How To Pick ‘Em

Last night we went to the grocery store to grab a few Sunday-night sundries.

As the summer approaches I’m trying to keep more fruit on-hand.

(Slight digression: I’ve also been going to our local fruit stand to get a big container of sliced fruit. I don’t know why it took me so long to get into the habit. It’s a great deal, the fruit’s fresh, and the rainbow-umbrella fruit stands are a Los Angeles institution. Also, Charlie looooves strawberries and watermelon, although I never tell the fruit guy that I’m getting it plain so that I can feed it to the dog. To me that’s a sign of approval because I’m very discerning about what Charlie eats, but the fruit guy may or may not appreciate it.)

Lately I’ve been buying honey mangoes (my favorite type of mango) to bring to work for breakfast, but yesterday I saw a well-dressed older woman and her gentleman friend hovering near the Ruby Reds and decided to add a few grapefruits to the rotation, too. So I split off from Sam and headed to the display.

The woman regarding the Ruby Reds was that particular brand of fabulous — she had perfectly coiffed hair, and was wearing… in my memory it’s a swingy white fur coat. That seems a little too much for a hot summer night, so while writing this I texted Sam for backup.

Elysse: Was that woman near the grapefruits last night wearing a fur coat? Or is she just fabulous in my memory?

Sam: I don’t think she was wearing a fur coat… maybe like an overcoat? It was patterned, like black and white I think. But she was fabulous.

I was unshowered, greasy-haired, and wearing shorts for the first time this season… like, it’s been so long since I wore them that it took me two days to find them once the weather got warm. (And this is CA-warm, so like… 90 degrees.)

The gentleman friend could have been a husband, but I think he wasn’t because of the way the woman was explaining her grapefruit-searching methods to him. If he WAS her husband, good on him for listening to her story for what could have been the umpteenth time.

He seemed very game and easy to laugh (and patient about the time it takes to select the perfect grapefruit) in a way that made him very appealing, like a cool uncle. And he was also wearing shorts, I think, and a polo shirt. He had a grocery tote over one shoulder, in a jaunty way, like a beach bag.

Anyway, this well-coiffed lady was explaining to her man how she picks her grapefruits, and at some point she turned to me, woman to woman, and said, “Right?”

Lately I have been trying to be better about my fruit picking — we’ve googled how to pick a dense, flavorful watermelon and a golden-sweet pineapple while standing in the produce aisles — but I will admit I can still be stumped by citrus. I live in fear of peeling open an orange, only to encounter dried-out old guts.

I also think — the older I get — that it’s good practice to talk to strangers. I mean, don’t tell the children, but it can be a very fun and enlightening pastime.

So I did what’s always best in this situation, and asked the fabulous older woman to teach me her ways. (I would not be surprised at all if this lady turned out to be a celebrity. She had a way about her.)

She told me that the secret is to find a thin-skinned grapefruit. I picked one up that was shiny and firm and said, “Like this?” She felt it and said, “That depends, do you want to eat it NEXT MONTH?”

Ooh, sick BURN. But I loved her for it.

She handed me a grapefruit that I would have declared too soft or spongy. I must have made a face because she said, “Trust me, I’ve spent years perfecting my methods, that’s going to be a good one.”

So I trusted this woman, who was both a stranger and my co-conspirator. I bagged the grapefruit and headed over to the honey mangoes.

We did the rest of our shopping, and when we walked the cookie aisle I looked at the Snackwells and had a sudden memory of buying them for my grandma when she’d visit. I don’t recall them tasting all that great, but I remember the texture of the cookies — like a dense sponge. Eating them was part of the ritual of her visit.

Perhaps talking to the woman had triggered something in my mind. A wistfulness for something… grandparental.

Then, as we were waiting to check out, I decided that I wanted to go back and grab one more grapefruit. Lo and behold, my favorite couple was still there. The woman smiled at me and said, “I was just saying, she’s going to have the best grapefruit of her life tomorrow morning! You know the secret now!”

I was tickled that she was still thinking about me.

And this morning I of course thought of her and Jim (I don’t know if I actually heard her call him Jim, but in my mind he’s Jim) as I peeled my grapefruit. It was a moment of anticipation — would it be dry? Tart? Sweet?

It was… a pretty good grapefruit. Mostly juicy, nice flavor.

I just hope I can find another like it when I’m not under her tutelage.

The moral of the story (or, one of them): Trust your elders. Especially the fabulous ones.

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