SUPERMARKET TRAUMABy Judy Prince
March 08, 2010
Consider this amazing fact: Cookbooks and diet books are equally popular. It’s like some kind of compulsive reading-guilt: “Make the perfect carrot cake!” and then “Watch inches vanish while you read the tabloids!” I guess it’s inevitable that reading cookbooks leads to reading diet books. Makes perfect sense, actually.
I’m convinced, as well, that there’s a causal connection between Do It Yourselfing and divorce. If you and your partner start upgrading your kitchen or bathroom, you’ll find yourselves washing dishes in the bathtub and peeing into ziploc bags, at which point you realise that major house projects are as nurturing of your relationship as “open” marriages and regularly flossing together.
Similarly, I think that supermarket shopping screws up our love lives. It’s a more potent weapon of love destruction than the silent and stubborn debate about which one of you will install a new roll of toilet paper on the springy thingy or whether a man remembers to put down the toilet seat so his wife doesn’t crack her coccyx when she sits.
I’ll go so far as to say that supermarket shopping destroys our sex hormones. It may have something to do with the automatic doors. I mean, if automatic doors are so harmless and wonderful, why don’t we have them installed in our homes? Is it because the dog would be freaked or the cat would perversely walk by the door every two minutes? Well, yeah, but…I think it’s also because the electric chicanery in automatic doors frays the nuclei of our estrogen and testosterone cells. Folks get edgy and irritable, especially since they’ve already swallowed their anger in the supermarket parking lot while furiously wanting to flip the bird at someone taking 12 minutes to maneuver out of a parking space or somebody coming the wrong way and swinging neatly into the place they’d been signaling to get into.
The fact is, people get all weird at the supermarket, and it starts in the parking lot. Gossip has it that a secret supermarket CEOs club has committed to regularly shrinking the size of each parking space. CEOs got the idea for this while seated on airplanes in Business Class and glancing back at squished passengers in Coach writhing under their seatbelts, their knees crushed to their chests.
Here’s a scary thought: Now that airlines don’t provide meals except to Business Class folk, what will this mean, equivalently, for your average supermarket shopper when the CEOs advance their aims? One hates to imagine. Maybe there’ll be a Business Class section in each supermarket. It would definitely have no queue, just a spritely “helper” to roll your Business Class cart to a mini-spa and enter your grocery items while another “helper” administers a pedicure and provides aromatherapy. The rest of the shoppers will be herded into pens like sheep, shorn of their valuables and clothing, then chucked out and tossed down a conveyor belt with their grocery bags hung around their necks. They’ll be able to buy back their clothing the following week at a “VINTAGE CLOTHING–HALF OFF” sale.
Early in your supermarket-shopping experience you’ll find that a leisurely stroll down the aisles will have you swerving to avoid temporary cardboard displays seeking to attract your attention. Like we need more attention-attracting. Just let me hang on to my grocery list and cart and roll up and down old familiar aisles of old familiar items hoping nobody stops in front of me–ever!
There’s another truth that pains me to say, but it needs saying.
Here it is. You see, dear Rodent is actually a menace–but only at the supermarket, and mostly with “trolleys”, as they call shopping carts in England. One can only marvel that this sweet, ever-patient, ever-generous paragon of all virtue has developed a blind spot for everything about trolleys. To put it more precisely, Rodent has a blind spot for everyone and everything EXCEPT HIS trolley.
I found it my civic duty to stay close to him, starting at the early stage of trolley selection, gently policing him as he plowed through the aisles causing folk to leap out of the way in horror, grab their little kids and Englishly pretend not to notice the Trolley Beast in their midst.
Eventually I insisted on pushing the trolley myself while Rodent ran around the aisles gathering and clutching tomatoes, shortbread, oatcakes and tinned tuna. He was not a happy camper, though, as he tried to find me, a leisurely shopper, and the trolley. I tended to drift over to the lingerie, socks, and “$1 for everything” displays, despite promising to meet him at the “Wet Fish” counter.
At last we could see that for me supermarket shopping was a kind of “night out”, whereas for Rodent it was an hour-long descent into Hades, after which he’d have to smoke his pipe for 80 seconds rather than 20, then he could face unloading groceries from the boot and carrying them into the house–after which, running on raw nerves, he’d help me put things into the fridge, freezer and pantry, and then he’d flee upstairs with a carrier bag of sour cream ‘n onion crisps, Fry’s Orange Cream bars, brownies, and new packets of pipe tobacco.
Supermarket managers in England have analysed the personal chaos and tragedy that grocery-shopping has caused, and they’ve cleverly started home deliveries that are quick, efficient, cheap, and as effective at saving marriages as babysitters and massage (exempting cases of folks who’ve massaged the babysitter).
