Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary

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Jack Gladney feels as if he should enjoy his current “aimless days” because he fears they are somehow about to accelerate. At the breakfast table, Babette reads everyone’s horoscopes aloud; Gladney tries not to listen, although subconsciously he is hoping for some clue about his future.

He and Babette see Murray Jay Siskind at the grocery store, and it is obvious they have disparate shopping strategies. While the Gladneys’ cart is full of items with bright packaging and modern products, Siskind’s cart contains only a few items, all with the most generic packaging. His jar of roasted peanuts, for example, only has the words “Irregular Peanuts” in black, block lettering on a white label. As they talk, Siskind randomly examines and sniffs the products in the Gladneys’ cart.

Gladney introduces Babette to his friend, and Siskind explains that the “flavorless packaging” of the products he is buying appeals to him on two levels. He is saving money and he is also contributing, somehow, to the greater cause of saving the world from bright colors.

Babette notices Siskind has bacon in his cart and wonders if he gets to cook in his rooming house. He is content to be allowed a hot plate and says he is happy where he is. He reads the television listings and the ads in Ufologist Today, his seminar lectures are going well, his students take notes and ask questions, and he is able to answer them. Overall, he is rather surprised by his current situation.

When Babette leaves to shop in the frozen food section, Siskind remarks that Babette is an extraordinary woman with “important hair.” He hopes Gladney appreciates her “because a woman like that doesn’t just happen.” Undoubtedly she is good with children (she is) and has great strength in a family crisis (she does not—she dissolves into tears and worse). Nevertheless, Siskind loves her.

The three leave the supermarket at the same time, maneuvering around a bunch of paperback romances from a rack at the front of the store that a woman toppled. They stuff the Gladneys’ brightly colored purchases (double bagged, of course) into the back of the station wagon and then take Siskind and his lone bag of white groceries to his rooming house. They pass a policewoman in her minicab, scouting for vehicles whose parking meters have lapsed so she can write them a ticket.

The Gladneys experience a sense of contentment and fulfillment with their purchases, something those who need less and expect less can never feel. Siskind would invite them up to his room, but his room is “too small for two people unless they’re prepared to be intimate.”

Siskind has a look on his face that he has practiced. In his days of urban living, he thought the only way to seduce a woman was to show his frank desire for her. Now he consciously works to add vulnerability to his lust. So far, the result is a “half sneaky look, sheepish and wheedling.” 

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