I stagger through a dystopian world.
It is bizarre.
The bread is where the Cheerios used to be. The coffee and tea have moved one lane over, down at the far end on the wrong side of the aisle. Canned soups are usurping the spot where only last week Nabisco Premium Saltines reigned supreme.
Shoppers, desperate for dinner, lurch from shelf to shelf, grimly focused on survival. A woman shoving her cart along a cross aisle is blind-sided at an intersection by a man trundling a load too high to see over, his face gripped by a manic rictus of obsession.
Oh, the humanity.
She shakes off the impact to her T-boned shopping cart and charges forward, hell-bent to complete her mission.
I have asked three red-smocked workers where I might find the pudding. The first of them said, “Who knows? I’m as stumped as you are.” The second simply gave me a blank stare. The third whipped out a printed map of the new arrangement and shouted, “Aisle Three!”
I pushed my cart to Aisle Three, where hung tranches and troves of plastic pudding cups for kids’ lunches. Angst. How can I go back and tell the red smockers I’m looking for pudding powder that comes in a little cardboard box, that you mix up yourself?
Fundamental Questions On the Order of the Universe
They have re-stocked our supermarket, putting everything on the wrong shelves. Why overturn a system that has worked well for months, if not years?
How can They do this to us? Who is this monstrous They (Pronouns: We / Us / We’ve Got You Where We Want You, Little Consuming Worm)?
Who are these godlike beings with the power, and apparently the authority, to wreak blind havoc in people’s lives?
Dammit, Jim, there are lives at stake here!
Sanity Asserts Itself
When you are mired down in bottomless confusion, there’s nobody like my old friend Milo Bung to set you straight.
Sure enough, here he comes, pushing one of those pint-sized carts, whistling.
“Milo! I haven’t seen you since the start of covid.”
“Oh, that,” he says, as if the global pandemic were already decades in the rearview mirror. “How have you been?”
“Well, all right, I guess. Until now.”
“Why? What’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem? What’s the problem!” I cry. “Have you not noticed that nothing is where it should be?”
“That’s a hum-dinger, ain’t it?” Milo chuckles. “I couldn’t find the ramen noodles, so I picked up some light bulbs instead.”
“It’s what was there,” he says. Five boxy cartons of regular bulbs top his cart, plus a four-foot fluorescent tube. “You never know when something will burn out.”
I snicker. “Next time you need a quick lunch you can munch on some 75-watt Soft Whites.”
“Naw,” says Milo. “Thought instead of ramen I’d pick up a little peanut butter. Look, it’s right here.”
“Swell. Now if I could only find pudding.”
“Pudding? Aisle Three.”
“No, that’s the kind in little cups. I want the chocolaty powder in little boxes.”
Milo furls his brow. Then it unfurls. “Go ask a store employee where to find the Jell-O.”
“Where to find the Jell-O.”
“Sure. The pudding will be right beside it.”
A red smocker told me the Jell-O would be in Aisle Seven. And it was.
The pudding was right beside it.
I hate when Milo is right.
I bought sixteen boxes.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)