When we first moved to Puerto Vallarta, I had been afraid to go to the nearby supermarket called Leys because, well, it appeared so Mexican.
I much preferred to go to the corner stalls that, while still Mexican, usually had just one person in them, and I would not be too embarrassed asking for something with my scant knowledge of Spanish.
Or, of course, I could shop at Walmart, Costco and Home Depot but that did not seem entirely fair because they were not local and were a taxi ride away.
Leys is so big and brash, it terrified me. I had stood outside several times and watched as other expats triumphantly walked into the cool interior, while I quaked listening to the very fast Spanish within. It did not sound at all like the slowly spoken lessons that I had been glued to between massive bouts of drinking.
That is another thing I should speak about, essentially that all gringos are drunks, it is just a matter of degree. People will complain that I cast us in a bad light and that is fine, but the truth is there are the beach drunks from Canada, restaurant drunks from the U.S. and the exclusive enclave Conchas Chinas drunks with real money and enormous martinis who are really drunk.
But on most days we are all inebriated by nightfall if not by lunch. In our set, we always call the last drink of the day The Bed Wetter.
On the plus side so many of us have become better at holding our booze through this kind of practice that most newcomers are not aware that we are not leaning against a wall for shade, as we say, but to steady ourselves.
Many of us have gone to AA and never got past the first rule: Admit that you are a drunk. Fine, but it reminds us, so we leave to find a drink.
Anyway, back to my early problem with the supermarket down the street. After a few days of looking at the entrance, I went in. This was my first summer and the air conditioning hit me like a snowball between the legs. I was just glad that at my age I would not be called upon to provide children ever again.
I was numb. What also hit me was the noise. It had only been a dull roar from the exterior but now that I was within the body of the beast, it was injurious. The roar was some sort of disco tune with two women employees dancing around the cheese display and sticking their product into passing faces.
“Conga quesa, conga quesa,” they shouted, or something like that. Whatever they said it meant: cheese bargains. A small sign would normally have sufficed in Canada but not here. However, the music began to make me dance along with the employees, who smiled at me as if I had escaped from Bedlam.
Still dancing, I screamed over the din, “Donde esta the carrots?” They appeared confused at that nice try on my part. I was almost sure that I had at least got the first part right, perhaps the stumbling block was the word carrots.
I don’t know if you have tried to act like a carrot but it is not easy. I first went through my catalogue of Bugs Bunny impressions which in fairness to me they seemed to enjoy. I noticed a small crowd had joined us in the cheese section, with many now bellowing above the so-called music with suggestions as to what I must be attempting to get across to the jumping employees, who appeared to be entering some sort of Nirvana state from all the noise and activity.
Let me point out that carrot in Spanish is zanahoria. What chance did I have in those early days? It did not even sound close to carrot. But through the “kindness of others” I managed to buy my carrots and survive the experience.
Today I look forward to shopping at Leys once a week. I now know where everything is and some of the names of the items I want. As an aside I have fallen semi in love with the woman who carves up the cactus, which really tastes good when you sprinkle “tajin classico” on it, a sort of dry chile. There is something about a large, good looking woman with a big knife that makes my blood bubble, at least as best as it can in an old bald man.
There are also two elderly check-out girls who wait for me and pack my bags. In the beginning I did not realize that it is expected that you tip them after they help you as they are not actually employed by the store, being more of a convenience for you and a source of income for them.
So I just smiled, said “Gracias” and went on my way, over and over again with them saying nothing. When it dawned on me that I had blundered badly with two women whom I liked enormously, I shot into Leys, bought nothing but a yogurt and gave them enough to buy a small house to make up for being so stupid.
Now when I appear they cling to me like wallpaper and all is well.
I love Leys. Shop locally, please.
The writer lives under a palapa in Puerto Vallarta.
© Christopher Dalton 2015