Category Archives: Shopping

Nightmares For Ten Items Or Less

You came in to the store for a gallon of milk, and now your cart is loaded to the brim with enough food to feed a third world country.  That’s because the store put every single item on sale, just so you would buy items you would never actually buy.  Even if it’s only one penny cheaper, it sure looks attractive with all of those nines in the price. Look at this, honey!  Ten pounds of Beef Jerky on sale for 9.99!  I’m a little rusty on my dead languages, but I think sale is Latin for “sucker.”

And just in case you missed something, they throw in the impulse items at the end of every aisle and at every register.  They’re banking on you suddenly realizing that you can’t possibly live without Blistex and a Three Musketeers bar.  My suggestion to real estate agents is to list their houses in these impulse sections.  That way someone might not be able to resist both a Home Depot gift card AND a spacious five bedroom house on a corner lot.   

You are probably really happy with yourself for all of your genius purchases until you are ready to check out and you have to pass by the “10 Items or Less” lanes.  Don’t even start to count; you know you went over.  If you try to sneak in with 11 items, you won’t be able to sleep at night. You might have nightmares of the cashier beating you over the head ten times with a can of Pringles.  Besides, those lanes are for when you have already purchased $500 worth of food, loaded it into the car, and then realize you never bought the gallon of milk you came in for in the first place. 

I usually pass right by the Self-Checkout lane, because that option seems a little rude.   If you think you’re so great, just do it yourself.  That lane beeps at you a lot, as if to pay you back for haughtiness. 

Choosing the right checkout lane is like a game of chess.  First, you have to get the big picture.  It’s not enough to look for the shortest lines, because some move faster than others.  Watch out for someone with a wheelbarrow full of coupons. You can peek into other people’s carts to get a feel for how quickly the line will move.  There’s always some animal lover with a thousand cans of cat food (because it was on sale, of course.)  But there is no way to predict the dreaded price check. Checkmate.

If so many people are just standing around in line anyway, it seems like a good opportunity to do something as a community.  How about karaoke or a sing-a-long?  Or how about putting up a big screen television and playing movies?  Well, maybe just the previews, because hopefully the line will never take as long as a full feature film. 

The big decision at the checkout used to be paper or plastic.  It never really made sense to choose flimsy paper bags with no handles to carry heavy groceries.  You might as well ask them to just roll your food out onto the pavement, which is where it would end up eventually. But the more convenient plastic bags, which led to being stalked by some crazy lady accusing you of endangering sea turtles, was enough to make you carry your groceries one by one.  Nowadays people enjoy using their own tote bags.  I say, to each his own, as long as the bagger doesn’t go on break as soon as it’s my turn.

Pirates of the Caribbean in the Cereal Aisle

Do you ever feel overwhelmed when you turn the corner to enter the cereal aisle?  How did we ever go from Corn Flakes and Quaker Oats to five thousand brands and flavors of cereal?  Realistically, they could all be whittled down to two categories:  1.) Vat of Sugar and 2.) Tree bark.  Adults have to pay for this food, yet we end up with kids on a sugar high while we scarf down the shavings of a dogwood. 

The fact that cereal was not in the Garden of Eden should be a major clue.  Adam and Eve were eating fresh fruit, not Fruit Loops.  We are talking about dead food in a box, but apparently it is the centerpiece aisle of the supermarket.

When you walk down the cereal aisle with children, it’s a bit like going for a ride at Disney World.  With all of the flashy colors and marketing, it’s a wonder the supermarkets don’t turn it into a Pirates of the Caribbean adventure.  You could get on a little boat and sail down a darkened aisle, while carousing pirates sing “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” and advertise the various cereals. In between bouts of pillaging, they could toss out samples. When you get to the end of the aisle, you could sail down a little waterfall and get off the ride.

I bet you thought supermarkets were all about food.  On the surface, yes, but when you delve into the heart of a supermarket chain, you will find that they have more tricks than the Trix Rabbit himself.  Starting with the prize inside the box.

