THE ADMIRAL having been stricken with a long-term virus disease, it falls to me to forage for provisions. Unaccustomed as I am to grocery shopping, I bravely set sail for the victualling barge, an enormous structure named the Fred Meyer.
Inside, it’s all narrow gangways crammed with people seeking provisions, mainly women. Shelves from floor to ceiling hold all manner of gear from Tuscan melons to plumber’s wrenches.
I launch my little cart due west toward the Soup aisle and find myself passing through terra incognita, an area charted as Ladies’ Underwear. Speeding up, and averting my eyes from the flesh-colored frillies, I bear hard a-port at Cheese and heave to in the Canned Soup aisle. I consult my sailing instructions from the Admiral: “2 pkts Andersens pea soup. See lower shelves of soup aisle.” Oh, if only you knew the pathos of it. It’s all she can eat. It’s all she feels like, as she lies propped up in bed. Everything else tastes terrible.
It involves a long search. I reach the end of the aisle, go about, and tack back. Campbell’s everywhere. Thousands of cans of Campbell’s. No Andersens.
A pretty lady comes along. I try my trick of looking helpless, hoping she will take pity on me and lead me by the hand to the Andersens. No such luck. She speeds straight past, avoiding my gaze (deliberately, I believe, and regret to say). She grabs four small cans of Campbell’s, throws them in her cart, and sprints off.
I drop my sailing instructions, bend down to pick them up, and lo, there on the very bottom shelf, where only a very underdeveloped dwarf would find it, is a small and lonely collection of Andersens Split Pea Soup. I grab two cans — and feel a surge of relief and triumph.
I consult my instructions again. Fiber One. Now, I’m not completely helpless. I know it’s a breakfast cereal. It must be with the packets of Cheerios and Cap’n Crunches. I cruise up and down the aisle. It’s crowded, and people get irritable when you drop anchor to inspect the labels and block the traffic.
I’m on a collision course with a steely-eyed lady of advanced years at the helm of a large trolley. I’m plainly the stand-on shopping cart, being on the starboard tack, but she appears to have no knowledge of the responsibility of a give-way trolley — or, more likely, I fear, she doesn’t give a damn. Rule number two of the International Regulations comes to mind and at the last moment I throw the helm over. I flash her my number one first-class glare, and draw my breath in with a loud hiss, but she sails past unrelenting.
Now I’m desperate for a pilot. I bear off downwind for the check-out counters where there’s a woman in an apron placing batteries on a shelf. She’s obviously a pilot and, just as obviously, she is engaged, but I see no pilot flag so I dive right in.
“Excuse me,” I say politely, “can you tell me where to find Fiber One?”
“Sure,” she says. She sprints off down the aisles, heaves to in the very same Breakfast Cereal aisle that I have just left, and reaches to the very top shelf where a lonely and (I must say) very inconspicuous packet of Fiber One resides.
“Very good for regularity,” she says a little too loudly.
“Thank you,” I say quietly, hoping she will go away now.
“It’s the fiber. My doctor says you don’t need prune juice if you eat Fiber One.”
Traffic in the cereal aisle is coming to a standstill. An interested crowd is gathering. They’re looking at me intently, trying to judge whether my insides are blocked up and whether I need a good dredging.
“Not for me,” I tell my pilot lamely. “Wife . . . Sick . . . No exercise . . .“
I thank her once again and the crowd parts to let me escape. I can tell they’re not buying it. They think it’s me that needs the Fiber One. They can tell. They’re smiling that sneaky smile that says I know you’re lying.
I shall make sure the Admiral is aware of the ignominy I am suffering in the course of revictualling and I shall light a candle for her quick recovery. I can only hope she is better before she runs out of Fiber One.
I never make a trip the United States without visiting a supermarket. To me they are more fascinating than any fashion salon.
— Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, NY Journal-American, 8 Apr 64
You’ve heard of King Arthur’s Round Table, of course. But do you know who was the roundest knight? It was Sir Cumference. And how did he acquire his size? From too much pi, naturally.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)