The Safeway, our blunt, ill lit, big-chain, neighborhood grocery store, provides many learning moments.  The most recent ~

            In the check out line, waiting for the cashier to wrap up her conversation with the customer ahead, I had grown impatient.  Displays of interest, unlike at Whole Foods, do not populate the Safeway’s check out station.  Baked goods, the list of ingredients for which take an entire side of what is packaged, are as interesting as it gets, in an appalling, un-Michael-Pollan-y way.  Still, they chatted on.  To feel that this might inspire them to stop, I began to wave my pint of Half and Half, but my thumb sunk into a divot and tore through the wall, and cream dribbled onto my hand and down through the metal mesh of the shopping cart onto my jacket.  And still they chatted.

            I summoned patience, as if given an opportunity to practice fortitude and magnanimity unstrained.  

            Finally, my groceries advanced along the belt.  I held up the bleeding Half and Half and asked, “Paper towel?” 

            She, the cashier, unspooled a coarse, brown paper towel and offered a dispenser of hand sanitizer.  “Need more?” she asked, concerned, and turned to the forty some–year-old bag boy, or preferred-term-courtesy-checker, and said, “take it back to distressed, Bobby.”

            This was curious.

            Our Safeway seemed to have . . . a department?  a room?  a category?  a dumpster? for mauled and broken items, in this case, my broken Half and Half.  My cashier, too, must have sensed something wondrous about this term, this place, for she began to repeat it.  Like this:

            (to the cashier across the aisle) ~ “Bobby’s going on break.  He’s going to walk this back to distressed.”

            (to Bobby, while unspooling a swath of paper towels) ~ “Go ahead, Bobby.  You’ve only got a minute left; take your break.  Take this back to distressed.  And wrap this around it.”

            (to me) ~ “He’ll take it to distressed.  Do you want to buy it, and go get another?”

            The term had a life of its own.  It kept getting slapped around like a sail in high wind.

            What do I make of this, an adjective that has risen to the ranks of a noun?  Not ~

            Please, take this Half and Half to the back of the store, where you will find:         

                        .  a small, closet-sized room

                        .  a shelf

                        . a thirty gallon Hefty bag

                        . a dumpster,

in which to file it. 


            Take it to distressed. 

            It is fun to learn that a word, once describing  a wrinkle or an earthquake of discomfort, is now, additionally, a concrete place.  Whimsies mightfollow:

                        Walk this back to happy.

                        Welcome back to senseless.

            The thing is, she, our (Bobby’s and my) cashier was both cavalier and, I believe, curious about her usage; she kept turning it over like a raccoon rotating an apple, or a chimpanzee pondering the stick in its fist and the termite mound.

            Adjectives are, of course, customarily employed as nouns to categorize people – the poor; the disabled; the distressed.  But note: the definite article precedes the imposter noun; the plural is implied, a plural verb enlisted.  But in the case of my maimed Half and Half, there lurked neither definite article nor verb.

Take it back to distressed, Bobby.

Distressed ~ suffering from anxiety, sorrow or pain.  Poor Half and Half.  Should I have brought you home, patched up your wound; loved you back from sorrow?  Instead, you’ve been exiled to distressed.  Mea culpa.  You were so easily replaced.