Finally, dear Rodent and I decided to get groceries delivered, thus eliminating weekly Supermarket Hell.
Then we found out when we got to the USA three months ago that supermarkets here, as I’d thought, don’t deliver. They refer you to Meals on Wheels, a service for which we’re not qualified…yet.
So for three months now Rodent and I have been shopping at the supermarket again. I think he’s happily adjusting to the experience because they bag your groceries–a service not offered in England, and one which he found distressing, especially the torture of trying to open those white plastic bags. I told him to just spit on his finger and rub the top of the bag. No luck. Turns out he’d been trying to open the bottom of the bag.
The real reason Rodent has relaxed about shopping, though, is that now I just drop him off at the door, turn a blind eye to his wild trolleying, and am amazed at how soon he’s back in the car, all the goodies tucked neatly into the trunk.
It’s a trifle worrying that I don’t recognise most of the items he has bought, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and happy hormones.
If you think I’m dangerous behind a trolly, wait till I get a licence to drive a zimmerframe!!!
I only began to worry when, on a recent visit to Teeters, and on my third trip down the same aisle, a mother clutched her small child to her bosom and threated me with a Concealed Weapon Permit.
I think she was trying to reach her gun, but she’d somehow dropped it on the floor of the aisle (beside the Instant Continental) and had misunderstood my courtly gesture when I stopped the shopping trolly (briefly), picked it up, and tried to hand it back to her.
Being threatened with a Concealed Weapon Permit is a disconcerting experience for one so harmless as I, even in Deepest Virginia.
I love American supermarkets. I just can’t get enough of them. The thunder roll (which I’ve described to people at length), the very quetion of ‘Paper or plastic?’, the organic trade stores… it’s wonderful. Just so, so wonderful.
I got to talking with a cashier one night (I say one night, it was actually New Year’s Eve) about her OCD. Great times.
The “thunder roll”, Simon? Where’ve you described it at length; can I find it?
Agreed; some of my funnest chats have been with cashiers and folks in the super’mkt queue, usually from 10 to midnight on weekends. A cashier with OCD might be Problematic. How many times did she charge you for those lamb chops?!
The produce aisle at Safeway: before the misters (misters!) come on, there’s a roll of thunder to warn people.
It’s just… awesome. Duke, Zara, Lenore and Matt heard about it every day I think, when we were in LA.
The OCD lady gave me advice on oven cleaning. How to get it really clean.
Slow down, Simon: The roll of thunder preceding the “misters” are at Safeway–which city?! I LOVE IT! Did you record it? A lotta creative possibilities here; I’ll brush up on my chimes-playing techniques.
Ah, you know the OCD lady was speaking entirely in metaphors, oh Leader Dude; something like the suggestive repartee: “Let me clean your clock”. OCD women can’t resist an LD.
Oh, is that not country-wide? Well, it was definitely the case in San Francisco. I wish I’d recorded it, just as my room-mates which they’d recorded my reaction when I first heard it, twitched and flinched, and went ‘What the fuck was THAT?’
I really need to bring my LD powers to the fore, I think.
Oops, I’ve got some serious Freudian probs, apparently, with TNB comments. I just typed “Leather” Dude. Oh my.
Re the pre-mister drum roll, Simon: Isn’t there some TNBer who can record the sound and send it to TNB? Does TNB have an official intro music thing?
Hmmm….you say, “I really need to bring my LD powers to the fore . . .”
Like when I stood up at Quaker Meeting, after a spate of tellers of woe had played themselves out, and said: “Where’s the JOY?!!” Several slow seconds later the Clerk of the Meeting stood up, head hanging, and said: “Yes, JOY: We’ll have to work on that.”
Which of your LD powers are lying in the road, ready to be taken up by you?
Ah… and therein lies the question…
We’d have to get one of the SF-TNBers to check it out: Angela Tung, maybe, could borrow some ghost-hunting equipment…?
See the nice thing about Vegas is it’s a 24 hour town. Grocery stores are empty at 5am and that is when I prefer to do my shopping. If we ever move, I’m gonna have to figure a new game plan.
I hesitate to say you’re lucky, Lorna; 5 am isn’t the choicest time to be awake, let alone out shopping. I, too, try to shop at the least busy times, but now that Simon’s admitted to chatting up the cashier on New Year’s Eve, I can see the social possibilities we may be missing. At least we’d be socialising with folk who are well fed. Or bulimic.
It’s not just Vegas, Lorna. 24-hour supermarkets are all over the south and southwest. In fact, if you’re willing to shop at Wal Mart, you can buy just about anything at 5 a.m. if so choose. It’ll be mostly cheap mass-produced crap but hey, this is America.
