While shopping at Trader Joe’s the other day I kept getting interrupted by phone calls from Nancy, my elder care advocate. Nancy was helping me try to get my mother removed from a particularly ghastly nursing home where she was presently confined.

As I wandered the store aisles, my phone up to my ear, I kept distractedly piling item after item in the upper child-seat section, never noticing that I had neglected to flip the red guard/seat upward. shoppingcartWhen I tossed a box of tomato soup onto the ever-growing heap, the stack shifted, and suddenly jars and cans and packaged vegetables were flying out through the opening.

Thankfully, the only thing that broke was a jar of coconut oil which exploded on contact, leaving behind a three-foot-long trail of white goop and glass.

“I am so sorry,” I said to the TJ employee who appeared the moment after I told Nancy I had to hang up. “Let me help you clean it.”

“No. No,” the smiling woman said. “Please step away. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

When I hesitated, she shooed me with her hand. “Would you like me to go get you another jar?”

“Do I want you to, what? No. I can do it. Thank you.” Embarrassed, I backed away, grabbed another coconut oil, and went to the registers. As I waited to pay, I suddenly remembered when the same thing happened to me while we were living in Bali.

Well, almost the same thing.

Loy had needed more cheese for her ham and cheese sandwiches, and it wasn’t as if I had a whole lot to do that day. I’d asked I Made to take me to Bintang, the gigantic supermarket at the far edge of Ubud. As was customary, I handed him 5000 rupiah so he could buy himself an ice cream cone to eat while he hung out with the other drivers.

I opened the door and waited for the AC impact…there….ahhh. Heaven. I threw a few bags of pasta into the shopping cart, found a new kind of local madu (honey) to try, then made for the beer shelves. As I loaded bottle upon bottle of the large-sized Bintangs, one slipped through the bars of the upper part of the cart and crashed to the floor, beer spraying five feet in diameter around me. I stood there until a young man showed up with a mop-like apparatus. I mumbled “maaf,” (sorry), and sauntered over to the cheese room hoping to find a block of imported cheddar for less than $8.

No luck, but I bought some anyway. Then I picked through the tubs of high-priced yogurt looking for an expiration date that wasn’t within the next 72 hours. I leaned over the freezer section and longingly fondled a package of frozen flour tortillas. It actually hurt my heart to see tortillas being treated as a luxury item.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed two armed guards eyeing me as I came out of the guardfrosty meat/cheese/milk/fish room, so I smiled at them. They smiled back and then followed me over to the rice area.

Selamat sore,” I said, thinking they were just curious about the American shopper’s shopping habits and wanted to know which brand of rice appealed to me the most. But when I approached the checkout line they were still shadowing me enough to make me a little nervous.

“What?” I said.

They ignored my question. One of the men went around and stood next to the checker while the other planted himself where the bag boy was stationed.

Now they were totally freaking me out. I started unloading my shopping cart, watching my hands, waiting for them to suddenly morph into claws because I wasn’t in the real world anymore. When I looked up at the sweet young checker for some show of supportive reality, she wouldn’t meet my eyes.

Apa? Apa?” What? What? I asked.

Finally, just as the last of my items reached the scanner, the guard near the cash register said, “You pay for beer.”

Of course I was paying for the beer! Didn’t he see the big wad of rupiah I had in my hands? I was paying for all my groceries, wasn’t I?

“You pay for rusak beer.”

 Rusak? But I just bought eight bottles of Bintang. What’s this other brand you’re talking about?

Tidak mengerti,” I said. I really did not understand what he was trying to tell me.

“Broke! Broke beer!” the guard barked so loudly, the people in the other checkout lines  all looked over and gawked at the rich ex-pat, the one causing a crease in the smooth order of things.

What the heck was going on? OH! They wanted me to PAY for the broken beer!

I was stunned into paralysis for a beat, then handed the girl another 12,000 rupiah, took hold of my green plastic bags and made for the exit, smiling so densely at the security guard who had just raised his gun a few inches that I almost pulled a jaw muscle.


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