After dropping D. off at work this morning (so I could keep the car, pick up
groceries, and catch Ph.’s soccer match later this afternoon), I headed over to
the local grocery store. No need to name it. It’s the closest mainstream
grocer; even if you don’t know it specifically, you know it generally.
It’s everystore. Its spaces, lighting, layout, products all commonplace,
with only minor idiosyncrasies such as kidney beans shelved in three different
places (really, what’s going on with that?). I parked, grabbed a buggy, made my
way down each aisle, total-coverage style, the way I always do.
I’m trying to shift habit into the checker-less checkout, so I tapped on the
computer monitor and shoveled the products–barcodes exposed–through the
infrared reader and into the bags (I did bag groceries for a while before the
promotion to night stock crew). It was relatively early for grocery
shopping; I was the only one in the self-check area and the clerk monitoring my
activity was hawkish, scrutinizing (buying a few cups of yogurt warrants a
furrowed brow? Ease up…they’re not friendly with the scanner).
Point: the stark reorientation. In the parking lot–the most ordinary
of spaces: I returned to the car, hoisted the hatch and shuttled the goods…
Two cars away, a woman alone in the passenger side of an older SUV, windows
down (we’re 93F in Syracuse today, +20 on the usual mark for Sept. 13).
She’s singing, in a gravelly, drunken voice, a song I don’t know (not this
rendition, anyway). Nothing against public singing; sounded happy for the
most part. Next, she opened the door, struggled to her feet (meanwhile I
parked the cart in the corral, other side of her vehicle). As I passed
back by, eye contact, and she gives the message: "Excuse me, world, but I’ve got
to pay the water bill." What, maybe a half of a second before I come to
terms with what she means; my first thought, a perhaps-ironic hitch, was that
the grocery store houses a bill-pay station for Niagara-Mohawk, the CNY region’s
natural gas and electricity monopoly. You can’t pay the water bill here, I thought. Me with my reasoning: too slow. Indeed she went about paying the water bill right there in the parking lot.
I don’t need to say much more about this, but I was thinking about peopled
spaces and activity–the possibility for interaction to transform the ordinary
space. Space remade, if temporarily (always temporarily). The look
of surprise, abhorrence, disgust from the only other person in the parking lot,
the one walking from the other direction–a different perspective. Often
the start reorientation is more extreme than this; other times, less so. A
gross example? I only wanted to note it as an example of spatial
refiguring, of the chance encounter that disturbs spatial constancy in the most