Hahaha. I’m always awake that early. I’ve heard that thunder roll thing too…but I don’t think it was when I was shopping locally. I believe it was in California as well.
I think I may have been a grocery checker in a previous life or something. I always use the self checkouts and bag my own groceries. I don’t like the way the baggers bag. I am incredibley picky.
Yes, Lorna. I’ve noted that bagging groceries is a craft; that is, it’s a pragmatic-creative act. From age 7 to 20 I worked at my Dad’s bake shop, cleaning up in the back as well as selling stuff in the front. I ADORED putting doughnuts in plastic-coated white bags, fitting a dozen cinnamon twists into a box and tying it with the string hanging down. It was a strong aesthetic delight, and the *feeling* of fitting things beautifully, amiably, and safely together was always palpable.
I sometimes wonder why there aren’t IQ or “interests” tests that tap the “offhanded” things we have loved doing–and the reasons *why* we love doing them. It would be a super-useful “test” to aid young people in their wonderings about their future roles. A quick list of things you’ve enjoyed doing would tell a lot about you. We often take for granted the things we’re good at because, duh, they come so easily to us. But to many others they come so slowly.
In most cases, you can get groceries delivered. In NYC by any grocery store, and in the rest of the country by “Fresh Direct.”
I personally adore grocery stores, especially the mega-stores where you can also buy socks and sundresses and spinach.
I’m keen for it, Irene, but just googled “Fresh Direct” and it seems to do NYC only….and here I am in Norfolk, VA, where I’ve phoned all the supermarkets and none delivers. Since Rodent’s back in the UK now, he’s doubtless walking to Londis, the nearby convenience store and Chinese or Indian takeaway restaurants [curry is THE most popular UK dish]. I, like you, will play around in a mega-store (I like your triple-“s” purchases: socks, sundresses and spinach. One envisions a sundress of perky white cotton with hand-stamped large Hawaiian-like spinach leaf patterns). Would work nicely as an apron, CTTOI. I just forgot what CTTOI means. Oh, right: Come To Think Of It.
I thought fresh direct was everywhere.
I never used it because, as I said, I love to go to mega stores to buy things like pea pods, paper and perfume.
Irene, I could use you as an awesome Design Idea-Creator! Pea pods, paper and perfume–have mercy, woman! [Have you seen “Avatar”; it’s 3-D…]
OK, got it, all due to your Idea-Creating: fragranced handmade paper embedded with delicate, striated pea pods. Could be used for watercolouring, or making lampshades, or writing letters. U COOK, Irene!
“…because the electric chicanery in automatic doors frays the nuclei of our estrogen and testosterone cells.”
I thought you were going to say it’s because automatic doors prevent the basic chivalry of a man opening the door for a woman.
This was funny! Nice work.
Thanks for your very kind words, Richard.
Never considered the chivalry thing. Hmmmm….
I confess that I’ve always loved it when a man opens doors for me [usually for better jobs].
I confess, too, that I may love it just as much when a woman opens a door for me. ….thinking…..thinking…..no, I’m genderist, apparently; it doesn’t “feel” quite the same.
Hilarious! Yanno, I never knew why women got so hot and bothered about men leaving the seat up. I figured it was just an aesthetic preference. I never considered the harrowing ramifications for the coccyx. Consider me better informed.
And yes, the bagging of groceries is a nice little perk that we take for granted here. I for one experience terrific pangs of guilt when I have to look in the eye of some dude 20 years older than I am, putting my tomato sauce into my bag and asking where I’d like my eggs.
Thanks for the great read!
Truly appreciate your comments, Joe! You totally nailed that feeling of guilt re the bagger. You stated it perfectly; I could just see that guy down at Harris Teeter’s asking me The Question, and then later seeing him roll the long stack of carts back into the store. Many of us lucky folk did scut work for awhile—but it wasn’t too long, and we were fairly young. Expletive here, but omitted, despite its heartfelt expression of anguish.
Judy, this post was really funny. When I was with my ex, years ago, she would force me to go shopping with her. I get vibratingly shaky in crowded grocery stores. I’m not agoraphobic, but my reaction approaches such. Eventually it was so miserable for her tp bring me, that I gained an exemption.
Now, I have to shop for myself. I do so at 2 or 3 am now, where I can move at my own pace, and not be run over by others.
Yo, Slade, that’s wild! I now confer upon you the honour of naming this malady that you and maybe dear Rodent have.
I bet if you took your light saber with you, you’d have no probs.
Did your ex assign you a nother task to level the playing field–like emptying the kitty litter tray?
