I was forced to subject myself to the misery of the neighborhood supermarket today. As in the past, it was a typical experience in life's great consumer melting pot, where folks of all shapes, sizes and methods of behavior infest what appears from the outside to be a grocery store, when in fact, it is a test. It is a test of our mettle as both consumers and people, and the longer I am there, the more difficult the test becomes.
First, there's the joys of walking in, past and around the above-ground mine field of cars, trucks and mini-vans parked in the "No Parking Zone", which is clearly marked by diagonal yellow stripes which, by now are worn down from the constant rub of automobile tires. They are parked, engines running, driver inside, dutifully waiting for their equally lazy counterparts to emerge from the supermarket with a cart full of junk. At first glance, one would think that it was impossible to find a vacant parking space but, on further review, we see that there are several. Alas, they are at least fifty feet from the store - a distance few would travel without a motor. Instead, they decide to camp in the diagonal stripes, seemingly oblivious to life going on around them.
Next, we grab a cart and pick out the used sale papers lying on the bottom, along with the stray grocery list and - it's my lucky day - there's a wadded-up tissue. Welcome to Shop Rite!
The time is six o'clock and it's the Screaming Baby Hour, where the entrance is temporarily blocked because the kids want pie, and they believe that screaming is just the thing to get mom to pick up a fresh-baked cherry for the dinner table. The more mom refuses, the louder the kids scream. Shouldn't they be waiting in the car, in the No Parking Zone with dad - who is apparently the brains of the outfit? No. Instead, he has chosen to wait in the car with the Jimi Hendrix CDs while mom slowly loses her hearing.
I would like to buy some cereal, but I am having trouble, because the aisle is six feet wide, the carts are two and a half-feet wide, and there are two of them sitting side-by-side while the concerned shoppers compare the carb content of Fruity Pebbles vs. Fruit Loops. It is found to be the same.
Meanwhile, I have made my choice without stopping to check the price or calorie content, and it now falls on me to slide a cart sideways with wheels that only point straight. After years of shopping, I have developed powerful forearms. It's a small price to pay for a little stress.
As I come to the end of the aisle, I would like to move forward, but there is a woman standing in the middle, counting coupons and checking her shopping list, which she will later leave at the bottom of the cart. I wait a few seconds because I am polite. Soon, I will have to excuse myself. I say, "Pardon me," but I should have said, "Pardon you," since it isn't me who needs pardoning. She moves just enough for me to scrape one side of my cart handle on hers, and the other side of the cart handle on a box of Nature Valley Granola Bars, that I proceed to knock onto the floor. I pick them up and put them back, as I notice a backwards glance, as though she is getting ready to report me to the Supermarket Police for destruction of property. I gather myself.
I need ice cream. I would like to find some, but there is a person standing in front of the freezer with the door wide open, gazing intently at the myriad of choices, apparently stuck on which delicious Ben & Jerry's flavor he needs to achieve his goal of the complete domination of his pants. After what seems like an eternity - I am now whistling along to the Muzak version of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" playing over the PA system - he makes a choice. Vanilla.
Now, I would like to make a choice, but I cannot, since his incessant door-open mulling-over has caused the door to fog. It's probably why Elmer Fudge had to stand there with it open to begin with. I choose Dave Matthews' Band Magic Brownies, because it is the polar opposite of vanilla, and I feel the need to balance the ice cream shelf. It's only right.
Now, it's time for the final exam in the great supermarket test - the checkout line. There are several lights glowing, and I scour the lines for the greatest possiblity of getting out of there before the Magic Brownies lose their magical properties and melt into magic brownie milk. Old lady with lots of heavy bags of dog food in row 11, single man who appears to be making his first shopping trip in row 9, and the couple with the wife checking the Enquirer and the husband staring into space in row 6 all appear to be wrong choices. I opt for aisle 5, where there is a bagger and only one person ahead of me with all her items on the conveyor.
She stands, watching the total on the register while the items pile up like an episode of I Love Lucy. Meanwhile, the bagger has gone off to help the hottie in row 15, and we are left alone. Me, the retiree/cashier and our price-conscious consumer, who is now arguing that the toothpaste is 3 for five dollars, and since she only bought one, we should round down to $1.66 instead of the $1.67 the register rung up. Time to call the manager. In the interim, she could be writing the check (or God forbid, have it partially written out ahead of time) but she decides to dot the i's and cross the t's while Dave and the Brownies meld into one.
Finally, it's my turn. "Do you have any coupons?" she asks. "No", I say, "But there's a woman in the cereal aisle..." They scan my Super Saver Discount keychain card, and when I am finished, I have store coupons for Fruit Loops, half-price on pie, and fifty cents off Ben & Jerry's Vanilla.
Lucky for me they put a liquor store right next door. Next time, I should go there first.