by Howard | December 26, 2014 9:37 am
This morning, Shoprite Checkers Sea Point opened late. It was 8:03am and the crowd outside was growing restless. The mood was volatile and any sudden move could spark panic. I knew not to venture too close to the doors as many a rookie had ended their summer holiday unflatteringly plastered against the glass panels when the hungry could take the wait no longer.
I had already warmed up. I had stretched, I was ready and I was focused. I was with a friend and we communicated silently. A glance and a head gesture meant he would do the deli and I would do the bakery. One challah, 4 rolls for him and 4 challahs for me. Maybe a muffin and a doughnut but that could be decided when on the scene. It was important not to be distracted by the fresh produce as we could return for that – no matter how alluring the cling peaches looked.
I adjusted my heart rate monitor, did a once over to make sure my laces were tied and waited for the go signal. We didn’t wait long.
The doors opened at 8:04am and Jews from all over the country descended on the unsuspecting Checkers staff. No one outside had looked particularly emaciated but clearly a few hours of starvation and the thought of the Shabbat to come was enough to frenzy this mob. It was aggressive and it was ugly. But it was inspiring. We have never been masters on the sports field but if erev Shabbat shopping were an Olympic sport, we would win gold. We would be the long-standing, unbeatable champs. We would laugh off the Russians and the Chinese with their training camps and healthy eating habits. We have been doing this for generations. From the time of Abraham we have been eating and forcing other to do the same. And we know where to source. It’s in our blood (cholesterol above 5) and we are good at what we do. If erev Shabbat shopping were to be a sport we would rule the world. We would never walk alone!
But then there is the dark side of this activity. It is the side that splits family and destroys friendships. And for me, this morning it came from left field, when I was least suspecting it would. And it happened at the meat counter.
I was not prepared for this scenario and it sadly tripped me up. I had finished at the bakery, moved swiftly on to the parev deli when I noticed my shopping partner at the meat section. I had his fried fish in my trolley, handed it to him and in doing so I spotted well-grilled lamb chops. Slightly browned on the outside, no sauce and succulent. But I lost focus for a moment when a local (Capetonian) ordered one and a half schnitzel “no, not that one, no, no, yes that one” and I pondered for a moment who would get the extra half and how one could be so confident as to which schnitzel would do the job. And it was that moment of contemplation that nearly cost me the lamb and a friendship. Before I had time to order, he pipped-me-at-the-post and said – “I’ll take them all!”
We were close friends and my immediate thought was how much I would miss him. Friends don’t take the last chop. They might force you drink and then drive but this was beyond acceptability. I looked at him in horror (the scene can be watched in slow motion in my mind) and I shook my head slowly. I had slipped up and our friendship would pay the price. I turned my trolley (I still had to get the tin foil) and started to walk away when I heard him say “how long before the next 10 are ready?” and I knew that all was good in the world. Shabbat would happen, we would have chops and friendships would be saved. I blinked away the tears, loaded the grape juice that I forgotten and we walked, together, to the tills.
I recall little after that – the dissipating energy at the end of the event. A slowing heart rate and a return to normality. But I do recall the look of pity as we sailed past the late shoppers entering the store and wanted to whisper to each that we had the chops and aside from there being half a schnitzel available, the rest would be ready at noon.
Shabbat shalom from sunny Cape Town.
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