Craving a little adventure in your daily routine? Want to break out of the normal patterns of life to do something exciting and different? Care to be confronted by a wild animal?
If you’re tired of your role as an apex predator at the top of the food chain, then might I suggest a shopping expedition to Discount Grocery Safari. “The Deege,” as it’s affectionately known, is a market located about a mile from my home, specializing in the sale of scratched, dented, mangled, damaged, injured and mutilated grocery items.
Some of the packages are only slightly imperfect, while others look like they’ve been trampled by a rhino. The contents inside are supposed to be safe and effective, which is good if effectiveness is something you’re looking for in tonight’s dinner. Any parts oozing down the outside of the can or box cannot be similarly guaranteed.
A few of the items may also be slightly past their expiration date, though perishability isn’t generally a factor in items like toiletries and paper products. Except perhaps for the bathroom tissue that seems to be made of papyrus.
I was a little perplexed about the “safari” allusion until I visited the humble establishment over the weekend. As I stalked up and down the four short aisles inside the prefab corrugated building, the dim lighting suggested a venture into the jungle of deepest, darkest upstate South Carolina. It felt like danger lurked around every corner, or maybe that was a hulking cart full of single A&W diet root beer cans. Like a safari, it seemed the expedition could result in three possible outcomes: I’d bring down a trophy of a bargain, I’d at least get a memory of something exotic and dangerous, or it would be me who became the kill, brought low by the underestimated ferocity of StarKist’s “Lunch To-Go” tuna pouch.
The parking lot outside the Deege has room for no more than eight cars on its gravel and broken concrete surface. What would otherwise be a ninth spot is taken up by a rack for a ragtag collection of grocery carts that seem to have wandered off from higher-end grocery stores in search of a better life, only to be ultimately discarded after their porn career failed. There’s no automatic door opener to sense your presence and invite you in. Like the savannahs of Africa, the Deege is not easy to access. You have to wrestle your cart over a two-inch rise while trying to hold the door open and avoid the family of Bodines headed for their truck with a month’s supply of potato chips.
It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the light, though your nose is given no similar reprieve. Since the inventory is subject to the whims of gravity and centrifugal force on the truck that it fell from, the featured produce varies from day to day. On Saturday, it was bananas, ripe as can be if not exactly yellow. There were also zucchini, cabbage and what looked like potatoes though they could’ve been elephant droppings. We’ll need to be vigilant for the rogue male apparently in the area.
In an alcove to the right are several large chest freezers. There are no signs advertising what’s inside. You have to lift the lid and examine the interior yourself, and even then it’s not certain whether the large resealable bag contains shrimp or a buffed-up species of krill. Not being a baleen whale, I’d hope that it’s shrimp. It’s offered at $9.99 a pound, which is a little high for plankton.
I turn back to the left and head for the aisle against the far wall. Here you have a collection of off-brand sodas with near-brand names — Dr. Peppy, Seven Heaven and Cola (Diet) — as well as what passes for the health/beauty/cosmetics section. There are spray deodorants with just a thin reed poking up out of the can instead of a nozzle, several bent boxes of Kleenex containing facial tissue that features a tire-track pattern, and there’s this …
… the First Response home ovulation test kit, apparently ripped to shreds right there in the store by a shopper desperately looking for the eggs.
I round the corner and start down the second aisle. At about half the width of the first row, you can barely maneuver the shopping cart between the racks of flour and oils, much less accommodate a passing shopper of more than two dimensions. Here we also have bags of “jet-puffed marshmallows” (USAir’s newest profit center?), Sadaf brand falafel mix and a jar of gefilte fish labeled as “sweet”. The “best if used by” date on the fish is quite a bit in the past, although those ten days lost when Pope Gregory introduced his new calendar in 1582 can be discounted.
As I turn down the next-to-last aisle, I see more evidence of the “safari” nature of the enterprise …
… where the green paint has been worn from the concrete floor by the spring migration of wildebeest. This section is a bit of a hodgepodge with no discernible theme. One rack features the book “Victory Club” by Robin Lee Hatcher, and it’s flanked on the left by Skippy brand dog food and on the right by Rite-Aid’s unscented panty liners. I’m not sure of the book’s plot, though a logical observer is led to believe it involves a pack of canines with feminine hygiene issues.
Finally, I’m coming down the last lap. On this aisle, there are ice cream cones and taco shells which, being particularly susceptible to breakage, seem a long shot for a satisfactory customer experience, unless you like sprinkles. Snack foods near the cash register include some pretty decent candies and a bag of the failed Burger King venture into retail, the “ketchup and fries chips”. I’m tempted to fork over a dollar for the chips, just for laughs, then decide the King should not be rewarded for his lack of marketing acumen.
The cashier is a smiling woman whose sense of pride indicates she might also be an owner or manager. The checkout equipment is surprisingly modern, complete with scanner and touch screen that are as out-of-place as a bagboy on the veldt. For my total bill of $14.92 — “hah, hah,” she observes, “Christopher Columbus” — I got a bag of ground coffee, some cookies and candy, a tube of the tasty-but-discontinued Mexican Layer Dip Pringles, two mousse cup selections and a generic can of salmon cat food. I shudder to imagine how unspeakably offensive the expired fish byproducts must be, which means my cats loved it.
I’m handed a receipt and my safari is complete. It was quite the adventure for an otherwise boring afternoon. I picked up some nice used food and tasted what excitement might be like halfway around the globe on the world’s most mysterious continent.
And here’s something you don’t get as you rumble your Jeep back into camp at the base of mighty Kilimanjaro. At the bottom of my receipt is a saying from the locals at the Deege, an expression of goodwill that will remind me how satisfying this challenging hunt was: “Thank You! Come Again Soon!” it reads. “No Refunds! No Exchanges!”