Sunday, August 20, 2006

No, We Can't Dance Together

Mr. Breszny, eternal optimist, advises Aquarians:
It's time for you to fall in love, Aquarius - though not necessarily with a person. You could swoon with infatuation for a place where your heart feels free, for example. You could dive into new music that liberates you from your past, or give yourself with abandon to a fascinating task that brings out the best in you. You might lose your heart to a mind-expanding mentor, a mysterious animal, or a thrilling fight for justice. It really doesn't matter exactly how or what you fall in love with, Aquarius, as long as it incites you to break open the doors of perception.

Saturday morning, my phone rang.

Voice: It's the Frito Bandito!
Tata: Noooooooooooooooooo!
Voice: [Spanish Spanish Spanish] Do you know who this is?
Tata: I was just ironing my sombrero and handwashing my six-shooter. Of course, Peaches!

Scout is so butch I decided last month she needs a diner waitress name. No one has ever addressed her as fruit before.

Scout: What are you really doing?
Tata: Laundry. You don't think glitter applies itself, do you?
Scout: Copycat! There's a festival in Asbury Park, with some concentration on energy issues. Wanna go?
Tata: I'd love to but you'd have to carry me. I'm pooped!
Scout: You are? Okay, I have other errands. Would you be interested in going with me to Patel's Cash & Carry on Oak Tree Road?
Tata: What is it?
Scout: It's an Indian grocery store. Bring twenties.
Tata: I can be ready in half an hour.
Scout: Our first stop will be coffee so we remain conscious as we consider our purchases.

Half an hour later, Scout rings the doorbell that always sounds like a game show wrong answer. We get in her new car and drive back roads to a part of Oak Tree Road I don't recognize. We're in sprawling Edison, the giant town next to little Highland Park. Traffic in Edison is so bad I avoid it if possible and seldom drive there myself. Scout is not intimidated by things like traffic. On the way to Oak Tree Road, we stopped at the Quik Chek near her apartment for coffee. Sometimes, when you walk into a room you feel the temperature drop, and as we walked to the back of the store, I felt it. We poured ourselves coffee and a woman came around the service island, addressing Scout in very familiar terms. Scout was cordial but the woman was loud, with a little girl running around her feet. The woman went on and on about being fired from Quik Chek because she was pregnant. Scout finally said, "Look, I don't think we know each other." The woman talked on and on. Ordinarily, this would be my cue to say, "Darling, Grandma's waiting," or "Sweetheart, we've got to get to the party store before they run out of X-Rated balloons," but the vibe in the store was strange, so I tugged us toward the cash register and paid for coffee. As we were leaving, the woman was still talking. So when we parked at Patel's Cash & Carry, we hoped the Freak Magnet was set on OFF.

We walked around the store, looking at everything. Some items were familiar but many were not and this was very exciting. I can do this for hours. Scout found incense she wanted. I found bargains on tahini, chutneys and a garlic-ginger paste. Bags of golden raisins and shelled pistachios tempted us both but neither of us decided to buy. Then we turned a corner and found a glorious thing: ready-to-heat Indian vegetarian meals on sale for $.99.

I filled the handbasket with different flavors: paneer makhani, palak paneer, aloo mutter, dal tadka and channa masala. It would have been delightful to have an aquaintance with this brand (SWAD) before this moment, but I didn't. It was a risk of only a few dollars, if I didn't like the food. In another aisle, we found coconut oil, which is really good for dry hair. I used to go to botanicas in New Brunswick for coconut oil but forgot about it years ago. As we were walking to the car, Scout said, "Have you ever been to the Phoenician bakery?" I hadn't but had always wanted to, so we drove there. It's been a long time since I've had a playmate interested in just reading labels in grocery stores, which is a brilliant bit of fun now that I'm ancient and have enough patience to appreciate the elegance of refrigerating 32 ounces of anchovies. We read everything. I loved it and bought a few small things to satisfy my curiosity. I have to know what cream cheese spread in glass cups is! I may need dozens of grape leaves in brine!

As we approached the cash register and the four people behind it, standing shoulder to shoulder, I felt that temperature drop again. Everyone was loud and moving, then still and staring. Scout wanted me to try the triangular spinach pies, so I asked for a bag. Scout asked for four but the man at the counter said no. Two. We could clearly see other bags behind the counter. I was standing behind Scout when I heard her say without hesitation, "Two, then." As we were leaving, I saw the master sound man from the bar. I'd thought he lived out in Pennsylvania but seeing him at the Phoenician bakery in North Brunswick on a Saturday morning pretty much ruled that out.

At dinner time, I cooked some basmati rice - which you can buy in enormous quantities at Costco, and I have - and microwaved the paneer makhani. I applied one to the other. I'm not going to say this tastes like paneer makhani you get at your favorite restaurant, but it's pretty good. The portion is of a healthy size. For about $2, I had a meal I really enjoyed and I managed to stay out of a restaurant, where I could have spent $20 and would have been tempted to eat much too much. I am always thrilled when I find inexpensive ways to enjoy a much more espensive lifestyle and remain within my humble means. So far, this is a really luxurious and flavorful way to enhance my happiness. So maybe it is love.


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