-sought medium, ever-encroaching upon our holds to reality, yearning us to enter its folds and finally take part in the revolution of conversant artistry, be late or be damned. Sometimes my understanding of the Real currency of the world around me is enhanced and enlivened. For better or worse, what better place to engage such new aural universes than the grocery shop?
Even so, I don’t like it. For whatever reason, grocery shopping cannot be seen as anything more than a chore. And so it was on this day, in my local greengrocer, that I am shopping and listening, to help bear out the burdens of this nameless, forgetful Time.
I am not here for a full shop, which is rare. I only need Four things: fruit, bread, milk, and cereal. The Basics. But only a partial part of the whole of my normative grocering experience. This doesn’t make it any better. (Neither does the pod). I somehow spend a similar amount of time here, in the halls and aisles and in the driving venture to and from its lot. Whatever. Grocery shopping is not the point of this story, contrary to all the breath wasted thus far.
I cart all of my chosen goods into one of the hand-carries, the small jobs for such half-measuring shoppers such as myself. I go to the shorter checkout, for “15 items or less.” There is no one else there, the lane is open. I stride in, slightly surprised. There’s always at least one person. Wonder why? What time of day is it? Who cares. What are the global grocery shopping metrics for this hour? Who cares. If only I could obtain mastery over such knowledges, and unlock my life’s next great ascension within the arena of grocering…
I walk up and start to unload my apples and my oranges, my whole grain loaf, my weird puffin-faced cereal that I still cannot decide whether it actually tastes good or not, and my gallon of organic whole milk, the kind of milk that reminds me of drinking melted vanilla ice cream. Why do I keep buying milk? I don’t need it anymore. Right, the cereal… Stupid, wasteful thoughts. Buds still in, I am still listening to my bullshit pod. Absently, my hands work invisibly to load the asphalt belt, while my eyes do not raise to the green apron-wearing specter behind the counter. The conveyor goes as I go. With my cart spent, I move past the beeping payment station protruding from the edge of the checkout and facing me down with its bright, brilliant lights lighting up my overpriced choices. I take out my buds and grunt a greeting to the cashier, finally meeting their countenance.
I see it is Leonardo DiCaprio.
Taken aback, unable to continue with my thoughts or actions, I say nothing. Mouth agape, I see his eyes are wide and expressionless, and he responds with a simple smile. His hair is a bit unkept, nowhere like you see it in the movies, on film, as a character amidst ‘scenery.’ His light growth of a beard shadowing his chubby face finally resolves an Everyday look into place. It is the legendary actor, but it is also the everyday Leo, the one that exists beyond the screen and away from the lights of the world’s attention in tabloids and entertainment news. And yet, either way, it is him, somehow, someway here, bagging groceries before me. Underneath that customary green apron, he is wearing a baby blue polo. At the collar, I sight tan lines. His arms are practically shaven, marked with the hue of a man who spends most of his time outside, in tropical-type climates. But… he’s here.
After the reciprocation of the half-hearted greeting, Leo returns to the task at hand. His hands move diligently to scan each of my items, his eyes casually snapping from them to the screen and then back again. I see him nod at the appearance of the total cost of my oranges, confirming it alongside internal, memorized knowledge he apparently holds. He’s nearly ready to say my total and I haven’t moved.
Leonardo DiCaprio. What the fuck!
“Dude,” I manage to finally spit out, trying to point at him over all of the screenery and machinery between us.
“That will be $32.93,” Leo says, with a dawning grimace. His voice is exhausted, resigned. His shoulders slump. Or is this just how he is? He is waiting for me to draw my card and complete the transaction.
“Dude!” I repeat. “You’re Leo. What- what are you… doing here?” The pitch of my voice is uncharacteristically high and I start to laugh nearly uncontrollably. I corrale it in a surreal consideration of the others within the store finding out too. What will people think? They are going to freak. Do they not know?? I scan the store and it’s business as usual.
“I work here,” Leo says, cocking his head and semi-shrugging his shoulder. He touches down a series of commands and keys onto his screen. I still haven’t retrieved my wallet.
Extending my hand for a shake, I say, “It’s a pleasure to meet you! Really. Big fan of your work.”
With some hesitation, Leo grasps my hand without conviction and shakes it.
“What was it like making Titanic?” I immediately follow up, shaking my head, still at a loss, uncertain of my words as I speak them. That was a stupid opener…
“Lot of fun.” Leo answers absently while arranging my items at the other end of the lane. I regret not bringing my reusable bags. Though I don’t see any brown paper bags, and I don’t see Leo begin to bag my goods, I experience a frightful anticipation of his judgment of my lack of sustainability here. I resolve suddenly to forgo any bags at all. I’ll just carry all this stuff out… For Leo to see how conscientious I am…
“The big ship,” I saw with dreamy intimation, “James Cameron! Winslet!! What a lady!”
“Yeah,” Leo says, nodding. His smile does not look sincere but he keeps it up. Though sheepish, he does engage me.
Behind me, though I am long to notice, a queue of other shoppers has formed.
I disregard it for now, refusing to meet their faces or let this golden opportunity pass by.
“What’s your favorite thing about being a movie star?”
Leo thinks about it for longer than I would’ve thought.
“Probably the expression. The art of it, you know. Maybe the women. Or the money. The lifestyle.” He smiles widely. “It’s all good, man.”
