Minor indulgences: Scrooge gets an attitude adjustment

Minor Indulgences: Scrooge Edition
Can a trip to the Co-op inspire a new outlook on the holidays? — photo by Rachel Jessen

“Eat, drink and be merry” is a familiar holiday toast, but did you know that there’s a second, somewhat morbid half to the saying that explains the reason why we should imbibe and rejoice? In case you were unaware, the phrase in total goes: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

So there: Put that in your holiday pipe and smoke it.

I’ve been a bit Scrooged lately. The holidays are upon us once again and I’ve felt generally lacking in glad tidings, comfort and joy.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling: Naturally bubbling optimists aside, it seems more and more people’s attitudes towards the holidays are anything but jolly. I’ve heard countless friends say they “just don’t have the holiday spirit.” Perhaps it’s backlash to the unreasonable level of holiday exuberance we’ve been held up to by movies and holiday Christmas specials. Or maybe the commercial underpinnings of the marketed collective merriment make the whole thing seem like a farcical excuse for retailers and credit card companies to stuff their own stockings. We’re all so damned busy, broke and checked out—not to mention ear-blasted by shitty holiday jingles—all I have to say is “Bah! Humbug!”

Hoping to alleviate my Scroogery (and give my love a break from my grumblings), I decide to stop by the one place in Iowa City that, to me, embodies the qualities of the seasonal spirit year round: New Pioneer Co-op.

Having managed to negotiate the temperamental door system, I step inside and, green basket in hand, walk towards the technicolor produce section. Grabbing two acorn squash and imagining the evening’s meal (bake one hour at 425°F, add butter, maple syrup, crumbled Iowa Maytag Blue Cheese, balsamic reduction and toasted pumpkin seeds—mwa!), I feel my mood begin to improve. This little boost gets supercharged when, walking down Aisle 1, I snag two Ecto-Cooler-inspired Cobra Verdes. I’ll sleep better tonight knowing these caffeine-filled little dandies will be waiting for me in the morning.

Humming to myself as I round Cheese Corner, I snag a block of Manchego, Le Roule and the fantastic, mustardy Red Dragon, and also a mini-bottle of Segura Viudas for my sweetheart. Up next, the cracker aisle where I grab a box of Flackers (nutty, flax seed crackers) and then a pepper and garlic Olli Salami to be dipped in spicy mustard. From there, I fill up my basket with a few house staples: olive chips and cottage cheese (amazing combination), Amy’s Corn Meal Crust Pizza (the best frozen pizza ever), a box of La Croix and one of those pumpkin cookies everyone has been raving about.

The weeks supplies accounted for and my basket nearly full, I end my trip the spirits aisle. Normally when it comes to shopping, I prefer to be left alone, but I make an exception when it comes to chatting with Joseph, the New-Pi beer-case overlord. He’s a wealth of knowledge, and, unlike many beer salespersons who are good at stating clever abstractions that say nothing but sound appealing (“It’s very potent, but not overly so!”), Joseph can accurately describe the qualities, complexities and proper pairings for whatever beer or wine you might be interested in.

High off the promise of a delicious dinner and comforted by knowing we have groceries for the week, I round the corner in a much better mood-which rapidly deteriorates as I’m confronted with the grocery line from hell.

There they are: every dim-witted-check-writing-child-screaming shopper in Iowa City,  taking forever, intentionally not bagging their own groceries and needing to know what the date is. While I wait, I begin calculating how expensive everything in my basket is and start thinking about how the $7.99 I’m spending on free-range tofu could go to starving families or Christmas presents—goddamn the holidays anyhow.

But then something happens. Call it a holiday miracle or a visit from Marley’s ghost—but for some reason I stopped that train of thinking and asked myself, “Is there another story that could be told?”

And like that, the whole scene changed from being a tortuous line straight out of Dante’s imagination to a beautiful arrangement of well-intentioned people excited to get home to have a well-cooked meal and glass of wine. And then I saw a timelapse of all the people who had come here over the years—customers and employees: There’s young Patti—store mom even then—and steadfast Thrasher. There’s me, cashiering and laughing with Mick, Keegan and Eric. And now there’s Beard-Boy, Sweet Sheila, and then I see Kevin Olish and Emily Palmer, and my heart is struck and I realize that …

“Hello—open on 5!”

… that I had become the jerk holding up the rest of the line.

Shaken from the strange reverie, I toss my items on the counter, banter as I bag up my groceries and bid the cashier a good night the way I have a thousand times before and likely will a thousand times again.

As I walk home, bags full of groceries, I feel different. Unlike Scrooge, I’ve never been visited by ghosts or spirits; but every now and then, there is something that steps in and lets me know when I could be doing things better. These last few years I’ve spent more time staring at screens then I have talking to friends; more time worrying about the bill then I have appreciating the meal; more time intending and less time doing. In short, I’ve been a Scrooge with my time, energy and attention.

I hadn’t thought of it until now, but it’s worth noting that the first thing Scrooge does after his transformation is buy a meal for a friend he’d treated unkindly. Rounding the corner and heading towards my house, I make a silent vow to myself to follow his example as I head into this new year by making a conscious effort to reach out to friends and loved ones and to eat, drink and be so very merry.

Happy Holidays.

Luke Benson’s New Years resolution is to learn how to cook. You’re invited over for dinner.