The question comes from the 30-something checker at Trader Joe’s, a skinny white guy about my height (five feet ten inches) with hair cut close to the scalp and blue eyes. His name tag reads “Scott” and he reminds me of Phil Collins in his Genesis days. ‘Course, now Phil sings Motown covers and collects artifacts from the Alamo site — in fact he bought a shop nearby just so he could dig under it. But hey. We can still remember Abacab.
“Hmmm.” It’s 8:30 in the morning and I’m caught a bit off guard by this opener, but I’m game. “I have poodles. I like walking them. And I write a blog — I like writing that.”
“What’s the blog about?” Scott passes a few cans of garbanzo beans and a couple cartons of coconut milk across the scanner.
“Uh. Stuff I find compelling. And off-putting. Whatever.”
“Interesting. Like what?”
“Oh, you know, like people doing the wave at Old Faithful. That kind of thing.”
“Doing the wave at Old Faithful. Sweeeeet.” He smiles. “How about Justin Bieber?”
I stare at him, wondering if he’s making fun of me and deciding that I don’t care. “Exactly. Justin Bieber — weirdly compelling. Sort of like that guy on Fantasy Island. What was his name on the show? Tattoo. I heard that in real life he insisted on being called a ‘midget’ rather than a ‘little person.'” For a second I drift off, trying to think of Tattoo’s real name. I can’t remember, and for some reason for a moment this bothers me to the point of panic. Ah yes: Hervé Villechaize.
“Yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about,” Scott says, furrowing his brow. I realize there’s probably more of a generation gap than I assumed: clearly, this guy didn’t log the hours I did watching the “Love Boat”/”Fantasy Island” double feature on Saturday nights in the early 80s. “But I like Bieber. I mean, Justin Timberlake, now, he’s the real thing. He’s got talent, he can just go out there and do it. Bieber, well, he’s sort of like New Kids on the Block or something. But he’s the one thing I can talk about with my niece.”
“Uh huh,” I say. The conversation has already taken a number of surprising turns. Here I thought we were settling into a satisfying session of Bieber-bashing, but Scott has faked me out. Hell, here I thought I was just passin’ through the checkout line, so go figure.
“My niece loves him. She’s nine. Last time I saw her, I was like, ‘So did you see Justin’s new manly eyebrows?'” Scott continues. I’ve been so engaged that I just notice that all my groceries have all been scanned, efficiently removed from the cart and piled for bagging on the counter. “Although she was shocked to hear that he cheated on Selena with that other chick in a hotel room. It was the hotel room part that got her, really.”
Before I can formulate my next response, we’re interrupted by a young woman who has come over to help bag my groceries. “What’re you guys talking about?” she asks, her voice tinged with scorn. Friendly scorn, but still. She’s caught the words “Bieber,” “hotel room,” and “cheated.”
“Justin Bieber,” Scott and I say in unison.
“And how he’s awesome,” he adds.
“I just don’t think I’m his target audience,” I say.
She finishes filling a bag, and backs away. “Okaaay,” she says. “I think I’ll leave you to it then.”
Thoughtfully, Scott and I watch her go. “You’re right,” he says. “You’re not his target audience. And that’s cool. But for kids like my niece — ”
We both start laughing as I sign for the groceries and he loads them, now bagged, back into the cart. He hands me my receipt.
“Nice chatting with you,” Scott says.
“You too. Have a good one,” I reply, surprised by how much this small-town interaction in the midst of a big Bay Area city has cheered me up, set the tone for the day. Bonding over Bieber at Trader Joe’s? Not too bad for an early Monday morning.