Monday, October 26, 2009

The Real MisterZol

More often than not, one of my verbal ripostes proves to be the last word on a given subject, but in this case I was seriously outdone, and I don’t even know the doer’s name. One of the things which the Anglo community here loves to hate is our local supermarket (pronounced, ‘superrrrrrrrrrr’) MisterZol, located smack dab in the middle of our local mall, which means that everyone can get there by car, by bus, by cab, even by foot. Now, ‘zol’ in Hebrew means cheap or inexpensive, leading one to believe that this chain of markets is just the place for the cost-conscious shopper. Once one is here for a while, long enough to recalculate what things cost in local coins of the realm, one realizes that this assumption is somewhat off the mark. MisterZol is not the most expensive, but is certainly far from the cheapest. Nor does it have the best and largest selection of products, the most room to maneuver one’s cart, the most courteous and efficient staff. In short, it’s not a fun place to be (although the fact that, like many of its kind in Israel, every item in the store is kosher should not be forgotten or made light of). So when one local resident posted something on MA-chat, complaining about something or other in the store, probably that they systematically overcharged her on their computerized cash registers, there was a predictable barrage of responses with similarly negative opinions. After a day or so, I chimed in with the rhetorical question as to why anybody with a) a car and b) an ounce of sense would want to shop there. Several hours later came the ultimate response from a gentleman who opined that when he died he hoped it would be in one of the aisles of this very store, because if he then went to Hell, it would be an improvement. Kind of says it all.
Now you might be wondering, if I don’t like MisterZol, where would I want to go? Easy. There is a branch of a smaller competing chain, Rami Levi in Mishor Adumim, an industrial zone way down the hill. It is larger, has a better, fresher, and more consistent selection, and in general is a much more pleasant shopping experience. It’s also at least ten percent cheaper. But, and this an enormous ‘but,’ you need a car to get there – or a ride in someone else’s car. For the last several months, I have been able to get a ride every other week on Wednesday afternoon. We go in, fill up our carts, go through the checkout counters – where they usually have somebody to bag your stuff, which speeds things up tremendously – out to the car, and you’re back in Maale Adumim in five minutes. The people I’m with even help me shlep my stuff upstairs. All I have to do is unpack everything, put it away, and get on with my life.
But this wasn’t one of those weeks. So I had no choice but to join all those without a) a car or b) an ounce of sense – a sizeable group – maneuvering through the aisles of Mister Zol. Now I always try to be fair. You can find some real bargains at MisterZol – if, and I stress, IF you know what you are doing. Stores here, just like in The States, can be put into the following categories: across the board good prices, easy to find or get discounts, and hard to find or get discounts. In New Jersey, the Shoprite supermarkets or the Kohls department stores practically beg you to get one of their store cards, which entitle you to serious discounts. But you still have to pay attention. Sometimes in Shoprite, two eight ounce packages would cost you less than one sixteen ounce container; sometimes thirty two ounces would cost ten cents more than sixteen ounces. All the information you need to do the math is listed on the shelves – if you take the trouble to read it. “To read it!” Never an issue back in The States. Never a problem to read the weekly ads that come with your local newspaper or the signs in the store. I had a conversation with two new friends who made aliyah fairly recently and who are just in the early stages of getting acclimated, including figuring out what things should cost. Nor have they as of yet learned any significant amount of Hebrew. As they have a car, I explained to them with copious examples, they could save some serious money by shopping at Rami Levi. What it came down to was that they had ‘mastered’ the aisles at MisterZol, and now that they knew from memory where to find things in one store, they were reluctant to start over again somewhere else. As I was pushing my cart through the aisles on this off-Wednesday, something occurred to me: MisterZol is the worst kind of place to shop – if you can’t read the signs, or the advertisements, or the conditions on the books of coupons you can get – assuming you know enough to go to the courtesy counter and ask for one; or what day of the week the produce is on sale and what day the meat – assuming you have read the fine print and know how much else you have to buy to get the discount. Some of the cashiers will remind you of a weekly discount and some won’t. There is often a special: if you buy the required amount (usually 300 shekels) you can get that week’s item for an additional one shekel. The ground meat I used in the stuffed cabbage I made for this last Shabbat, I had gotten several weeks ago for one shekel a kilo (I had put the meat immediately into the freezer, but you knew that). Come to think of it, the rice I mixed with the meat also came on a special, three packages for a shekel, probably a two week’s supply for a local Sephardic family.
