Tuesday, January 29, 2008


This is a small piece I wrote in my creative nonfiction class this quarter. I imagine more of these, unrevised though they are, will be coming.

I used to smell the cilantro as it passed across my scanner. I would pick it up off the belt--and slow the stream of purchasing long enough to open the tissuey plastic produce bag and slip my nose in. My nose on their cilantro. I pretended it was normal. "Never can tell," I would say. "It looks so much like parsley." And I would pass the bag to my left, slip it down the slope to the end of my checkstand counter where, if I was lucky, stood a bagger who would load and stack and fill and pack. Bananas on top. People always bought bananas.

I was a checker-slash-bagger at the HEB in Far West, the one with the big kosher section and deli because we were near the Austin Jewish Community Center. I lived next to the grocery store--through the parking lot, past the rusted, one-wheeled shopping carts, up a small wooded embankment, where one night after a late shift or an evening shopping run my roommates and I saw and heard an owl. I never used a shopping cart when I lived there because, if I did, I'd buy so much I couldn't carry it all home. Even then sometimes I'd have to rest my bags on the ground, stopping periodically to rest my fingers and wrists from the tight pull of the plastic handles.

It was the handles on the plastic bags that meant I had to use them. I couldn't carry my groceries home in a paper sack--all under one arm. I was the fourth child of nine; I have never learned to shop for one. And our paper bags at HEB had no handles. We were no Trader Joe's in this respect. I packed food and toiletries and paper products and bananas--people always bought bananas--into plastic bags all day. Junior bags were smaller--each could hold one gallon of milk--and we were encouraged to use them. "One and a half cents per bag," my manager reminded us. "And the bigger ones are three cents." "How much for the paper?" I asked. "Seventeen cents," he said. "We'd stop offering them if we could."

Now when I go to grocery stores I am tempted to tell my checker I used to work at one, too. And not so long ago--three years, actually. Three years. The length of law school. Sometimes I do--I say it to the man or woman or kid ringing up my orange juice, my frozen potstickers, my bananas. I wonder what they'll think of me, wearing a law school sweatshirt, spending more than I can afford on chicken breast and whole wheat tortillas. Maybe they think I'm condescending, holding onto a past, perhaps a summer job, that isn't worth remembering. Probably they think nothing. "How much you get paid?" one checker at the Safeway on California asked. "$7.50 an hour," I said. She laughed. "I get $18."

I left Austin, left the HEB, left the days, I guess, of smelling other people's cilantro. I graduate from law school in May, and I may never be able to afford to work in a grocery store again. But when I choose plastic bags--still, for the handles--I remember this: a white stubble-faced customer who told me he wanted paper. "I always get paper," he said. "Why?" I looked up and asked. "Because," he said, "I was a sailor. And once, three thousand miles from anywhere, I looked down in the ocean and saw a plastic bag floating there."

For Jess.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Joining the Conversation

I'd set aside this time to study my scriptures. Instead, I got caught up reading my email. Of course. But I get a google news daily update of the news articles involving "mitt romney" and today's came with a torturous Reuters article, in which one of Romney's former roommates at BYU (someone named Moody; probably a blood relative of mine) reveals that Mitt and other Mormons have sworn to obey the prophet, who is directly directed by Jesus Christ, and that this oath is unreconcilable with what Mitt promises: to be a president not directed by his religious leaders.

Though I certainly wouldn't use words like "swear" ("covenant" is more my style, with its different level of thoughtfulness and wholeheartedness) and while I would clarify that our covenants are not with the prophet but are, in fact, with God, I more specifically want to say this: if criticizers are concerned (even inasmuch as it's false or unnuanced) that Mitt says that he will obey the prophet and that that saying (the swearing, the covenanting) grows out of a Mormon doctrine, then they should also be reassured that LDS church leaders, the prophet included, have said (which, for them, also rises to the level of promise) that they will not interfere with political leaders who are LDS, which thing is supported by the also doctrinal Mormon tenent that God's true church does not use anything but persuasion of the general citizenry to affect government.

Yes? See?

And now, more importantly, to my scripture study.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. [...]

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile--

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.

D&C 121: 39, 41-43