I get the feeling that he is just now beginning to appreciate these questions, not in their content but in my venturing of them. He does not get these questions on the reg, and in the answering of them, the man is realizing he likes getting them.
“What was that Oscar like?”
“Like finally coming home. All day I felt warm. For a year, I was riding it. I still have some of that warmth even now. In another respect, it has changed little though, in terms of how I feel about my career. I’m still the same. It felt less transcendent, more-”
“Confirmatory,” I say nodding. He nods, too.
“Exactly,” he says.
I try to formulate more questions, better ones. What would people want me to ask? Behind me, the line grows. I see hands go up, disappointed grunts resounding from within the crowd. I pretend to not notice them.
“Favorite movie you’ve ever done?”
Leo returns without any pause, “Tie between Inception and Wolf. Both were a joy.”
I am nodding and cheesing. Then I take a deep breath, making a slight squeak of my sneakers upon the tile as I shift position vigorously, finally coming to a realization of what I need to ask about. No one else would ask him this. None would think too. Few people probably even know about it.
“High Up!” I blurt out, snapping my fingers. Leo’s expression turns from light and jovial, to deep and grave. He shakes his head, his eyes fall to the line and then back to me.
“What?” he asks, leaning in with a slight squint. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about? Or just playing the part? Ha!
“You know, that whacky comedy you did with Jude Law and Sandra Bullock. Oh, and Chris Rock is in it, too.”
Leo scratches his head, still feigning ignorance.
“Y’all are all making super-expressive faces on the poster, emoting debauchery and dread and just sheer… dumbery.”
Leo is looking at my bread now. Undaunted, fearing that I am the one insane, I continue to try to jog his memory on his starring role in the 2006 dramedy High Up!
“There’s a love triangle at a ski lodge! Remember? Where you all meet up there as old friends, but there’s all these secrets between you and then you get snowed in and it all starts to come out? And then the avalanche chase scene! And then that ridiculous fight scene between you and Jude. Who knew you could do slapstick comedy?!” I am laughing as I relate the movie’s general summary. Leo is not, though I don’t necessarily notice. I’m too caught up in my words.
“C’mon, I mean that was some straight to DVD ish. You and Rock and Bull and freakin’ Law were getting them paychecks, right? Y’all showed up on set in Denver or wherever, shot the thing in two days, no second takes or anything, no nothing…”
Leo’s breathing is hard and agitated.
“I loved it though! You were great!” I exclaim, trying my best to remain sincere, to keep him from feeling down. I look to the others in line behind me, fearing their judging gazes. Despite the potentially perceived unbelievability of the statement, I mean it. It is an admission I do not make lightly though, because it is a decidedly bad film. I can see that Leo must know this, thus the reason for the caginess.
“I am an unabashed High Up! fan. Honest to God!” I place my hand over my heart and try to contact Leo’s eyes, try to impart to him his 2006 efforts were not in vain.
After wandering for the whole of this latest track, Leo’s attention finally snaps back to me. First he is talking and then he is shouting. I grip the edge of the counter between us instinctively in response.
“You know you don’t have to do this, right? Don’t patronize me! I know the film was shit. You should understand I did everything I could! I did everything I could!!”
Hands up, I say, “I didn’t mean anything by it… I was just being…”
“Look, the director and I clashed,” Leo explained, “I had a much different vision for what High Up! might be…” Leo is speaking with force, with velocity, his fingers pinched up for effect and waving in the air. He is looking at the screen in front of him, past it, into somewhere only he could see, and not at me. “It was gonna be a character study, a psychological deep-dive into the nature of Johnny’s cyclical relationship with Benny — separate from his past with Laura!, mind you — and how the oldest friend, in Falk, Rock’s character, distanced from his old pal’s most recent relational entanglements sees those kinds of companionships, romantic and aromantic, from the outside looking in. From across gender and cultural lines, as well. Rock really dug it I think… He was the key, you see! … Yeah, well the cigar-chomping decision-makers didn’t see it…” Leo trailed off, his eyes glazed in memory and regret.
I don’t what to say. I can’t believe what he implies. High Up! was supposed to be … that? High Up. I let him breathe, I let his inner reverie play out to its end, not deigning to interrupt.
Suddenly, Leo flashes a smirk, he raises his hands and lowers his head. He is backing off, apologizing without another word for his outburst.
“Ah, I see,” I smile in realization. “You were doing a performance there! A patented Leo outburst! Ha-ha! Bravo, bravo!” I am clapping and turning to the others in line to join in, who can surely hear us. The woman directly behind me in line, however, is not entertained. She is annoyed and makes a face at me.
“C’mon! This is ridiculous, do you see who this is?” I say, pointing to Leo. He waves to her.
“I don’t care. Stop wasting all our time!” she returns. “Enough is enough!” Some of the other customers behind her hoot in agreement.
I shrug and turn back to Leo. He becomes neutral, professional once more.
Finally, I draw my card and pay. He prints the receipt and hands it over to me.
“Would you like a bag for this?” He finally asks, studious in his overseer of my grocery loots.
“No, that’s alright,” I say with as much conviction as I can muster. I put everything back in my hand cart and carry it off the counter.
“Leo, it has been a pleasure. Keep up the good work!” I say with a beam. He salutes me and returns to the work of greeting and scanning, bagging and smiling. The line urges forward.
Inspired, I leave, unable to believe this is not a dream.
Needless to say, groceries will never be the same for me.
~ adapted from a dream