Ah, the Park Slope Food Coop, topic of endless fascination. Remember the epic vote on whether or not a vote would be taken regarding the boycotting of Israeli products? That was a discussion that made it into the national discourse! And then there's the ever intriguing Adrien Grenier situation: Did he quit? Was he booted? Do we care? Of course we do.
It's been a while since we've gotten any good Coop gossip, but as luck would have it, the Coop newspaper, The Linewaiters' Gazette, is out with some new news and ancient folklore about the place for groceries that has us all in its thrall. Writer Allison Pennell, longtime member of the Coop, delves back into the early days, when a 14-year-old named Matthew Malter Cohen had a business working other members' shifts at a rate of $15 a pop. Pennell writes,
According to legend, Matthew Malter Cohen got so busy that he recruited his friends to serve the needs of the needy workforce of the Park Slope Food Coop, taking a cut of their wages. Also according to urban myth, it seemed like whole general meetings were devoted to debating whether it was kosher to have a Matthew Malter Cohen onhand. At his height, he worked eight shifts a week for his parents’ friends and their friends,who told two friends about it and so on. He was trained to be everywhere except the childcare room, and even pinched hit as a squad leader a few times. Matthew Malter Cohen is still a Coop member. And no, he’s not a pimp or CEO of a diamond mining operation in Ecuador. He’s a neuroscientist with a wife and a new baby.
Interviewed by Pennell, "MMC" goes on to deny the charges of subcontracting, but he admits that he did hand down his business to another teen. A few years later, the practice of hiring others to work your shifts was banned. Now you can only hand off your shift to another family member, a practice that the Coop says began in the 70s.
All this eventually brings Pennell to the even more recent matter of John Turturro, husband of Coop member Kathy Borowitz and a member himself, even though he "is a little afraid of the Food Coop.” It's too commune-y:
Turturro expounded: “There are certain things I don’t do right now and this is one. I never liked shopping. I don’t like supermarkets. I’ll be honest. I like small. If Kathy sends me to Back to the Land or International Taste, it’s fine. It’s that whole thing about having to wait on that line and then you have to pay and then you have to bag it and you have to wait on the other line to get checked. For certain people it’s like the mental block of ‘I’ve joined a commune.’ I can’t do it. I don’t know. I just think it’s a mental block.”
Fortunately, Borowitz doesn't mind doing the shopping, but this feeling among couples—a clear division between the pro-Coopers and those against—is apparently so pervasive that there are some distinctly below-board shift-avoidance methods that have been, if not actually used, at least discussed. Pennell mentions members maybe pretending they don't have a spouse, or even employing a "fake disability scam" to get out of work. She writes, "a bad back that doesn’t get in the way of your tennis game or job shouldn’t make it impossible to work any Coop work slot." Most people generally make the righteous and moral choice, though: One blogger considered telling the Coop that he was a single parent so as to get away with just one shift, but ultimately overcame the urge and "decided to be honest."
On the opposite side of that are the lucky families who manage to get their teenagers to work shifts for them (there's nothing against that in the rules!) and sometimes even do the shopping, too. The key to being a Coop member, perhaps, is having well-behaved and industrious children who will agree to such chores, since you can no longer pay just any aspiring neuroscientist to work your shift for you.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.