The personal shopper

IT was to be a simple bread and milk errand except that she arrived at the market replete with extra smiles. Without planning it, she became a ''Jenny-on-the-spot'' - a personal shopper for the hurried, lazy, or those with eclectic tastes. During one trip she ferreted out kosher soap, rye bread without caraway seeds (not even pulverized ones), mint jelly, generic scouring pads, country sausage, parsnips and turnips (for which she has a passion), and even bananas (which she loathes).

En route to the baked-goods section for Part 1 of her quick errand, our guide encountered a rotund man with generous rings on all fingers but his thumbs, inquiring as to the whereabouts of the kosher soaps. Standing eyeball to eyeball with the gefilte fish and borsch, our guide briefly extolled the benefits of kosher soap, since it is a set fixture in her soap dish in her not-so-kosher kitchen.

Suddenly she was called into action by a newly married couple, the bride holding her adding gadget, asking for specific help on rye bread. The personal shopper had instant knowledge of this subject, for she is married to a caraway seed-hater, and thus was able to bring an empathy to the moment. Buried 'neath a plethora of seeded loaves, a runt loaf of Bavarian rye awaited recognition. The twosome mouthed a thank you and departed arm in arm.

Moments later, an erudite-looking gentleman wearing a mauve leather coat and wing-tipped shoes tapped on her forearm, as he needed some mint jelly to enhance a leg of lamb. After almost settling for a generic jar of mint-flavored apple jelly, the man was queried about his lamb, whether it was imported or domestic. Assured that it was the latter, our guide raced across the store, braked at the gourmet aisle, and located a jar of pure mint jelly, a perfect complement to the customer's cut of lamb. He blessed her and strolled to a distant aisle.

As for scouring pads, our personal shopper felt like scrubbing this request from a grandmother with a cart loaded with skeins of pastel yarn. Of all the items our guide was asked to track down, scouring pads have the least charisma, yet in their own way they do their part in the restoration of dignity.

A bit later, a gentleman with a ''No Nukes'' badge on his windbreaker elicited her help at the meat counter. Having zeroed in on numerous brands of tubular sausage, he selected a quasi-mild number while the two shared thoughts on nitrites, arriving at no definitive conclusion. It seemed appropriate, however, for her to share with him a favorite apple pork sausage recipe which he eagerly jotted down with his white-ink felt-tipped pen on a scrap of black paper.

A few feet away, a tall gent with a beige beret needed help with parsnips, as he always confused them with white radishes. Being familiar with all manner of produce, she did not let thoughts of his stupidity interfere with her outreach. In addition, he needed counsel in selecting the right size turnips, because his usual choices had resulted in burning his wife's mouth. As our guide steered him out of this maze, she showered praise upon these unique veggies. He thanked her with a tip of his beret and set out to find other, less threatening items.

As our guide headed for the dairy case for yet another try at her quick errand, she was approached by a freckle-faced lad whose grandmother had sent him to pick out eight bananas. As they headed for the far aisle, he shared with her that these fruits were to be not too long, not too short, not too green, not too yellow, and strangely, our guide thought, not too freckled. She confided in her diminutive friend her favorite way of enjoying the tropical delight - and that is in a still life. Hugging the bunch of tailor-made bananas close to his chest, the boy headed for the checkout counter with a quizzical expression.

Our guide's quick errand was still undone. As she at last reached the dairy case, the stock boy said the milk truck was delayed. Could she settle for buttermilk? With a hint of a smile, she returned home clutching her single loaf of bread (which, in the process, had lost its shape), feeling buoyant at the memory of verbally breaking bread with others, and assured that this not-so-quick errand had truly been her milk for the day.

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