Decades ago, the prize in a cereal box was a simple toy or a decoder ring.  The other day I noticed that the prize offered was a possible trip to Turks and Caicos.  One in a million people might actually get to go on this trip, but it must increase sales to at least offer the potential of a Caribbean cruise.  More incentive is needed because we all recognize that the older we get, the more our cereal starts to resemble rabbit pellets. Some poor guy who is freezing his tushie off in Vancouver will gladly buy the cereal for the chance to run his fingers through the hot sand.  Realistically, the only thing he will run his fingers through is his collection of decoder rings from the 1950s, while he throws another log on the fire and yearns for Frosted Flakes.

If the pattern holds, in ten years cereal boxes will include a sweepstakes drawing for a trip to the moon.   

The marketing plan seems devious, but it works.  How else are they going to sell the tree bark?   Part of the plan is to give the cereal a name that makes you think you are eating the most healthful foods on the planet, despite the artificial ingredients, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.  Heart Healthy, Smart Morning, Natural Goodness. 

That’s because you would never buy the following cereals:

Death in a Box

Chemical Overload

Fructose Flakes

Sugar Valley

Unpronounceable Ingredients

Frankenstein’s Tomatoes: The Organic Dilemma

Have you ever sung along to the music in the grocery store?  Maybe you hum quietly to yourself, but when the chorus hits you just can’t hold back.  Something wells up inside of you, and you find yourself singing along with anyone from Justin Bieber to Kermit the Frog.  Songs that would normally repulse you suddenly seem catchy and cute.

Maybe you bust a little dance move while nobody’s watching.  You may even frighten yourself when you realize you just channeled Michael Jackson while reaching for the Hamburger Helper. You need to ask yourself why the stores play music in the first place. It is a cleverly designed ruse, a distraction engineered to put you in a good mood so you’ll buy sugary cereals and baked goods with high fructose corn syrup.  You can tell by the choice of music. 

If they really wanted to get rid of you in a hurry, they would blast the heavy metal.  Then you would run in and out of the store, trying to buy the items on your list before your eardrums rupture.  Instead they lull you with songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”  from The Lion King. Next thing you know you’re thinking about cute, furry lion cubs and loading your cart with superfluous comfort food.

Sing in your car and sing in your shower, but please don’t sing in the aisles.  At least keep it to a low hum.  If you watch the expert shoppers, you will notice they resist the urge to sing along to the greatest hits of Air Supply.  No distractions for these people, for they need their heads clear to make difficult decisions, such as when to buy organic foods.

Throwing organic foods into the mix has really made shopping far more challenging.  It has doubled the amount of time it takes to buy groceries, as your conscience battles the decision between organic versus pesticide-laden foods.  The big decision used to be paper or plastic. Now as you stand there reading labels, it all boils down to poop or poison, take your pick.  Do you want a food that was grown in manure and costs ten times more, or the food that is cheap but kills lab rats in 3.5 seconds? Do we pay the price of a Honda Civic for an apple, or do we buy the apple that might as well have been bathed in the Honda’s exhaust?   

Stores are also now loaded with genetically modified food.  Is the tomato larger than your head? Do you have to ask for assistance to load the tomato into your cart? Does the tomato seem too perfect, the supermodel of the fruit display? 

It’s a little scary that people are playing Dr. Frankenstein with our food.  Imagine the poor little tomato awaiting its fate in a dark laboratory.  In walks Dr. Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant, wheeling a cart full of assorted vials and sharp needles.  Lightning flashes as they hunch over to operate on the fruit.  (I don’t know why there’s always lightning in these situations, but there is a rule somewhere that laboratories have to be creepy.)  Anyway, the light is just enough to reveal tomato juice squirting all over their white lab coats.  The doctor does not fret, however, as he knows he will receive a discount for laundry detergent when he supplies the monster tomatoes to his local Piggly Wiggly.  He screams, “It’s alive!  It’s alive!” as he admires the freaky creation that’s eventually going to end up in your dinner salad.

The food industry has left us with impossible decisions, and you will have to let your conscience be your guide.  But if you happen to see a scary looking dude in a lab coat delivering produce to your store, run for your life.

