Image courtesy of New York Natives, photographer: Chris Vespoli
By Chris Vespoli

Buying around 180 bottles of wine, 100 bottles of soft drink, and 12 bottles of hard liquor seemed like a good plan at the time. After all, we had invited exactly 115 people to our wedding, at least two dozen of whom were functioning alcoholics, and at least another dozen of whom were in denial. Not to mention both my wife and I are of Italian decent, so all of our relatives — over 60 percent of the invite list — are vino-swilling ginzos.

As expected, our guests had no problem drinking all of the booze, and made a significant dent in the assortment of red, white, and sparkling wines. But as for the soda, we were left with no less than 57 unopened bottles, all of which — along with the leftover wine — were rolling around in the flatbed of a borrowed pickup truck as we blazed down the Henry Hudson Parkway on our way to return the lot of them, whether those bastards at the Columbus Avenue Whole Foods liked it or not.

For the uninitiated, Whole Foods, along with Fairway and Zabar’s, form the triumvirate of New York’s upscale supermarkets. What makes Whole Foods different is its commitment to natural and organic foods, attracting a special kind of elitist, overly-health-conscious Manhattanite. The only reason my wife and I chose to buy our beverages there was because of the store’s excellent delivery policy. Believe me, if the local bodega on our corner in East Harlem delivered, I would have much preferred to give them the business.

We double-parked the truck when we arrived, as one does when loading and unloading in the City, blocking in a minivan. Some Upper West Side yuppie thought he’d quickly pop in to buy his organic goat milk and gluten-free rice chips and then be on his way. Not today, you swine! My wife and I split up. She’d take care of the wine return at the wine store, and I’d handle the trickier soda return.

I headed into Whole Foods and went directly to the customer service desk. “Directly” is actually a misnomer, considering the serpentine route I had to cut as I weaved through what felt like miles of yentas, new age parents, and Sex and the City-brainwashed basic girls listlessly wandering the aisles.

I explained to the sales associate my dilemma: that I had a massive amount of soda to return to the store, hopefully for a refund, and that no human man would be able to carry all of those bottles himself. The look that she shot to me was infinitely more wary than one of disbelief — and rightfully so. Here was an unshaven man in sweatpants on a Saturday afternoon, in one of the bougiest parts of the City, rambling on about a mountain of soda bottles somewhere outside — even worse, in a pickup truck — that he insists are leftover from his wedding, even though his “wife” is nowhere in to be found. And the kicker: he would like to return all of these bottles for a refund, without a receipt. After assuring her that I wasn’t full of shit, and that my order must be on file, she summoned another employee to help me bring in all of the beverages.

Some poor soul emerged from the front of the store, blissfully unaware of the tall task at hand. I tried explaining to him that I had a lot of soda, and that it would be beneficial if we grabbed a cart. I don’t think he believed me until we got outside and he saw the back of the truck. “That’s a lot of soda,” he said with defeat in his voice. He was right. It was indeed a lot of soda.

We crammed bottle after bottle, case after case, into the oversized cart until it was filled to capacity. I knew we had hit critical mass when we couldn’t even roll the cart over the lip of the handicap ramp in the sidewalk without driving all of our body weight into, like linebackers. With all of the jostling, we were losing bottles left and right to the pavement below, and attracting a great many confused stares from passersby. It was like these people never saw two men on a busy city sidewalk struggling to push a shopping cart overflowing with bottles of soda into a grocery store.

Rolling the cart back through the labyrinth of shoppers was trying, but we finally reached our destination. The forward momentum of the beleaguered cart propelled it head-on into the customer service desk with a thud. The poor associate picked her head up. “That’s a lot of soda,” she said in disbelief. She was right. It was indeed, still, a lot of soda. Fifty-seven 2-liter bottles to be exact, all of it Whole Foods’ own generic brand of all-natural soda, of which we had purchased three different flavors. There were 28 bottles of lemon-lime, 25 bottles of cola, and 4 bottles of unflavored seltzer, some packed in cardboard boxes and others loose, but all of them piled high in the cart.

I waited while the women behind the counter attempted to locate my information in the catering system, which apparently was not a system at all, but a clusterfuck of papers, printouts, and loose order forms stuffed into binders and manila folders. Apparently Whole Foods’ commitment to “natural” and “organic” also applies to its barebones record keeping practices, too.

This gave me ample time to reevaluate my life choices as the customers waiting in line behind me began leering at my shopping cart full of soda. They probably came to the customer service desk thinking their transaction would be a simple one — the return of an unwanted bag of quinoa, the exchange of a dented pear — but they weren’t anticipating the man ahead of them returning 57 bottles of soda. I could feel them judging me with their eyes: Just who in the fuck would buy that many bottles of soda, not to mention from a health food store? In Bloomberg’s — and now De Blasio’s — city of soda bans, this was an egregious offense.

Suddenly, some wonderful angel disguised as a Whole Foods employee appeared with the paperwork we needed to complete the return. Apparently it had been stuffed into yet another folder downstairs in the catering department. Scanning all of the soda fell onto the shoulders of another unlucky clerk, Kristen, whose name I probably would have not remembered if it weren’t printed on the receipt she handed me totaling $113.76 in credit to be placed back on my card.


%name Awkward New York: I Tried to Return 57 Bottles of Soda to Whole Foods Without a Receipt
Image courtesy of New York Natives, photographer: Chris Vespoli

Just then, my wife showed up. She was successful in returning the wine, resulting in an additional $200 back in our pockets. We left feeling like the rich people who regularly frequented the store, choosing to ignore the sobering fact that the money we just came into would be going straight to the rent on our tiny East Harlem studio apartment. But, for the time being, we were winners. We were the 1 percent.

Once we were back home, it was on with the rest of the mundane weekend chores: laundry, cleaning, paying bills. As I was cleaning out the fridge I couldn’t help but fantasize about how the “other half” in the City probably paid people to do this type of stuff for them. More and more space in the fridge was freeing up as I discarded containers of old, leftover takeout and expired condiments. We really need to go shopping, I thought to myself. And we could really use some soda.

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