This past week the designated item was water. Mai Eden spring water, one of the local brands. Two six-packs of one and a half liter bottles. That’s eighteen liters of water. In our old apartment, we had a system which filtered the tap water. Here we don’t, so I have started buying bottled water because it tastes better than the perfectly safe tap water. I saw the display of water near the entrance when I entered the store, but, as I was only planning to get the proverbial ‘few things,’ I didn’t pay it any mind. I wound up not getting that much, but 300 shekels (about $80) isn’t that much to spend in a supermarket; and wouldn’t you know it, the cash register rang up 300 shekels. So what was I going to do, not take the water which I would use anyway for one shekel more? Of course I went over and picked up two six packs of Mai Eden water, noting how heavy they were, brought them over to the checkout counter, and dropped them in my own shopping cart. ( The kind of cart I am talking about is virtually extinct in America but is ubiquitous here in The Land. Every elderly Russian has one, and that’s a lot of people. At any moment in time, you can see at least a thousand of these carts blocking your way in the Mahane Yehuda shuk alone. They are invaluable if you are schlepping groceries without a car. We’ve gone through several of them since we’ve been here. On one of them, the wheels fell off; on another, the bottom broke; a third was too short for me to use it comfortably. The one we have now is ergonomically sound but small: the carrying area is twenty one inches high by fourteen inches wide by seven inches deep, always just not quite big enough for what I buy.) I realized, with a sinking feeling, that these two six packs alone took up most of the space in my cart. Undeterred, I proceeded. I put whatever else I could that was heavy in my cart. I had a package of paper towel rolls with its own plastic handle; this I slung over the handle of the cart. Everything else I put into four plastic bags to carry with my other hand and set off out of the store. At this point, I had several options. I could have gone straight across the street and waited for a bus, but why wait as long as twenty minutes for a bus when I can normally walk home in ten minutes? Anyway, I would have to get all this stuff on and off the bus – no easy task. I could have gone to the taxi stand. A cab would cost me fifteen shekels. For twenty shekels, I could have had the store deliver my groceries up the stairs to my front door. But how could I spend fifteen or twenty shekels to get home? It would have been cheaper not to take the water, but how could I turn down eighteen liters of water for one shekel? You see my dilemma. The only option that made sense…….at the time…. was to walk home with my load. So I made a left turn out of Mister Zol, crossed that street, and walked through and around Kikar Yahalom, the original main shopping area when Maale Adumim was a small town, which means going down a hill, and then a while later up an incline, a short walk on a level area, over a pedestrian bridge, and I pretty much home. I should add that once I have left the area by the mall, it’s too late to get a cab or a bus. You are walking home, whether you want to or not.
It is universally acknowledged that I in no way look my age. But there are definitely times when I feel my sixty eight years. There are even times when I feel older than that. How old do you think I felt as I started walking home, pulling a heavy shopping cart with one hand, and carrying what would have been a shopping cart-full of groceries in the other – in the heat of a day which has forgotten that it’s not still summer? The first part, all downhill, wasn’t too bad – except for stopping for the first of several times to pick up a cauliflower that had been precariously placed at the top of the cart and which was determined to escape. But as I got to the uphill part, I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I was perspiring profusely and I could feel the energy seeping from my body. Originally, I had refused to spend fifteen shekels to take a cab home; but as I started up the hill, which is about halfway home, it occurred to me that if somebody were to have come by just then and offered to relieve me of my burden for twenty shekels, I would have gladly taken them up on the offer. My story does have a happy ending though. After I made it up the incline, at a point when I was three quarters of the way home, and I had again stopped to catch my breath, a man came past and picked up my four shopping bags and walked with me most of the way home (No. I am not going to claim that he was Eliyahu HaNavi. I last saw the prophet a year and a half ago on the way to the Kotel.) I got everything up the stairs into our apartment, where I unpacked everything and lay down to rest. I was completely useless for the next three hours.
Now you may say that I was being stubborn, penny wise and pound foolish, but perhaps I was being true to my real nature. They don’t call me Frugal Fred for nothing. MisterZol? Maybe I’m the real MisterZol. Who else would risk a heart attack for fifteen shekels and two six packs of water?