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An Echo Wave Reaches the Far Shore
The tragedy in Monterey Park washes through the local supermarket.
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I wandered into one of my neighborhood’s large Chinese markets. It’s by the drug store where all my prescriptions are, and it has every type of foodstuff required for the kind of healthy diet I sometimes have great intentions to follow.
Laminated to the glass of the back door was a new sign. Written in both Chinese and English it read, BE PATIENT WITH NEW RULES.
A stocky young man in the store’s red tee-shirt greeted me as soon as I pushed through the strips of heavy plastic blocking the cold from entering the store. “Bag, please,” he said.
I handed him my huge plastic shopping bag. He upended it over a long folding table and shook out the four additional shopping bags stuffed inside. He patted them all down until they were flat then motioned for me to open my shoulder bag. He gave it a good peer inside while I gathered my shopping bags together.
Satisfied, he sang out a pleasant enough, “thank you!” But there was a snap to his tone that I took to mean move along quickly for the next person behind me. Except there wasn’t another person behind me.
In fact, the store wasn’t crowded at all. No lines at the fish counter, no one haggling over slabs of shark or poking in the eel tank. The frogs in their plastic tubs remained unmolested. The razor clams nestled undisturbed in their icy bed. The produce stalls normally the scene of shoving matches over the best vegetables and fruits remained orderly. The aisles were mostly empty. I could have somersaulted and pirouetted through the whole building and not have crashed into a single soul.
The market was almost always packed, as clamorious as a town hall, a tangled macrame knot of impromtu family meetings and friends catching up, kids maurading about, and the elderly so glad to be out that they mostly stood around and enjoyed the mayhem. The Lantern Festival was a few days away and there should have been the usual hubbub that accompanies preparing for a feast. But it was so quiet that I could make out the lyrics of the K-Pop songs bursting from the loudspeakers.
Where was everybody?
Many horror and zombi movies have informed us that there’s no lonelier or spookier a place to be in than an empty supermarket. I grabbed what I wanted then headed to the checkout counter. The cashier was surrounded by thick walls of clear acrylic. It was like she was standing in an old-timey phone booth or was on trial in another country. It was impossible for us to hear one another so we pantomimed our way through the transaction. She slid my cauliflower and bottles of weird pickle things under an opening and I threw everything in my shopping bags.
This time I headed toward the front door because it was closer and that was when it became clear why there was suddenly a guard at the back door and the cashier was in a new booth and perhaps why there were so few people out shopping. Flower bouquets were stacked against the market’s Buddhist shrine and votives flickered beside the electric candlesticks at the statue’s base. An easel displayed a posterboard reading in Chinese and English, HELP MONTEREY PARK VICTIMS, and before it was a big plastic container half full with money. I folded a five dollar bill into the slot on the container’s lid.
“Thank you! Thank you!” called the old woman standing nearby. She wore two face masks, a pink sun hat, and a red apron with the name of the market across it.
“Have a nice day!” she said brighly as the market door closed behind me.
A small note from your writer:
I have to give a very loud teary shoutout of gratitude to all of you who shared last week’s story! However, now I’m concerned that so many of you are as sleepless as I am. Maybe we should form a support group.
And there’s this….I failed to get that story—and this new one—out on Tuesday, the usual day for me to post, because I seem to have developed a small case of the yips. I’m going to blame a persistent COVID fog that’s made pulling sentences together in any decent order bloody insane. I’m sure it will lift soon. In the meantime, thank you for your patience.
Life! Go figure!
And finally…..Let’s talk! It’s always a brighter day when I hear from you!