I pick up grocery lists that people drop on the floor (or in the trash) and for several years, I wrote about them here.
The first grocery list I found I almost stepped on—it was face up, between the meat aisles and the candy. I picked it up and had, you know, a moment. It broke my heart. The old person handwriting, the different pens, the scribbles to make the pen work. At the top, it read “health test” and there were phone numbers, other numbers, something next Wednesday, another date in March. Blue pen and black. All capitals sometimes, but not always; cursive and print. There’s non-alcoholic beer and regular beer, beer nuts. So many cookies there’s an extra s at the end.
This list wasn’t written in a day. There’s a whole life here, whole lives—a crumpled, handwritten window into their everyday. Maybe it fell out of a purse or a jacket pocket here, at the halfway point through a store that has two distinct parts. I wanted to take it home, but how could I? What if they hadn’t called about the test results yet? They’ll be looking for this, I thought. I set it on top of the closest bin, full of seasonal candy, where the contrast between the paper and the red packaging was good. Maybe they’d be back, and if they were, they’d find it, it wouldn’t get swept up. But I took a picture. Here it is.
This list changed things. Now I’m the one reaching under the produce bins, behind the meat fridge where the mops and sweepers can’t reach. I’m kicking through dirty snow and slush in the parking lot, fishing out wet papers and “acting natural.” I might also be cruising the trash cans by the self-checkouts, avoiding eye contact as I cross the aisle in front of you to pick up trash off the nasty floor and put it in my pocket. I’m pretending that crumpled paper I just picked up is my own list (which is actually in my other hand) and if you’re wondering what I’m doing or giving me side-eye, I wouldn’t know because I’m busy not making eye contact.
I have found dozens of lists. At the large midwestern grocery store down the street, I’ve never found fewer than two lists, and yesterday, I came home with a whopping eight. If you figure I go to the store about twice a week… there are a lot of lists to come. I’ll post them here. Intimate, ordinary, crumpled and dirty, beautiful without trying to be.