I wear cardigans, have a six-year-old, live in suburbia, and teach children for a living. I’m well-equipped to grade composition papers and arrange bento boxes, but I’m not made to survive apocalyptic conditions brought on by a hurricane. At least, that’s what I thought before Hurricane Irma set her sights on Tampa Bay.
When news broke that Irma was headed straight for us, I began to panic. “We have no water,” I shouted into my empty SUV as I raced down the highway, ticking off all of the supplies I had failed to secure when hurricane season began. “No batteries, no canned goods, no radio.” I cursed the day I started that diet that promised to lose me that baby pouch I’d been carrying since 2011. I didn’t even have one goddamned green bean. That’s when I realized: My whole-foods experiment was going to kill us all.
All of those other cardigan-wearing bitches would be at Target, Publix, and Whole Foods. Me? I was headed to Aldi. Aldi is a grocery store always located in the backside of a hovel reserved for foreclosed nail salons and that one restaurant that serves Indian/Thai/Chinese/Barbecue all-you-can-eat. I hoped that no one would think of it when searching for provisions. That’s some classist shit right there, I thought to myself. But maybe they still have water.
I knew something was up when I screeched into the parking lot sideways and all of the shopping carts outside of the store were gone. The electric doors had just swooshed open when two men behind me pushed ahead, running into the store. There’s only one way through an Aldi because of its S-layout. But the men pole-vaulted over the chip aisle and disappeared. “Water!” someone shouted on the other side of the wall of chips. “He has water!” I couldn’t see but I could hear the tromp of feet as they rushed what I assumed to be the stocker. By the time I’d rounded the corner, I saw one twenty-four pack left, sitting alone on a forklift abandoned in the middle of the aisle. I leaned down to get it when a middle-aged woman who already had six cases grabbed it from me and used her Herculean strength to hoist it to the top of her water-tower. Plastic squeaked against plastic as her grail leaned precariously atop her cart.
I put my nose to hers and my breath fogged up her bifocals. The Aldi seemed to dim on the outside of my vision and I thought to myself, “I am going to roundhouse-kick this woman in the face.” And then I assumed the stance I’d been taught by Tony, my trainer, who I could hear in my head: feet square, fists up, core tight.
Now, this thought surprised me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m a cardigan-wearing mother-of-a-first-grader who teaches English and considers herself a pacifist. I’m less Charlize Theron in Mad Max and more Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. I stand at a whopping 5’2” and have worn a platinum pixie-cut. I have purchased lipstick named “precious pink” and “cherries in the snow.” I am not a powerhouse.
About that time, the forklift operator returned to find his cases vanished and his task done. He squinted at my nemesis and me and then tracked his gaze up to the woman’s stash. “Only two per person,” he said, but she ignored him and I did not back down. When neither of us moved or answered, he repeated, “TWO. PER. PERSON” and tapped her on the shoulder. The water-woman blinked once, then twice, as if some kind of spell were broken. I relaxed my stance. She sloughed one pack of water off her cart and thrust it at me with a grunt. I clutched its awkward bulk to my chest as best I could. The other hyena-shoppers stood ready for my grip to slip. I did my best to check out while keeping one eye on the hoarder, who was almost to the door, and another on the anxious customers behind me, who were continuously counting their tuna and beans and worrying about coming up short.
Water-woman stopped when she reached the exit and cast one last look over her shoulder, like Lot’s wife. We locked eyes. That’s when I mouthed, “I’m glad no one died today” and pumped my fists above my head, humming the words to “Eye of the Tiger” as she quickly shuffled out. I smoothed my ruffled cardigan, then headed home to prepare for the storm.