I appreciate your most welcome compliments!
Judy just up from a nap, having had a liminal Gary Larson moment (think cows pole-dancing). The mind is a terrible thing to break.
Just noticed your name next to a new TNB wotsit, so will now go and read it; I could use a good Humour Rouse.
Funny you mentions that… I did end up on kitty litter duty all the time, completely based on the fact that she “had to do all the shopping by herself”. That must be a universal thing.
Pass along my empathy to Rodent?
Will do, Slade; Rodent’ll be pleased.
Reminds me of two questions I’d wanted to ask you:
1) In what ways, if any, do you act/react differently with a “live” audience (and your work) than with, say, TNB written feedback to your written work?
Seems like one difference would be that the more-immediate audience would stoke your routine, juice it up more. An example that brought me to the question: In middle and high school I’d give book reports that were nothing like what I’d prepared—I’d totally “rewrite” the book’s incidents on the spot, apparently just to get laughs.
2) (Zoe raised this issue in her wonderful interview with Dice Man:) What’s the fallout from having family and friends as the basis of some routines?
I’ve read a playwright’s saying she was nervous that her aunt would “recognise herself” in a character as she sat watching the play, but she totally enjoyed the character; didn’t have a clue that it mimicked her.
1) I don’t have to worry about commanding the room here, or online at all per se. Once I post something, I get to have more of a dialogue, as opposed to a live setting where it’s really just me, and the audience interaction is only in the way.
The immediate feedback you get onstage is exhilarating though. “Live fire” is awesome, and it’s amazing how clever we all really are when subjected to it.
2) Zoe’s interview was great. For me, my friends know that anything that happens is fair game. I respect their privacy on certain issues though and I happily change names and tweak details to protect them.
There will always be things that other people don’t want out in the open. I’m a big fan accountability though, and I sort of feel like it comes with the territory. You did it. Own it.
I did call my ex of eight years one time though, when I really started telling some of the crazier stories on stage. She wasn’t happy to know I was going to go public with some of what she’d done, but she was happy to at least get to choose her character’s name.
Ultimately, I just try not to hang out with a bunch of sissy crybabies that would get sensitive if I talked about them 🙂
Fascinating and helpful responses, Slade. Something really jumped out that hadn’t occurred to me until you said that in a live setting it’s only just you. So the stuff we’re doing right now is like a 2-person routine, and your TNB or other online work is similar to ensemble improv. Awesome.
I spent most of my life in Chicago where Second City has been a major force for decades. Viola Spolin started it all with her “theater games” for actors; then her son, Paul Sills, encouraging her help with the “games”, co-founded Second City and things took off beautifully. Spolin’s books on theater games are well worth reading.
I took an acting class taught by a terrific “take no hostages” director in Chicago; he was an actor as well, and steeped in both improv and classical techniques. With us he used very useful games. One of the games had one actor seated, and the other actor–without speech or props–had to try to get the actor out of the seat. Only one of the actors succeeded. She came in and “held a gun” to the seated actor’s head. He immediately got up. I tried this with speech students in Taipei, and only one succeeded there, as well. She went straight to the window blinds, mimicked winding the cord around her neck and pulling it. The guy got right out of his seat.
Improv is such a pure form. I’ve done quite a bit myself, though I bow graciously to the Second City crew. I have a friend or two that has been a part. One of the key elements of improv, aside from the “never say no” rule, is “analysis causes paralysis”.
It’s something I’ve adopted in my everyday life, in an effort to go with my guut more often. On stage, the longer you think about something, the more likely you are to freeze up.
And yes, stand up is a very lonely art form. Unlike group improv or enemble casts, or even live music… there’s no one to fall back on but you.
I’d love to just blame the drummer 🙂
Go ahead and blame the drummer, Slade; they have such poor timing.
Super useful, those two key elements of improv: “never say no” and “analysis causes paralysis”.
I’ve read standup comedians who say they’d *never* do a comedy improv; that they need to hone their routine repeatedly and would blank if they had to improvise. Seems completely reasonable! Yet I’ve read other comedians who insist that it’s a blend of improv and practice/prep. Like other art forms and skills, it’s doubtless a necessary–and wild–ride of both preparation and inspiration. The eternal joy AND frustration is that you can’t *plan* the balance and timing of preparation and inspiration. “Analysis causes paralysis” indeed! Resembles life, dunnit?
Slade, I’ve been thinking about your saying that “stand up is a very lonely art form.” Factoring that with stand ups having to be well prepared AND open to on-the-spot inspiration [as you say about improv: “never say no” and “analysis causes paralysis”], I’m thinking you guys are like mountain-climbers or skydivers!
