Forget the burdens and complications of career, lovers, family, bills, friends, and all the other factors that can lead to stress and other nasty little symptoms of human existence. For me the simple effort of purchasing life sustaining food can be more harrowing than all the others.
Going into Tesco, late afternoon, I wait patiently for a hand-basket as the good people of Prague filter through the cash registers and make off with their purchases.
I seem to be consistently in the wrong place and people arriving well after me get the baskets from the people departing and my patience begins to wear thin.
Finally I get aggressive and motion to a woman who has just paid the cashier to please give me her basket. She seems annoyed, but hands it over.
I head into the maze of aisles. All I want is pasta, butter, wine and bread: My simple fuel.
I try to move quickly knowing that the shorter amount of time I am in Tesco is exactly proportional to how good my day will be. I am thwarted by lumbering shoppers everywhere. An old woman stands pondering a can of soup near the entrance and her cart blocks my initial path. I veer right and do a half-spin move to avoid a pretty girl and her paranoid looking boyfriend meandering past boxes of cereal. I make my way up the snack aisle past happy looking bags of chips and bright boxes of peanuts.
As I get to the end of the aisle I nearly run into a large middle-aged Czech woman, the same type that always seems ready to run me over in a quest to make the tram or metro, and she eyes me with disdain on her way to the shelves of washing powder. I make my intended right and get to the aisle with pasta and I find the cheapest brand and I drop two packages into my silver basket.
One down three to go.
I head out of the pasta aisle and make a left up to the bread section. It is crowded with Czech women who mean business. They want the freshest bread and they want you to stay out of their way. I do not even exist to these woman as they carefully survey the yeast laden crop before them. I carefully maneuver my way through the human gauntlet and grab two baguettes and make a right down the aisle where I can get cheese.
This area is even more crowded.
I stand pondering the buzzing crowd that is like some sort of many limbed monster in my confused mind. Just as I am about to renew my battle to provide food for myself a young Czech boy smashes into the back of my legs with a miniature shopping cart.
He doesn't even look up, only goes around me as if I am some sort of inanimate supermarket mannequin in the middle of the aisle, and he continues down the aisle in his little personal quest to be the fastest cart driver in Tesco.
His mother passes me and my smarting calves scolding the boy in Czech but not looking at me. I figure it's best to move before further calamities befall me.
Moving down the aisle I notice that the music overhead is a muzak version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".
The Beatles sixties anthem of transcendence through LSD is watered down with wimpy instruments and orchestration and to me its a sort of maddening comedy but I doubt anyone among these patterned aisles shares my sense of irony as the metal carts and baskets denude the shelves of its goods. I wonder if any of these woman with hard faces even know who the Beatles are or if they know what LSD is and what it does. I reach around my fellow patrons for my cheese and my basket bangs into their carts but I am off too quickly to feel their wrath.
All I need now is wine.
Sweet, mind-numbing white wine. At this point I am frazzled. I rush down the aisles and I wonder why I seem to be the only one in a hurry. Am I the only one with a sense of this place as hell?
The aisles seem to mock my confused, dizzy mind with their smart ordered rows. People lose a sense of human charity and fraternity in a quest to get their supplies and it's dog eat dog in the supermarket as we all vie for position and curse each other without words if we are in each others way.
I survey the legions of green bottles and choose the cheapest, largest bottle of wine I can find and move up to the line of cash registers.
The line is long and I am staring at the unbroken line of Dobra Voda in a sort of trance thinking about nothing.
The muzak is interrupted occasionally by a voice that speaks Czech in a laconic cadence and I can't understand a word of it except "Prosim".
This is all reaching some climax as the line edges forward. The cashiers pass the items through scanners and the machines beep out the prices. Purses jingle, tired voices mingle, muzak churns the air, bright lights reign down like a horrible, artificial sun.
I am sweating as the cashier rings up my goods as if I have done something wrong. The cashier is a middle-aged man with a mustache and he never even looks at me during the whole exchange. I pay, stuff my bounty into my backpack and quickly head out the door, up the escalator and catch the tram at Národní třída back to my apartment.
I walk in the door and my roommate is smoking a cigarette and sitting at the kitchen table. I am still sweating and my armpits are stained from it. My hair is matted and wet; my skin pale and my eyes frazzled.
"Whoa man, what happened to you?"
I put my backpack down and take out my wine, grab my opener and pop the cork.
"Went to the supermarket."
I take a long pull at the wine and its good to be home.