I walk into the produce section of Safeway, my task clear - Find 3 nectarines. Easy. Simple. I wind through the early-evening throngs of shoppers, basket in hand, heading towards the delicious-smelling section where all the reddish-yellow and yellowish-red fruits are kept. Peaches... Plums... Aha. Nectarines.
As I go to get a plastic bag, I wonder to myself what the difference is between nectarines and peaches and make a mental note to look it up later. I make a lot of notes to myself like that throughout the day, typically to look up some little tidbit of trivia or etymology... Thank god for Google or I'd probably be one of those guys with a garage full of photos and newspaper clippings, all "organized" with pins and red string.
I return to the nectarines, bag in hand, to find a pleasant-looking woman has taken my place and is sifting through the fruit. She seems very purposeful as she picks up nectarine after nectarine - Squeezing one here, investigating one there... I stand next to her, hands hovering over the dozens of choices and suddenly feel self-conscious.
If I just start snatching nectarines willy-nilly and throwing them in a bag she'll think I have no idea what I'm doing.
Maybe I do have no idea what I'm doing.
Oh god I have no idea how to tell a good nectarine from a bad one.
I surreptitiously glance at the woman and try to study what she's doing. First she does a visual check. She goes for the ones that are mostly red but still with hints of yellow and orange. I can work with that data. What's she doing now? Seems like some sort of squeezing test. Alright. Nectarines must need to be soft but not too soft. Geez I hope she doesn't think I'm checking her out... Having watched my unaware mentor for an uncomfortably long time, I finally feel prepared to make my own selections.
I reach for a nectarine that seems to fit the visual criteria - Red, but still with a "sunburst" of yellow. Okay, give it a squeeze. Seems good: Kinda soft, but not too soft... At least I don't think it is... And so into the bag it goes. With nectarine #2 I start to get cocky, not even giving it a full 360-degree investigation. Yeah that's good. You're like an old fruit veteran now Stirpe. By this point, my fruit-coach is long gone, leaving me alone in my fruit selection. I reach for the third and final nectarine... And that's when doubt starts to set in.
How do I know that woman had any idea what she was doing? What if she's exactly as clueless as I am? She could've just been mimicking someone she saw somewhere too, dragging me into her cycle of self-propagating, improper fruit selection and inspection!
I look in my bag at the literal fruits of my labors - Two nectarines, both selected under the criteria gleaned from my uncertified and unconfirmed mentor. Should I find a third that matches the same specifications? Risk them all being wrong but be consistent? Or select a "wild card" third, ensuring that at least one would be right but exposing that I had no idea what I was doing?
As I stand there, a small child walks by and looks up at me staring into my bag of nectarines. I hope that he thinks I'm thinking about cool, important, grown-up stuff - Like whether I should refuel my sports car before or after I go buy a new hot tub - and thinks that I'm one of those adults who knows exactly what to do when picking out fruit at the grocery store. But I know that he probably sees me for exactly what I am: Just a guy trying to pull out his phone as casually as possible as he Googles "How to pick good nectarines."