The produce aisle in ShopRite was in the low ‘80s.
It was February. It was Hoboken, New Jersey. Snow mounds bigger than smart cars lined Madison Street outside. The bottoms of my flannel-lined cargo pants were rolled. Salt stained my black rubber boots, but underneath my triple-layered Columbia parka, I was a bird of paradise. I flashed my cherry-ice-cream smile when I saw the kale was oh so very nice. Just a step to my left, the Gala apples were on sale. I flicked my head to the right and caught my reflection way out West. The ear flaps on my hat couldn’t hide that I was something special and it was plain to see I was the best.
My name wasn’t Rio, but in my mind I was dancing on the sand, twisting like a river through a dusty land. The song on the ShopRite sound system transported me back to 1982, the year “Rio” was released by Duran Duran. I was in my early teens, not my early forties, and destined for the life of Mrs. Simon LeBon. I was singular among the billions of stars, too special to be filling my cart in preparation for the next Snowpocalypse. The temperature was below zero outside the store, but that memory of soaring adolescent aspiration warmed me like the tropics. I hummed and do-do-do-do-do-dooed my way to the eye and dental care aisle for the tartar control wash that was on sale. I tossed not one, but two bottles into my cart.
I felt free and unrestrained. I chugged through the meat department. I was confident. I knew when to go out, when to stay in, get things done. I didn’t fall for things back in 1983 when “Modern Love” was released, and I didn’t fall for things three decades later. I picked up a pack of cubed beef for a stew, and smiled through the glass at the white-coated guys in the slicing and cutting room. David Bowie wasn’t the only one with the power to charm. I rounded as wide as the saxophone into the cleaning supplies aisle.
The guy holding two cans of foaming bathroom cleaner sang along, outloud, with Dexy’s Midnight Runners. The lyrics were ingrained in his brain, and didn’t distract him from comparing the Scrubbing Bubbles and ShopRite brands. The song made reading about soap scum, mildew, and hazardous fumes a happy task, or not a task at all. Further down the aisle, the woman hugging a family-size pack of toilet paper looked happy. The couple deciding between ocean breeze or neutral scented air freshener looked happy. Germ fighting and antibacterial agents make me happy, but not everyone in ShopRite that February afternoon was a germaphobe like me. There was another reason for our shared cheer.
The majority of us were removed enough from the 1980s (read: well past forty) to remember all the songs played on the store’s sound system. The music was more than background noise: it was a trip on the way-back machine to the days when our youth and life felt boundless. That time when we knew we would always be too cool for the ho-hum, the mundane, the domestic, the Price Plus discount card, bathroom grout, and high fiber cereal. Underneath our shapeless, sexless winter layers, we were always carefree, spontaneous, bored because we knew everything, and impatient for the greatness that was our destiny. The soundtrack that inspired us to stay out hours past curfew now played as we cruised the dairy aisle and placed whole-fat indulgences into our cart. Cholesterol be damned.
I was at the end of the store and my list. My trip was almost done. I stood in a check-out line among my fellow Gen Xers. Our time was past. The guitar twang intro of “Ramblin Man” greeted the increasing numbers of seasoned AARP card carriers about to embark on their own journeys.