Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“It’s not meat you know.”
He’d slipped up silently beside me at the meat counter and was pointing to the shrink-wrapped flat of striploin I was holding.
“They print those, from meat flavoured engineered inks, but they’re not meat.”
As I turned to look at him, he withdrew slightly and glanced furtively around, shrinking into the hooded sweater he was wearing.
“LeGrange and Baxter, those are real meat. Grown in a field, real. Not those ones though, they’re all printed.”
I put the steak down and looked further down the coolers at the LeGrange display.
“Your jeans too, not cotton. They sell them as cotton, but it’s not organically grown cotton, it’s engineered. Ever wonder why it itches? You should stick to Levi Strauss and Company, quality clothing for over one hundred and sixty years.”
It took a moment to process that the man was just talking about Levi’s. I stopped and took a look around. This was the strangest man I’d bumped into at the grocery store in recent memory.
“You’re a jean snob too?” I grinned despite myself at the man’s odd phrases.
“Quality never goes out of style.”
I noted that he was without a cart or basket. “Are you shopping, or just here to help me make better choices?”
Before he could answer, there was a shout from the end of the aisle.
“Hey, I told you buggers to stay out of my shop!” A heavy-set man in a green apron tied at the waist was hobbling up the aisle towards us, pointing.
The man beside me blurted “Pick Energizer, keeps going and going and going,” as he turned and ran, making it almost to the top of the aisle before another man in a white butcher coat rounded the corner weilding a large aluminum shovel. The strange man skidded, turned sharply and sprinted back past me, arms and legs pumping in a manner that suggested he wasn’t used to this level of exertion. He raced right at the green aproned grocer, then tried to dodge around him at the last instant. The shopkeeper raised one meaty arm, catching the strange man around the neck and clotheslined him, lifting him clear off his feat to drop like a stone on the floor unmoving.
I abandoned my steak shopping and my cart and rushed to kneel beside the man lying motionless on the floor.
“Jesus, that was a bit unnecessary don’t you think?” The storekeeper stared at me, seemingly just noticing I was there. Behind me I heard the butcher arrive with the shovel and grunt as he leaned on it. “He was just making conversation,” I continued “weird conversation granted, but he wasn’t doing any harm.”
The shopkeeper reached down and roughly unzipped the supine man’s sweater.
Where the still man’s hands extended from the cuffs, they were convincingly flesh toned, and his face was similarly real looking, but beneath the fabric he was merely a pale plastic shell, more like a carefully articulated mannequin than a man.
“You keep saying that. I assure you god had nothing to do with these things.” He stood back up and toed the thing none too gently where the ribs would be. “I get at least one of these a month in here. They’re paid advertisements, corporately sponsored. Mostly they’ll walk around the big box stores where there are no real sales staff to discover them, but occasionally they’ll wind up here in the independents.” He kicked the thing again. “I’ve got four in a bin out back. I’m pretty sure they’ll have them GPS tagged, but nobody’s come offering to buy them back.”
As I stood again, I couldn’t help noticing the shop keeper was wearing Levi’s.
I nodded and smiled, then backed away slowly to where my cart sat abandoned. Without a word the butcher folded the thing at the waist and carried it past me up the aisle to the back room.
I decided to have chicken instead. That’s probably what the steak was made out of anyways.