Connections: Lost in the Supermarket

“All you need is money.”

We were expecting guests for dinner the other night when I decided the spread needed a little something more: bread, in particular. Carissa’s Breads, a first-rate bakery off Newtown Lane in the village, was closed, and I wasn’t confident about the choices I was likely to find in a hurry at Stop & Shop (although Nature’s Promise Jewish rye is darn good). So I headed over to Citarella.Parking spots were at a minimum. It was Saturday night in the Hamptons, and, as they say, all was well with the world. A man waiting to be served at the prepared foods counter next to me looked in my direction, and then, without preamble, said, “This is America.”

I was surprised and looked at him carefully. His clothing wasn’t especially notable, but he wore a small, pointy white goatee. He looked, in my humble opinion, like neither a stereotypical second-home owner nor weekend visitor. I wasn’t sure if his comment was in reference to the bounty spread before us, or something else, but I took it to be sardonic. It’s obvious that the world is your oyster when you have enough money to frequent the fine-food shops here.

I responded: “All you need is money.”

Truth be told, I was feeling guilty about my own conspicuous consumption that day. I had been foraging in the best shops that morning and had spent more on prepared foods than might be considered conscionable. I already had in hand two excellent cheeses from Breadzilla, my favorite Wainscott bakery and specialty-foods shop, an outstanding hummus made by Simply Sublime in East Hampton, and some appetizing viands from the most expensive of expensive shops in Sag Harbor. The eventual menu included mini crab cakes, chicken salad with grapes, sugar peas tossed with sesame seeds, a long, narrow mixed fruit tart, and a seeded, multigrain bread.

I don’t know how others come to terms with having more than they need of just about anything one might desire — or if they think about it much. Perhaps they simply accept their own economic and social well-being, enjoying what they have while actually remembering to help those less fortunate. 

It could be argued that the disparity between the haves and have-nots is more extreme on eastern Long Island than it is in most of America (excepting, I guess, major cities like New York City and Los Angeles). Our economic diversity is probably more tangible because the place is so small. We are all apt to rub shoulders with one another, including the poor and indigent immigrants.

Of course, I might have completely misinterpreted the remark made by my fellow customer at the Citarella counter. Was he actually commenting on the fact that most of the service people at Citarella appear to be Latino, while most of the customers are white? Was he thinking about Allen Ginsberg’s “Supermarket in California”? Had I misheard him saying “This is a miracle” or “This is a mackerel”? I wish I’d had the courage to ask.