Yesterday I was waiting for my clothes to dry at the laundromat when I decided to go next door to the Johnnie’s Foodmaster supermarket to buy some kitchen sponges. On the prestige scale of New England supermarket chains, the Foodmaster (founded in 1947) lurks near the bottom due to its dirt-cheap and paltry selection of processed and industrialized foodstuffs, its monstrous stacks of 5 for $1 canned food displays that crest each aisle, and its dour clientele who fall into the following 3 over-generalizations:
Old people who fully or partially lean on their carts that never contain more than 3 items and move slothlike through the store, staring at the shelves with looks of confusion and disbelief: “What the hell is this crap, and why does it cost so much?”
Chubby housewives in sweatpants who load their carts with bags of generic cereal and try to curtail the “We want Cocoa Puffs” tantrums of their offspring by passing out generic nilla wafers.
Middle-aged bachelors and male divorcees for whom food has become mere fuel for their hollow, pain-laden existence.
I’ve always avoided Johnnie’s Foodmaster. Even if I wasn’t a food snob who cherishes quality over quantity, who can taste the difference between organic and non-organic, and who gets upset at seeing obviously sick and undernourished people buying nothing but Ramen noodles and Funyons, I would never be able to get past the name. “Johnnie’s Foodmaster.” The retro twang conjures images of frozen foods, hamburger helper, and Jello, lorded over by a whip-yielding grocery maestro: The food master!
Upon entering the Foodmaster, I head instinctively to the center of the store. I pass a huge pillaster of boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and my stomach inexplicably gurgles with yearning for the gummy pasta and powder-based “cheese” that was the delicacy of my teenaged years. The last time I ate macaroni and cheese, it was in a fine restaurant that specialized in gourmet comfort foods, and the $18 dish featured foraged mushrooms and artisinal Swiss cheese. It was tasty but not comforting, same as how a silk blouse feels good against your skin but isn’t quite comfortable.
I mastered the urge to not grab a few boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and continued to the cleaning supplies. I had to squeeze past a stationary elderly cart-leaner who seemed to have fallen asleep while inspecting tiolet paper. I retrieved my sponges and headed to the front of the store. When I stood in the short line at the cash register, I scanned the impulse items and was amused to see 4 cassette tapes hanging from the particle board above the conveyor belt. The nostalgia provoked by the Kraft Mac n’ Cheese quickly focused on the cassette tapes, and for a second I forgot what year it was. Today the NYTimes printed the upteenth article about the death of the cassette tape. But like some many other things, in the Foodmaster, the cassette tape has endured past its shelf life.