Controlled substance

I am drawn to supermarkets, and cruelly deprived of access to them. Growing up, Thursday shopping meant sweets and fresh bread, and I was more driven by blood sugar than most, even then. Five Star, which then became Quinnsworth and is now Tesco, was the highlight of the week, and it didn’t even bother me that Mum insisted on saving the off-brand Yellow Pack Cola for birthdays and the odd Sunday treat.

London, with its Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and M&S, spoiled me. I was shocked at the cramped, dirty, extortionate supermarkets in Manhattan, and found my friends’ enthusiasm for Fairway, Whole Foods, and even Zabars pitiful. (My friend Joe calls Whole Foods ‘Whole Paycheck’, and he’s right.) You could barely get a shopping cart down the higgledy-piggledy aisles. Very soon after moving to New York, I started to eat out all the time, like everyone else.

So the supermarket in Campeche, Mexico, was a treat I kept returning to. Really, it was no better than a provincial French hypermarket, that sold ladies’ knickers, bowling balls, and picnic tables by the checkout. But it was luxurious to me, and I prowled for almost two hours, stroking shiny packaging and greeting long-lost brands. I treated myself to shampoo and a new toothbrush, murmuring ‘Proctor & Gamble. Mmm.’

   ‘Where’s the dental floss?’ I asked a shelf stocker at the end of a gleaming aisle filled with Colgate, Oral-B, and Steradent. With a grisly sawing action I mimed flossing just the way my dentist told me not to. ‘¿Hilo dental?’
   ‘For that you have to go to the pharmacy,’ he said, as if I were an idiot, and crass, too.

I needed this stuff badly. How else would I hang my laundry and sew holes in my pack? Sure enough, in the tiny, unattended pharmacy kiosk outside hung three dusty boxes of unwaxed thread among the Trojans. No Satin Glide Tape here. I considered asking for a spermicide and some head lice lotion to mask the embarrassment of buying dental floss, which is clearly no cooler than having a full set of white teeth instead of snazzy metal caps and gaps.

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