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Inside the Publix Grocery Store in the Time of Anarchy

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Author’s Note: The following humor column was written on May 15, 2021, a few days after the CDC eased its mask guidance. The author has reformed and no longer uses disposable K-cups.

Dear Florida,

Sea turtles and dolphins notwithstanding, I just want my stinking coffee.

Yes, sunrise takes my breath away, which is perfect for writing fiction in those blessedly still hours before everyone’s awake, but this morning when I arose at dawn’s crack and zombie-shuffled to the kitchen, there were no K-cups.

That’s how I wound up in the Publix grocery store of Daytona Beach Shores at the Time of Anarchy, a few days after the CDC said vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks anymore. In Florida, that’s only a tiny bit confusing because who the hell knows where Florida Man lives or buys his cases of Busch Light, which he carries home on a kid’s bicycle while wearing camouflage pants because he lost his license after the third DUI, yet it’s actually illegal for government agencies or businesses to require proof of vaccination in Florida.

I’m sad and embarrassed to say that we use the K-cups, despite my service on the local Turtle Patrol and the ecological focus of my first novel. My partner insists it’s more convenient and the Keurig machine is cool – something about the way it groans so approvingly – although I showed him the illustration of mountains of used K-cups that fill the landfills like a million birth-control diaphragms from the 1970s. I’ve been too afraid of long-term caffeine deprivation to launch an all-out war over it, so there was no coffee in our kitchen, not even the reusable plastic strainer thingies because those got melted in the dishwasher.

With no K-cups and no pantyhose through which to strain ground coffee because I’ve been working from home in Zoom-friendly blouses atop pajama pants and Crocs for the past year, my only option was to set off for the nearest 7-Eleven in my ancient Prius with the sea turtle stickers on it. I call this particular 7-Eleven the Trump Stump because they kept flying a Trump 2020 flag, many weeks after Biden won the election, so few people ever wore masks in there, despite the “masks required” sign.

Sadly, there were no K-cups inside the Trump Stump, the CVS store was closed, and despite being desperate for some stinking coffee, I was too much of a chicken-shit to enter the other 7-Eleven, where patrons wearing only bathing suits buy screw-top liquor well before brunch.

I wore a mask into the Publix, having failed to check Twitter first. Of course, Publix swiftly ditching the mask mandate makes perfect sense to me now. If I had consumed even a half-drop of coffee, I would have remembered that billionaire Publix heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli donated $300,000 to help finance Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, right before half-naked dudes in Viking hats scaled the walls of the U.S. Capitol building, but I just wanted my stinking coffee.

Inside Publix, the energy was weird, like how your arm-hair pops up before you get electrocuted. The grocery cart guy was wearing his mask like a chin diaper, the woman behind the deli had a hair net but no mask, and a nervous-looking man in a tee shirt with a British flag stared through his face shield as if somebody had dropped him onto the surface of Mars, whereas all he ever wanted was one bloody week oceanfront with his family without contracting COVID or getting mowed down by insurrectionists driving jacked-up pickup trucks all over the stinking picturesque beach.

On the coffee aisle, Publix was only selling overpriced 10-packs of K-cups, mainly in flavors such as blueberry and vanilla-hazelnut. I settled on a dark roast that came in a package with a realistic depiction of a steaming mug of coffee, which looked pretty stinking good to me.

At the only open checkout lane, the guy in line behind me pointed to my basket, inquiring why I like “them plastic things,” meaning the K-cups. His breath, with no mask to filter it, smelled strongly of coffee.

In Florida, one has to maintain a sense of humor, or one could get shot. “It’s my boyfriend’s fault,” I said.

“What’d you say?”

Feigning deafness around people in masks has been a common tactic of the anti-maskers. “My boyfriend likes them,” I said again, as loud as I could manage, so desperate was I to get out of the stupid-ass Publix and write two or three mediocre lines of fiction.

“I can’t hear you,” the man said, grinning. “You’re muzzled.”

I dropped my K-cups onto the conveyor belt.

“It’s all a hoax.” The guy got louder, as if hoping for an audience. “You’re letting Fauci and Biden make you a slave.”

From my wallet, I retrieved two twenty-dollar bills, all the money I had. I flapped the bills around, feeling reckless, like hoisting a metal pole during a thunderstorm. “I know there’s a pot of coffee in here somewhere,” I said. “I’ll pay anything.”

In a flash, the cashier rang up my K-cups faster than I could give her my Publix loyalty number.

I could have explained to Florida Man that, yes, I have been fully vaccinated and I heard the CDC’s news, but I didn’t know the rules had changed at Publix. I could have noted that every single person in that store just wanted to buy milk so their kids wouldn’t be howling, or kibble so the dog wouldn’t gnaw the baseboards, but he had to go and inject poison into the whole exhausting process of survival in a consumer-centric society. And, if I don’t finish the current chapter of my novel, my writing group might dump me and I’ll lose all self-respect, which is why I fled the Publix, clutching my K-cups.

I just wanted my stinking coffee.

Ginger Pinholster’s first novel, City in a Forest, focuses on a fictional Atlanta wilderness threatened by eminent-domain seizure. It won a gold award in the 2020 Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards competition. Her next novel, Snakes of St. Augustine, awaits its fate. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte M.F.A. program, her essays and short stories have appeared in the Eckerd Review, Northern Virginia Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. She works as a writer for a university in Daytona Beach, Florida and she serves on the Volusia-Flagler Turtle Patrol.

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