Saturday, March 21, 2015

Amateur Night at the Grocery Store! by Jenny Gardiner

My patience runs thin when the depletion of my food pantry accidentally coincides with the impending death-threat of a light dusting of snow, which sends people into paroxysms of fear that they will be housebound and famine-stricken if they can’t access a loaf of bread and a half-gallon of milk for a day or two.
This happened a few weeks ago when a fleeting snow squall was in the forecast. We swung into the grocery store before the movies to quickly grab some fruit and cold cuts, oblivious to the forecast of a dangerous imminent storm (which left one thirty-second of an inch of snow on the ground, while we were inside the grocery store; go figure), and were met with the nightmarish shopping frenzy of desperate food hoarders.
I leaned over to my husband and muttered in dismay, “Amateur night at the grocery store.”
He laughed.
Some people love to grocery shop. I was one of them, back in, oh, 1975, when my mother wisely capitalized on my ’tween-aged naïveté and dropped me off at a succession of grocery stores in order to do her food-procurement bidding. For years, while my mother earned graduate degrees and focused on homework and classes, I was the workhorse of my family’s food supply needs. I actually enjoyed making lists, collecting coupons, and manning my overflowing shopping cart.
Each week, Mom dropped me off first at the grocery store, then the produce store, then the butcher shop to acquire the food needs of a busy family of six. In my later teen years, as I drove myself to grocery stores, I even picked up a hot guy! Make that, I engaged in a casual flirtation with a very good-looking butcher, who I eventually dated briefly, until his Greek parents got wind of it and put an end to his seeing a non-Greek girl.
Those were the days of triple coupons. And for fun—for fun!—I clipped coupons, because it thrilled me that I could earn triple the value for them. Nowadays, burned out, I opt instead to spare myself the hassle and lose out on the money and not be bothered, shame on me.
Years ago my sister-in-law joined a coupon club. She had a frighteningly massive assemblage of ravaged coupons, piled high in a box that got passed amongst her club cohorts. I never understood the idea of purchasing excessive supplies for which your house has no storage, just to save a few cents. Back then, any time she invited us over, she fed us freezer-burned ice cream, because her deep freeze was jam-packed with gallons of stale Bryers she’d gotten on discount. Hardly worth the savings when the food becomes inedible.
As we shopped during the seven-minute snow squall a few weeks ago, after navigating clogged aisles filled with shoppers and carts while trying to grab the few items we sought, we arrived to find a check-out that was easily eight people-deep in each lane.
Anyone who’s been grocery shopping for forty-odd years can tell you that choosing the grocery lane in the we’re-all-gonna-die pre-storm frenzy is a fine art. You could eenie-meenie-miney-moe it, but that’s for newbies. It’s best to apply critical thinking skills, which I unfortunately failed to employ that night. At first I attempted the savvy shopper plan: me in one lane, my husband in another, and whoever gets there first you jump over with the spouse.
But he’s all about fairness and even-stevenness, so didn’t want to play that game, insisting we stick to one lane. Yawn….Which is what I ended up doing, because I chose totally wrong in my forced-haste decision. Not only did I pick the lane with no bag-packer helping out—critical for dire shopping times—but I ended up in the mucho-painful “Hi! I’m new but I’m learning” aisle, even worse.
This means a cashier who doesn’t know produce codes and thus takes quintuple the amount of time to ring through items, with the man in front of us having a cart overflowing with, yes, you guessed it: produce. All with the clock ticking on the movie we needed to get to. An unforgiveable grocery shopping rookie mistake for which we paid by missing the movie previews and getting lousy seats. When you’ve been shopping since the Carter Administration, you should know better. Clearly I foolishly yielded to his non-grocery shopping ignorance at a critical time. Never again.
I’m still scarred from being stuck in a legitimate snowstorm frenzy at grocery store, after back-to-back-to-back blizzards when my kids were under the age of four. I stressed in line for two hours as my three children attempted ENT-threatening gymnastics on every facet of my cart, filled with what meager unwanted groceries remained in the store (no doubt repulsive Vienna sausages and pickled eggs in a jar amongst them).
Nowadays to gain control over my shopping experience, I always do the self check-out. And bag my own food. And just to add some spice to the mundanity of grocery shopping, I opt to check out in Spanish. Nothing like multi-tasking and learning grocery store Spanish while doing the chore that bores me to tears. The clerks always think I’m a ninny who accidentally got stuck in Spanish mode, and come running to save me. Which can be necessary, if you have no idea what celery or asparagus is called in Spanish. But when I tell them I did so voluntarily, they look at me like I’m nuts, shrug, and walk away.
Actually I do “get” this primal need to feed, just in case. Something about being potentially snowbound makes me want to cook all sorts of things I certainly don’t need to ingest. And reinforces some survival-of-the-species demand to provide, to be warm, to gather ’round and enjoy Mother Nature-induced chillin’. And chillin’, I’m all in favor of. Especially if it’s not while cooling my heels in line at the grocery store.
Next time you’ll find Jenny Gardiner buying groceries online. Or at

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1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

I worked at a grocery store in high school and college--paid my tuition--people will shop if there's a foot of snow on the ground.

And, I'm quite the coupon queen amongst my friends.