The World According to Layne

The Meatball Fiasco

It’s no secret that me and grocery stores don’t get along. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read my tales of couponing and milk-spilling (“The Rise and Fall of Coupon Queen”). I’ll give you some time to do so…

OK, ready? You know now that I’ve spilled a gallon of milk in the entrance of Jewel Osco. I’ve been too scared to pick up milk since then. (My roommates have had to pour my glasses of milk for a few months now.) But the milk-trauma is beside the point. This next piece focuses on grocery stores, but (thankfully) not milk.

Grocery shopping isn’t fun, but there’s one thing that makes it better. Imagine this: You’re zooming through the aisles, picking up your copious amounts of goldfish and pre-packaged meals when you turn the corner and see the person of your dreams. He/she is a grocery store employee, but not just any employee —  he/she is the food-giver-outer. I’m not sure if there is a proper term for this employee, but you know them — the employees that stand behind a miniature counter and hand out samples of expensive delicacies.

Like with any scenario when you spot the man/woman of your dreams, you wait for that person to talk to you first. You can’t just go up to the sampler and ask for food. It would be too obvious that you’re in desperate need of a snack because your mother dragged you to the store at prime lunch hour.

So what does a hungry shopper do? You circle around the sampler until the food-giver-outer asks you if you want to try one (or more!) of the delicacies that can be found in the posh section of foods that people like me can’t afford.

On my Sunday shopping trip with my mother, I first circled the sampler lady to scope out what she was giving out. It’s important that in the first rounds of circling, you don’t make eye contact with the sampler people. You have to seem disinterested and act like you’re too cool to have any of what they’re trying to sell. You do, however, make direct eye contact with the food. If you’re lucky, the sampler people will spot you looking at their goodies and they’ll get the hint that you’re interested.

Sunday’s sampling selection was a variety of meatballs. Let me stop there to give a brief side note: I don’t like meatballs.

OK, back to the story. I continued my circling because the smell was enticing and I became more intrigued in what these meatballs tasted like. Also, I was getting so hungry that I was ready to eat just about anything.

After six rounds of circling, the sampling woman stopped me and asked if I would like to try one of her balls. She first gave me a sweet and sour meatball that tasted like Panda Express condensed in one bite.

Now, if you’ve been through this type of experience before, you know that what comes next is the most difficult part. You either have to ask to try another, say “thank you” and walk away or lightly pause for the sampling person to offer another one.

As you can tell, I’m pretty experienced with this type of thing. So I slowly chewed my ball and pretended to contemplate the taste. After consuming the ball, I waited in a slight lull of silence (still pretending I was contemplating the taste). Soon enough, the sampling person asked if I’d like to try another.

Of course I’ll try another! If I’m going to purchase any of these balls, I need to be fully informed on my choice. So she gave me another ball (I think it had bleu cheese in it). Again, the best thing to do is slowly chew the ball and let the sampling person give their rehearsed speech about how their balls are perfect for parties and snack time and lunch time and even breakfast and blah blah blah. Pretend you’re listening and maybe even throw in a story about how you have a super posh party coming up that you think your guests will just adore the little posh and overpriced balls.

After all this, you finally have control of the situation. That’s when you have enough nerve to ask for another type of ball (in order to make a fully informed decision about which balls you’ll bring to your super posh party). Then comes the hard part: You now have to pick up a package of the balls and pretend you’re going to buy them. After devouring my third meatball (which thankfully saved me from starvation), I picked up the sweet and sour balls and said, “I think I’ll buy these balls.”

The sampling lady gave me a coupon and sent me on my merry way, but little did she know that this ain’t my first rodeo. I needed to get rid of the balls, but nowhere too close to where she could see.

I went over to the yogurt section, but there was a cute grocery boy restocking the yogurt. If I turned around, then I’d be making my way back to sampling lady and my cover would be blown. Also, yogurt-boy would think that I was circling him like prey and about to attempt hitting on him.

Side note: It crossed my mind that I could ask yogurt-boy for help with this dilemma. I could shyly approach him and his yogurt and tell him the funny story of how I needed to get rid of my balls. Then we’d laugh and he’d ask what my name was and then I would forget my name but then finally blurt it out and then he’d ask for my phone number and then we’d go on a date and then we’d get married and then we’d tell our children that we met in the yogurt section of a Jewel Osco where I was trying to get rid of my balls.

But that would be too bold for me. Instead, I made a giant circle around the store and approached the cheese section. When getting rid of your balls, you have to place them in a cooled section of the store. (It would be just rude and wasteful if you hid them in the cereal aisle where the balls would lay there to rot.)

But you have to act interested in the new section where you’ll abandon your balls. I picked up a variety of cheeses (colby jack, parmesan and classic cheddar). Then I slyly reached in my cart and pulled out my balls. While putting away one of the cheeses I was “debating to buy,” I put away the meatballs as well. And then I ran away.

Sometimes I wonder whatever came of those balls. I would’ve liked to have actually bought them, but the pack only had 10 balls and cost about $6. I hope that the balls made friends with the cheese. Maybe a lucky customer who was in the mood for some colby jack found the balls and took them home. Maybe yogurt-boy was put on cheese duty and found the balls. Maybe I’ll return to the store and find the balls sitting blissfully among the cheeses.

I’m sorry, balls, for having to abandon you, but I hope you understand. I’m sorry, sampling lady, for deceiving you into thinking that you made a sale. I’m sorry, yogurt-boy, for never approaching you and hitting on you (we would’ve had cute kids).

But I’m not sorry for getting three free meatballs that served as a magnificent snack that kept me from fainting in the store or whining to my mom like a 3-year-old that I was hungry and that she should take me home.

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Layne Hillesland is a senior communication student at Loyola University Chicago and the current Arts & Entertainment Editor for The PHOENIX.

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