Los Feliz, Los Angeles
I’ve been avoiding Crotchco for years. The last time I was there, the parking situation alone was bad enough. Foreign pedestrians scuttling in front of cars with their cheese puff tubs and buckets of black bean soup. And within forty seconds of entering the building, I was cornered, jabbed, rammed, pushed, cussed at, and given a lingering complex in the frozen food section. I swore I’d never come back.
It took eight years to dissolve an incident involving a toaster strudel sample. But, as a reluctant participant in my office’s new smoothie obsession (short straw be damned!), I had no choice but to give the bulk buyers club a second chance. Maybe traffic lights had been installed in the aisles since, keeping the bottlenecks at bay. Widened aisles would be nice. Of course it was all the same when I got there. Not only that, within the time it takes to get from the front door to the produce department, I’d already been called a good-for-nothing-heifer by a lady who seemed to want to invest her life savings in toilet paper that day.
To make matters worse, meandering past what could only be described as THE Pineapple Apocalypse, I twisted my ankle on a spilled slat of raspberries—a slushy massacre in Crotchco’s icy vortex of produce. The worst part was falling on my tailbone. But while I was on the floor, between a mesh wall of Cuties, I thought I saw something. When I pressed my eye close to focus, kinetic smears of black and white waddled to-and-fro above webbed feet. Was I really watching penguins stack crates?
One was hauling freight, maneuvering the heavy machine in which it sat, with deft movements of its glistening wings. Another penguin sat in a windowed break room nearby, reading a paper, tin of sardines next to a Diet Coke with a straw sticking out of the can. An irate penguin standing next to it shook a snack machine to unstick a bag of barbeque baked Lays. It hip-checked the machine once, twice, and on the third time the chips fell, along with a bag of pretzels and a honeybun. Squawking, the penguin tossed the honeybun at the penguin reading the paper’s head, which caused the penguin to squawk loudly back with a balled-up wing.
“Are you okay?”
I looked up and a Crotchco employee was gripping his walkie talkie. “I saw you slip and fall.”
I was sore, but not enough to make a huge fuss out of it. I took one more peep through the slats to see if penguins were going to fight, but all I saw was dark.
“Did you lose something?” said the employee. “A contact? I see you lost a sandal. Let me grab that for you.”
It was entirely possible that I bumped my head on the way down to see what I saw, but it wasn’t worth arguing about since I began to lose all feeling in my fingers, the ground being so cold. By the time I stood up, one side of my ass had fallen asleep, turning my walk out of the produce vault into a gimpy waddle. Pins and needles replaced my numb butt cheek with a less-than-desirable static.
By the time I reached the cheese department, I was clear-minded, back in full game-on mode; my sights were set on Manchego. There’s nothing like fingering cheese for weight. Finding the perfect triangle or squishy wheel of Brie. Wine, crackers, and a three episode Bravo marathon—I was planning my Friday! Digging past the top cheeses to the untouched layer of bottom cheeses, I removed what seemed to be a perfectly veined brick of Bleu… but there, underneath it, I saw a familiar flash of black and white.
I squeezed my face in the cheese hole to get a better look.
Twenty feet below, penguins of various shapes and sizes were chiseling a twenty-pound block of cheddar into wedges. More penguins behind them wrapped the cheese in plastic, then weighed and labeled the cheese before placing the finished product on a conveyer belt, which spiraled above their heads in swirls of yellow and white. Above it a light, which had been flashing green, let out a loud BEEP and turned red. Then all movement came to a halt. Penguins removed hairnets and placed them in their smock pockets. They waddled toward a door. A clock above it read five o’ clock on the nose.
A throat cleared behind me. “S’cuse me please,” said a lady who had managed to stack three slats of V8 Splash onto the metal basket of her electric couch. “Your ass is blocking the mozzarella balls.”
When I stood back, a Crotchco employee was stacking back the cheese in front of me. Knowing Crotchco had everything and beyond, I asked him about gift wrap.
“For Christmas?” he said, sheepishly.
“For birthdays,” I said.
“This ain’t your one-stop shopping!” said the mozzarella lady whizzing by, crushing everything in her way with her impenetrable wall of carrot/apple juice.
“What exactly is going on here with this new system?” I asked the cheesemonger, who was now stacking salami cylinders like Lincoln Logs.
“We’re streamlining the company’s core processes,” said the monger, stacking vats of cream cheese. “Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a situation involving mustard condiments I must tend to on aisle fourteen.”
As he walked away, a penguin emerged from a large houseplant; it waddled beside him till they turned a corner and were gone.
I could say my experience at Crotchco was terrible, but I don’t think terrible sums it up exactly. Bottom line: the interior layout just doesn’t make any sense. The dairy and produce section are both like scenes from an arctic adventure movie. I cut my visit short but I felt like I was in there for hours. I did find the fruit and cheese I was looking for, which should last me a while as long as I freeze the fruit and wrap the cheese up nice and tight.
Sabra Embury is a book critic for Brooklyn's L Magazine. Her confabulations and fantastications can be found in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Rumpus, Tottenville Review, NANO Fiction and other places. Follow her antics on Twitter @yrubmEarbaS.