Tune in next week to experience an unforgettable ride down the cereal aisle…

The Deli Lama

Unsuccessful presidential candidates should work at the deli.  Being denied what they thought was the most powerful position in the world, they would be amazed at how much more power they could wield while wearing a white coat and a hair net.  Who wants to negotiate treaties and entertain foreign ambassadors when they could control the world with three little words?  Take.  A.  Number.

The Deli sounds like such a happy place, doesn’t it?  It’s the beginning of words like delightful and delicious.  But it’s also the start of delirious, which is what you are if you actually enjoy ordering at the deli. 

Your visit to the deli begins with taking the golden ticket.  This little baby will get you access to whatever you want, as long as you are willing to wait longer than it takes to get your license at the DMV.  We are so optimistic when we first arrive at the ticket dispenser, as though somehow, today will be different.  Today I will be the next number called.

When you first take your ticket, you feel pretty righteous about your number, until you look up at the giant number board and see that you have five million people to go before you.  The controller of that number board is The Deli Lama, and he is the most powerful person in the world.

Imagine having everyone hanging on your every word.  You look out into the crowd at the hungry, discouraged masses, and realize everyone is waiting for your next move.  In fact, nobody moves until you announce the next number.  Oh, the look of desperation on their faces. Maybe you could even pause a little for dramatic effect, put some Ryan Seacrest flair into it and tell them that the next number is (pause…pause…feel the power)…coming up after your break.  Maybe you could skip over a number  just to watch them panic.   Why not?  There has never been a Deli Rebellion.  No unruly crowd has ever knocked over the ticket dispenser, charged the counter, and demanded their meat out of numerical order. 

You never hear on the news that some woman in Poughkeepsie elbowed her way to the front of the crowd, took The Deli Lama hostage and held him over the carving machine until someone gave her a 1/2 pound of Genoa salami.  No, when it comes to deli ordering, we follow the rules like sheep.

Don’t get me wrong; there are people who make waves at the deli.  Some people, when asked if the meat is cut thin enough, will actually say, “no” while a hush falls over the crowd.  The hush is the other people silently revering the One who had the nerve to rebel at the deli.  Everyone secretly desires it, but few live the dream.  Most of us just go along with the cut because the other person is standing at a meat carving machine and therefore must have more power.  We take “Is this thin enough?” as some sort of mob-like threat, so we just gulp and answer “yes” meekly.

The deli was designed to serve the people, but the power trip has gotten out of control.  Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves…if only they knew what a deli was, of course.  This is just the sort of thing that would have outraged Benjamin Franklin, who believed that a pound of meat in time saved nine.  Or something like that.

Some suggestions for putting the power back in the hands of the people where it belongs…

Gather the other deli patrons in line and:

  1. Demand to be served in alphabetical order.
  2. Demand that your meat be carved into animal shapes.
  3. Ask for your meat in uncommon fractions.   (7/8 pounds, 3 oz. of turkey)
  4. Use the metric system while ordering.  (5 kilograms of ham)
  5. Group your meat orders and give the sum total. (50 pounds of bologna, 100 pounds of cheese, etc…)
  6. Even the fainthearted can refuse to put the used ticket in the basket after ordering. 

Tune in next week to learn, among other things, when to buy organic…

How To Pretend To Pick The Perfect Melon

You survived the parking lot trauma, and now you have entered far more dangerous waters: the inside of the supermarket.  Once you have come this far, there is no turning back.  Because then you would be trying to exit out the entrance door, and you could get seriously injured.

Now is probably a good time to question your fashion choices of the morning.  You must understand how this works.  If you are wearing a flattering new outfit and you just had your hair professionally coiffed,  you will not see anyone you know.  Not even the mailman.  If you just rolled out of bed and you look completely disheveled, wearing clothes you normally wouldn’t be caught dead in, you will bump into every person you haven’t seen in the past ten years.  Your choice. 

Keep in mind that supermarkets highlight your appearance with fluorescent lighting, which seems cruel since they are already taking your hard-earned money.   If they are going to bankrupt you, they could at least make you look good during the process. