At one point I worked bagging groceries at the bourgeois grocery store in my neighborhood and if anyone wants to know this where I first learned how to perform. The Queen Anne Thriftway was located a couple blocks from my house. My family shopped there from the time I was born. My mom says that as a toddler I would sit in the baby seat in the cart eating a cucumber while she shopped.
A memory just came to me that I hadn’t recalled when I thought of writing about Queen Anne Thriftway. I am about age 7, sitting in the bottom of the cart below the big grocery basket, making up a song about picking your nose. Do kids still sit in that bottom area of the cart? We always did and I thought of it as the place they made for kids, but it occurs to me I haven’t seen a kid down there in a long time, just toilet paper and beer. Maybe parents would see it as dangerous now, but back then everyone seemed happy to have a place to stash children who were too big for the babyseat in the cart. As I was sitting down there inventing the song for myself, I felt like a rock star on MTV. I sang it new-wave style, probably imitating Devo a little, “Everybody’s picking it! Pick it! You know you wanna pick it too!” Oh, I forgot, the song was actually about picking your nose and then eating the boogers. I believed that everyone did this and should just admit it. I looked at particular shoppers and aimed the song at them in my mind. Not much later in my life I became morbidly ashamed of the memory of the song I had invented, and of the implications of its subject matter. In the cart I was bold and self impressed.
I can’t remember when I got the job bagging groceries at the Thriftway. I am trying to measure it by how my body looked in the pink polo uniform shirt. The uniform was a polo with khakis. Jessica got the job first, and told me about it, and Jessica got the boobs first, so my perception of my shape in the shirt was measured against the benchmark of her silhouette. I don’t remember there being any boobs in my shirt, so I guess I got the job in about eighth grade, at age 13. I was a weird kid, simultaneously fairly brazen and also painfully inhibited, which was an awkward combination and often made things uncomfortable for me and for the people around me. My best friend Sharlyn was a dream girl and everyone loved her. She was, like, a perfect ten in every possible way: beautiful, won the spelling bee, was kind to everyone always, beat all the boys at the 50 yard dash, best artist in class, could tap dance. For a long time the only good thing I could see about myself was that Sharlyn liked me, and I didn’t dig too deep into the mystery of why this was true out of fear that I might somehow wreck it.
Being the awkward and brazen person that I was, I frequently wrapped Shar up in emotional disasters that would cause wild scenes in class and on the playground and would end with me screaming and crying and tossing things around. Shar generally managed to gracefully extract herself from the drama, over which she would then console me. The fact that she never demoted me from best friend status was a bizarre miracle. My gracelessness was also highlighted in comparison to my little brother, who enchanted people everywhere he went. One time my family went to an easter egg hunt at the Four Seasons Hotel and a local news crew found him walking around talking to strangers in his little fake straw hat made of styrofoam and his tiny red suit jacket. They taped him signing off the news for the night: “This is Dominic Maricich for King Five News.” The station ran it twice, and I remember the anchorwoman saying, “and next we’ll have more of the irrepressible Dominic.” That sentence is as fresh in my head as the Easter day I heard it. Anyone who knew me back then will tell you that it was certainly not Khaela who was going to become the performer.
My mother was the only one who refused to believe that I wasn’t made for the spotlight. Everywhere we went she set up little scenarios for showing me off. My mom perceives herself as a shining star and she wanted us, as extensions of her, to be shiny as well. Dominic with his irrepressibility was easy, and I was obviously more of a challenge, but my mother is intrepid. The checkout line at a store, where the clerks are held captive and forced to interact for the duration of the exchange, has been a familiar venue. We saw those clerks week after week for years and years, and every time through the line my mom would aim the bright lights at me and attempt to show me off. The Queen Anne Thriftway was an early proponent of the bourgeois strategy of selling groceries at slightly higher prices and justifying it with good style and extra friendly clerks, so flirtatious repartee was part of what you paid for. It was an easy crowd. I reacted with a variety of approaches, sometimes playing into it, sometimes scowling and shirking away and trying to hide. It occurs to me that a good part of my awkwardness was likely designed to make my mom’s job of showing me off more difficult.
When I got the job bagging groceries at age 13 I guess was ready to try something new. I hated myself, so I was definitely ready to try being someone different, and while my little catholic school community on Queen Anne didn’t offer much room for reinvention, the Thriftway did expand the range of my audience significantly. The neighborhood grew fashionable throughout my youth, and the majority of the customers ended up being people I didn’t know, who came expecting nice products and charming exchanges with the staff. I stood there at the end of the checkout counter in my little polo and let myself become part of this extended system of charm. Each new customer was a fresh chance for being different than I had been before. It was like rocks being tumbled in water, getting smooth. I had the clerks there for comfort, many of whom had worked there forever and had been privy to my mother’s long term plan; they aided it, unwittingly, by liking me and being friendly and familiar with me. I talked a lot to the customers, tried out different approaches. If something fell flat I had an immediate opportunity to try it again with the next person in line. I just basically got used to the feeling of being, in my preppy little uniform and under the banner of the fancy store, liked. I owe a lot to that store and its whole approach of making grocery shopping sexy. It didn’t transform me overnight. I entered highschool as the nerdy spaz I had always been and suffered plenty of horrifying episodes throughout my four years there, never got kissed, etc. But the Thriftway was the site of my first brush with sex appeal. Life is pretty different with and without that tool.
Three more notes on that store: a) I got to carry two flats of raspberries to Julia Child’s car and chit chatted with her a bit, which didn’t mean much to me at the time; b) they held coloring contests at Halloween and Easter, with a picture printed on the brown paper bags that kids colored in and entered for prizes, and somehow I won the contest three times in a row, which may have been the result of some coloring help from my mom (one of the prizes was a Star Wars gumball machine); and c) they tore it down last fall.