The un-sulphured dried mango has gone missing. It's not the first time, but it still stings. The crystallized mango is a snacking imperative, tucked away in my kitchen, my backpack, my car. Its absence induces a kind of gustatory panic. A friend muses that perhaps the Mango Driers Local has gone on strike. There is no Mango Driers Local.

Shopping at Trader Joe's, the bohemian private-label food emporiums that have been a Southern California fixture since 1967, is something like having an affair. It's fraught from the outset. There is passion and irrational attachment–to the organic OJ or honey wheat pretzels or Reed's Extra Ginger Brew–then pangs of fear when one day your beloved fails to appear for the customary tryst. Finally, after you bail into the car and drive to your second-string TJ's only to discover more barren shelves, there is only heartache. Your snack is gone, perhaps forever; the staff doesn't seem to know. The sympathetic Hawaiian Shirts will humor you by checking in back.

Trader Joe has the temerity to suggest this is all part of some grand “shopping adventure,” which lampoons the consequences of such unanticipated separation. Look around: That wounded man stacking chocolate creme Joe-Joe's a dozen high in his cart like a squirrel preparing for winter has been transformed into a hoarder, so acute is the sense of loss when a favored item disappears. It's a protection mechanism reserved for lovers of Trader Joe's one-of-a-kind grub. The latest tease is Joe-Joe's n' Cream ice cream. You've been warned.

What do you love at Trader Joe's? And what are your contingency plans for when the inevitable strikes?

Trader Joe's: 57 locations throughout Los Angeles County.

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