Forgive my rambling, but oh well. I also keep seeing the image (really old since I haven’t watched tv in 30 years, but saw him on tv) of Steven Wright whose style was diametrically opposite most stand ups. He was like a quite little ladybug with an immobile sad face—and hilarious, I thought. Only thing I remember his saying was something like this: “You know how you feel when you’re leaning back in your chair balancing on the back legs, and it feels like you’re gonna fall back? I feel like that all the time.”
I thought then and think now that stand up must be as he described. It also occurs to me that stand up is a metaphor for our lives.
Too many funny lines to count, but I enjoyed the one about massaging the babysitter most, I think.
And I totally agree about the parking lot thing. Our Stop-N-Shop in New Paltz has the worst parking lot of all time. I want to find the person responsible and beat him with a baseball bat. It’s not that the spaces are too small, although they are — it’s that the entrance to the sub-lot is too small, so if a car is coming out, you have to wait to go in, or risk fucking up your tires (“tyres,” in your parlance) on the Belgian block. Ugh.
After shopping with little kids for the last five years, when Stephanie and I get to the foodstore a deux, it’s like a mini vacation.
Much appreciated compliments, Greg, and I’m delighted that you liked that line!
I totally feel your pain re shopping with little kids. Unfortunately, I’ve lost the link to a fabulously funny “The Most Popular Advertisement in Europe” video. It shows a kid in the grocery store throwing a full-blown screaming, flinging-things, kicking-on-the-floor tantrum while his father stands helplessly by. Then you see a silent printed message move across the screen: “Use Condoms”.
there really is something very stressful about going grocery shopping, especially at certain times of day (right before dinner, sunday afternoon). i loved the Whole Foods on bowery st when i lived in new york. although it’d still get crazy, it was better than the one in Union Square, with the narrowest aisles imaginable, through which people would still try to push both carts and strollers at once.
really funny story. an enjoyable read.
Angela, you make me think: What would be the best kind of place to shop for groceries? If we could arrange it any way we like, how would we do it?
I adore, for example, real farmers’ markets, outside and loaded with tables of fruit and veg, flowers, honey, pastries, fish, beef. Have been to two farmers’ markers in L.A., one near the La Brea Tar Pits, and I hear it’s grown considerably; the other one in Larchmont Village, much smaller and less commercial as well as not in permanent structures, but gorgeous in its produce and displays nevertheless.
Thank you for your kind words, as well, Angela.
[…] Rodent! […]
Do they have Amazon Fresh there? They’ve got it here–it’s ordering groceries to be delivered through Amazon. I guess. I haven’t used it. But I want to. I just keep forgetting it’s there. And I live within two blocks of two grocery stores. So it’d only be for those rare items. If they even have them.
Stream of thought. Hey, it’s still early morning in Seattle!
Hi, Spider Guy! Just googled Amazon Fresh and find that it’s only for a (limited) number of Seattle neighborhoods. It’s got a good rep, so treat yourself some day, and let us know how it went (could be a nother TNB story).
Approaching noon here in NAW-f’k, VA, and heading to the mid 60s!
Aw, that’s a shame it isn’t everywhere. But yeah–I’ll need to check it out. And maybe write about it. A friend said they carry the bags right in and set them on your counter. I wonder if they’d let me make them take off their shoes first, as is the rule in our house….
You could tell them you always do a “security check” (like the airlines) of all incoming strangers. Oh, and be sure to tell them to count out to you every one of the grapes you’ve ordered. Might as well make it a memorable event for the delivery person.
Thank you, Judy, not only for your wonderful essay but for the dialogue it inspired. Interesting how we humans feel compelled to register our own experiences alongside others… so here’s mine. My local big-box supermarket is rearranging itself “for my convenience” which means nothing is where it used to be, a metaphor of little use alongside my inconvenience. It reminds me of when my bank, “as a service to me,” cancelled my credit card… my reward for paying off my balance. Fortunately, I can buy most everything I need at my local food co-op where I get a discount for walking or riding my bike. Which makes me my own trolley. Thanks, all. See you at the check-out.
Karen, you’ve always been your own trolley. Welcome to TNB! A delight to hear you here!
I think we agreed a few months ago when talking about Middlemarch, that we “read ourselves into” the characters—and that that is what readers inevitably do with what they read. We’d reacted, as well, to a book-reviewer whose critiques changed dramatically each few years when she’d re-read Middlemarch, because her circumstances and understandings about herself had changed.
A most enlightened food co-op you have, Karen. At my supermarket, a discount just for navigating the aisles would do very nicely.
Thank you for the kind words; they’re most appreciated. See you at check-out, then; may even bring my own bags. 😉