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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

An Ode to Heavy Lifters

There are lots of reasons why I enjoy living in the little patch of condominium that my bank mostly bought and allowed me to move my cheap furniture and toothbrush into.

(A few years ago — and two years into a thirty-year mortgage — I made the mistake of trying to calculate in square footage what portion of the house I actually owned free and clear.

“And conversion to metric to make it sound more impressive doesn’t help. There’s nothing sexy about ‘square millimeterage’.”

Don’t ever do that. Besides depressing yourself by discovering that the return so far on the most significant investment of your life is the back half of a broom closet, that whole ‘square footage‘ thing is a misnomer.

And conversion to metric to make it sound more impressive doesn’t help. There’s nothing sexy about ‘square millimeterage’.)

Anyway, there’s a lot to like about the location of my current abode. There are restaurants and bars nearby, offering easy access to the essentials — pizza, beer, curly fries and takeout Chinese, among others. I’m close enough to walk to work — though that’s a double-edged sword, of course. It’s great on days when I don’t want to hassle with the Massholes on the road. But after a blizzard, I can’t exactly weasel a day off to dig out my car. Dig out my shoelaces, maybe. But that doesn’t buy me much.

One of my favorite things about this place, though, is that we’re right down the block from a Trader Joe’s. Though not, perhaps, for the reason you might think.

As a rule, I don’t go to Trader Joe’s. Not because I have anything against it — it seems a fine store, with its eclectic fare and friendly font and J. Petermanesque product descriptions.

(“Ypres, 1917. You hunker in a foxhole, caked with filth and grease and the blood of your fallen comrades. The blast of mortar fire illuminates the night sky like a macabre fireworks display, skittering ghostly shadows of the dead and dying across No Man’s Land. You huddle with what’s left of your squad — MacDougal, Lumpy, Deadeye and Old Joe. The final push comes at down; with the morning comes victory, or the fate of the damned bleeding slowly away in the killing zone. Sleep is but a memory, your home a distant mirage.

You reach into your rucksack for the last comfort you may ever know… a bag of Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Skinny Fries. As the bag passes around the circle, spirits lighten a bit. ‘Gents, it’s been an honor,’ says Lumpy, as he crunches a delicate lightly-sea-salted morsel. ‘With these air-popped low-fat goodies in our bellies, Fritz doesn’t stand a chance!'”)

What I like more about living close by a Trader Joe’s is the other people who shop there. Locals, often, who wind up walking down my street with their bags of groceries. Their many bags of groceries, and their staunch refusal to fire up the car to run a few blocks to the store. Good for them, and good for the environment, too.

Good for their straining arms, and those veins popping out of their foreheads? Not so much.

I was once like them. A few apartments ago, I lived a block and a half from the local grocery concern, and did all of my own shopping. And it didn’t go especially well. I’d put off the trip as long as I possibly could — maybe three weeks or more, if I’d stocked up on ramen — and finally relent and shuffle over for my punishment. Usually on a busy Saturday afternoon, with people and lines and screaming kids snaked through every aisle and cranny. And because I hated it so much, I’d buy as much as I possibly could — the better for not having to go back for nearly a month. So I’d overflow my cart with barely-perishables — soda, cereal, crackers, and yes, ramen. Bags and bags of almost-noodles and their little pupil-dilating packet-sized hits of MSG. I could have built a fort with those things. Turrets and all. Probably a drawbridge. Lots of ramen.

And then, of course, I’d have to carry all that shit home.

It was only two blocks, but it was often torture. The noodles aren’t heavy, but they’re bulky and awkward. Add to that a half gallon of milk, maybe a two-for-one deal on soda — I could never resist a deal involving caffeine — and the mandatory six-pack of beer, and suddenly this wasn’t a two-block jaunt back to the fridge. It was a World’s Strongest Man competition, and Gunter van Gunterson had just toted twelve bags of groceries up that sidewalk path. These thirteen were for all the glory, and the championship title. Or for ripping both biceps from the bone, essentially leaving me one of those flaily inflatable things they plop in used car lots. Game on, brother.

Fortunately, I never entirely shredded any muscles that I know about. But I’m much happier with the current shopping setup — my wife usually does the grocery runs (at a further-away store she prefers to TJ), and I go bring the bags in from the car. Only half a block away, and two at a time. And if I desperately need a loaf of bread, a jug of milk, or half a dozen oatmeal stouts, then Trader Joe’s is right there, too.

But I love seeing the guys — and sometimes, girls — around the neighborhood doing the old heavy lifting bit that I remember so well, and hated so much. Part of me feels sorry for them, watching them strain and grit against the juice bottles and Lunchables weighing them down. A few have to stop and rest — as I often did — every fifty yards or so, just to ease the burn. I want to pat them on the heads, ease their burden, and tell them there’s another way.

But mostly, I want to make fun of them in my head. Because I’ve been there. And it sucks. And if there’s anything that loves company more than misery, it’s the memory of miseries past, commiserating with someone else’s misery now.

Or something like that. Probably, I’m just kind of an ass. But I’ve got six two-liter bottles of Pepsi in the house right now, and I didn’t give myself a hernia getting them in the door. Which is more than the guy currently collapsed face-first outside my place onto a big bag of Scoopable Tostitos can say.

Good times. Good times.

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