Word to the Wise: Listen to the Gandalf of Groceries

9 May

by Roger White

Little by little, year by year, experience by experience, as time has whizzed past my noggin, and my ears have begun to sprout those old-man hairs that somehow generate from deep in the inner canal and hang gray and curly down the earlobe like so many tiny dried-up noodles, it has slowly started to dawn on me how stupid I am.

No, really. I don’t mean slackjaw stupid like Junior Samples of “Hee Haw.” It’s not like I can’t balance my checkbook or anything. Well, technically, I can’t balance my checkbook, but that’s not what I’m talking about. But while we’re on this, if you can freely round up and use imaginary numbers in advanced calculus (as I’ve learned from my high schooler offspring), why can’t the credit union let you do the same? Many of my beginning-of-the-month checkbook entries contain the addendum “give or take.”

No, I’m referring to life’s little lazy assumptions, usually made by husbands, I’m afraid. Here’s a good example: the grocery store. For years, when my lovely wife would come home from her semi-weekly food foray with her right eye twitching like a frog leg in a middle school science experiment and using language like my grandpa did in the throes of one of his periodic Battle of the Ardennes flashbacks, I would smile sweetly, offer moral support, and think to myself, “Come on, it’s putting milk and eggs and root beer in a shopping cart, get some coping skills, woman.”

However, as with the vast majority of my domestic dealings, I found I was oh, so mistaken. I volunteered to venture to the store for family foodstuffs recently—on my own, I must add—and I am here to report that setting foot into the hellish and mystifying jungle that is the local grocery store filled with single-minded shoppers is as terrifying and nerve-crumbling as stalking wild moose with a bow and arrow. In fact, if my family developed a taste for wild moose shanks, I would rather take my chances with the bow and arrow.

I felt smug and confident going in. I had my wife’s list; I had my cell phone. How hard could it be? I should have sensed that I was in for trouble when a sage-looking old gentleman, with a white Gandalfian beard and ice-blue eyes, met me going in as he was going out through the sliding doors. He looked at my list, then at me, and he issued a slow, mournful shake of the head. Beware.

The rest was a panicked blur. I will tell you that there is a definite current and flow to grocery shopping, and if you disturb this current by tarrying too long trying to decipher the difference between cans of diced, crushed, or chopped tomatoes, you will get caught in your own little shopping eddy and spend a dizzying half-hour fighting your way back into the mainstream. I swear I heard “Dueling Banjos” in the distance.

This may be an over-generalization, but, heck, there is always some truth at the heart of generalizations because that’s why they’re generalizations in the first place. Women are ruthless grocery shoppers. There, I said it. However politically incorrect it may be, I must tell you that in the grocery store you will be run over, sideswiped, given the royal stink-eye, and physically blocked from your desired Chips Ahoy or lean bacon strips by scores of snarling wimmen maneuvering their carts like Richard Petty on prescription amphetamines. My simple theory is that this is their domain, and no man is going to make his hairy presence felt in this, their habitat. I stood quietly behind a diminutive graying little woman for a solid seven minutes while she read every ingredient on a can of artichoke hearts. In any other setting, I would have thought, “what a sweet old lady,” but here, she eyed me with a chilling glance, with a look that dared me to utter a sound. I stood frozen, half-smiling until she moved on, and only then was I allowed my turn at the watering hole… I mean, the selection of extra virgin olive oil.

Mind you, I prefaced this column confessing my stupidity, so allow me this: How is it extra virgin olive oil? Virgin, yes. But extra virgin? These olives never even thought about going all the way?

Anyway, once I understood the shopping cart pecking order and began to fumble my way around the aisles with a modicum of competence, I found that the list my wife gave me, so simple in the beginning, began to read like hieroglyphics. Everything, and I mean everything, became exponentially more complicated than I ever imagined. For example, apples. The word “apples” was on the list. OK. I hack my way to the fresh fruit section. Sweet mother, I discover, there are 27 varieties, shapes, sizes, and colors of apples, laid out over two aisles of angry, glassy-eyed shoppers. I use my life line. Red delicious, she says. All right, bag ’em. Go, go go. Paddle, boy, paddle.

Same thing happened with the orange juice. Do we need Vitamin C-infused, low pulp, no pulp, extra pulp, mega-pulp, or family style? What in heaven’s name is family style orange juice? You pour it in glasses at the dinner table, and each glass of juice begins arguing and grousing about the food? Anyway, I’m at the juice aisle, and in the time it takes me to use the life line again, I incur the wrath of those in the flow behind me. I’ve created another eddy. The swirling starts again. Help me, Mr. Wizard!

By the time I muddle through the checkout and wander to the exit, I find my hair has become long, white, Gandalfian. I spy a naïve, cocky lad on his way in, his little list in hand. I shake my head at him, slow with just a hint of a wry grin. Beware.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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3 Responses to “Word to the Wise: Listen to the Gandalf of Groceries”

  1. lexy3587 May 10, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    You tell these stories so well! I can picture all those evil glares and cart-blocking, and it makes me not want to go grocery shopping, ever again.

  2. Brittany May 10, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    I live this EVERY Sunday morning. Luckily I have my husband with me (to reach the items on the top shelves) so I have someone to grouse to, otherwise I’d be complaining outloud to myself. If I thought that would scare some of the other shoppers to clearing a path out of my way I would try it, but I don’t think it would work.

  3. chibichunsa May 10, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Try grocery shopping during the holidays… the inner beast springs forth from the most purest of souls and even the extra-virgin olive oil is tainted by darkness

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