I shuffled along the aisles with tired legs, a sullen look, and a throbbing left elbow. I wore business casual standard: lightweight wool gabardine pants, a blue Tattersall button-down, and size 16 rust-colored slip-ons. My shirt collar and rolled sleeves were lightly ringed with the residue of work. Moist, but finally cooling between the giant fans and the concrete floors of the cavernous Whole Foods.
The day had begun early in steamy Atlanta. Clogged streets, clogged parking decks, clogged eateries, clogged airport terminals, clogged upgrade lists. Every piece of real estate that day had been hotly contested. I was eager to get back to the farm. I desperately needed a warm hug and a fresh kiss. But on the long drive home from the airport Alison called to say she even more desperately needed a few groceries.
I was now down to the last, elusive thing on that list: Italian salad dressing packs. I had asked around, struck out twice, and was now taking one last chance with one last employee.
In a store renowned for interesting, cool people I couldn’t help but feel a bit dour as we wandered about the aisles searching. I looked down into my sad little basket of goods. Broccoli. Onions. Five loaves of gluten-free bread. Four bottles of hand soap. And ten(!) boxes of baking soda.
Meanwhile, a guy in a cowboy hat brushed past. No cart, no basket. Just two avocados in one hand, and a $20 chunk of Manchego cheese in the other.
Men with thick, dark, great-great-grandpa beards, and others with linen pants and sandals perused the meat counter. Starving musicians and sculptors creatively stood around, noshing on sushi, gelato and Kombucha. There were guys with Roy Orbison sunglasses. Inside the store. At 9:00 pm. Guys with sweet tattoos. Guys with dreadlocks. Everywhere I looked there were all these really interesting dudes that had never sniffed the inside of a cubicle.
I felt like such a bore. Like the proverbial guy on the outside looking in. The only guy with his shirt tucked in. The only guy looking for an Italian dressing pack. The only guy looking for six of them actually.
And that was just on the outside. No one could even see that, deep in my wallet, I carried a nearly-expired $2 Kroger coupon from “my friends at Unilever.” Or that I had spent the prior night in an Atlanta hotel room reading about tennis elbow, that I hadn’t played a lick of tennis in years, and that my tendons were actually sore from shoveling manure. No one could tell that I had quite possibly developed the world’s first documented case of “manure elbow.”
No one could have known that it has been years since I’ve assimilated a new piece of music. That I’m still listening to Oasis and Pearl Jam and that I recently, just recently, “discovered” Coldplay. No one at Whole Foods knew that I had bought Alison a Dewalt miter saw for Mother’s Day.
After striking out a final time on the salad dressing packs I just wanted out of the store. I headed directly, somberly toward the door.
The earnest checkout clerk had a dusty and approachable complexion, deep set eyes framed by world-class brows, a wild tuft of sandy brown hair, and a still-adolescent but well-on-its-way handlebar mustache. He looked like Johnny Depp after sliding headfirst into home plate.
“You must be a baker,” he said to me cheerfully as he scanned the baking soda.
“Nope, those are for the animals. They have bloat,” I mumbled.
The clerk gave me a quizzical look and so I clarified. “They have gas.”
“What sort of animals do you have?” he asked, unfazed.
“Cattle and sheep. Goats too.”
He immediately stopped his scanning and glanced around the register, carefully appraising my outfit. “So, are you a farmer?”
“Yeah. I suppose you could say that. A part-time farmer.”
“So what do you grow?”
In the space of ten seconds I watched his jaw drop incrementally to the floor as I read from what could easily pass for Michael Pollan’s shopping list: “Well, we have grass-fed beef, pastured lamb, and Merino wool. And fresh goat’s milk, eggs, some apples and grapes. This year we’ll have raw honey and we planted a pretty big garden….”
He interrupted. “What do you grow in the garden?”
“We’ve got eight kids to feed. We grow anything we can.”
He stared at me a moment, face still bewildered, visibly mouthed “eight kids,” then emphatically slapped his hand on the scanner, pointed at me and said something that changed my day, my week, and quite possibly the rest of my summer. Something I would remember the next hundred times I shopped a Whole Foods.
“You, my friend, are the most interesting guy that I have seen in here all day.” He beamed over at the bagger, who smiled back and nodded in agreement. “In fact, you are the most interesting guy I’ve seen in here all week.”
Father of eight. Wearer of wool trousers. Buyer of onions and broccoli and baking soda. Liver of the corporate life. Listener of Dave Matthews. Victim of “manure elbow.”
And also: Farmer. And, at least for the week: The Most Interesting Man in the Whole Foods.
He scanned, I paid, and we parted ways. As I turned to leave the cashier reached out and clapped me audibly on the back.
Then I carefully folded my receipt and tucked it neatly into my wallet. Right next to the Unilever coupon.
(Ed Note: thanks, as always, for reading and for all the wonderful comments. Alison says the farm “is starting to look like a foreclosure” so after I get some work done Saturday – maybe even some “Goatsourcing™” – I will have a Father’s-Day-type post going up. Be sure to check back. Or enter your email in the upper left corner of the page to get the latest right to your inbox. Cheers and Happy Father’s Day to all the fellas!)