Shopping for Nine

It's really only within the context of the Jesuits that it seems perfectly acceptable for two men, each balding and in his 30's, to arrive in a blue mini-van at the local Costco. After the car is parked strategically near a cart-return area, the two men check to make sure they are armed with a pen, the shopping list, and the all-important Executive Membership card. Indeed, they think nothing of arriving at 9:53, minutes before opening, and standing with the retirees and the moms as we wait for them to unlock the front doors.

Creatures of habit, they tend to shop at the same time, on the same day, each week. So it stands to reason that we know to expect Reggie to be greeting at the door, vigilantly scanning each cart as it passes by and, should he see some garbage or cast-away paper, to stop customer and extract the trash. Likewise is there a fairly set course through Costco, developed over many months, that bypasses unnecessary aisles (clothes, beauty products, engine oil) while catching the essentials (industrial size Metamucil, sixty sticks of string cheese, twelve frozen burritos, two three-pound bags of Brussels sprouts).

Of course, we greet the staff members as we see them. Reggie, for instance, celebrated his 20th anniversary last year. Joyce, who assiduously checks our cart, has a similar longevity. Then there's Vladimir, our faithful check-out guy, for whom we will wait in line simply in order to chat with him about his weekend. The staff of the liquor and wine area are courteous and friendly.

Given that it's final exams week, my fellow shopper John and I had to go shopping today. Well, the Thursday crowd is very different from the Monday shoppers. The Monday crew are sort of like weekly mass goers: we have a rhythm which we follow and, so long as no one makes any major shifts, things run smoothly. Not so on Thursday. These are the rookies, probably shopping for an impromptu Margarita night they're hosting on Friday. Pandemonium reigned today as we battled our way past slow-moving shoppers, certainly slowed because dazzled by the deals surrounding them.

Naturally, faithful Vlad was not here today. Or, at least, he wasn't on the register. We had to settle for John, an amiable fellow, who happened to charge us for TWO Gatorades (we were purchasing but one). Thank heavens Joyce caught this on checkout and ensured that we were credited the money back. Go Joyce!

Arriving with a large cartload of food is always a conversation starter. People ogle our purchases, trying to figure out for whom the two middle-aged men might be shopping. Vladimir never asks. He, like us, seems to have adopted the maxim, "What happens at Costco, stays at Costco."

Not so today.

"So," John asked, appraising our cart, "shopping for a small army? This should last you a year!"

"Well," I replied, "more like a week. The kids have to eat, you know?"

"Kids? How many you got?"

"Nine," I said with a straight face.

I mean, what the hell am I supposed to say? "Well, sir, I'm an approved scholastic studying for the Roman Catholic Priesthood and I live in a Jesuit community with nine other men, two fully professed fathers, an ordained scholastic, and three theologians all preparing for Holy Orders. Our rector has asked John to be the House Coordinator and we shop weekly as we take turns cooking for one another." Can you imagine this?

So it's not really a lie, I reckon, when I say, "Nine kids." I mean, we're all children of God and I am shopping for nine hungry mouths.

Marie, who was helping to pack up our cart, seemed incredulous. "They're not all yours, are they?" "Nope, not exactly," was all I could say. Because none of them "is" mine in any strict sense, although I do subscribe to referring to other Jesuits as "OURS." This latter way of talking is usually accompanied by an eye-roll, but that is another story all together. "

Marie, it turns out, has seven children of her own. So we began to commiserate over the vastness of our respective families. Naturally, I added that life at "the home" was made much easier by the presence of alcohol. With this, not surprisingly, she agreed wholeheartedly. Family time, as much as community time, passes much faster when one has a tasty beverage in hand.

Bear in mind, please, that none of these is a question ever raised on Monday. It's because we broke our pattern and shopped on a Thursday that I had to respond creatively and deftly to probing questions. For we shop at Costco not only because we do eat a ton, but also because it's quick and convenient to do a great deal of shopping all at once. Our time is better spent trying to figure out whether to buy the giant box of Chex or Multi-Grain Cheerios than it is trying to explain the apparent absurdity of two dudes rolling up in a mini-van to buy a ton of food each week.

The "home" indeed!
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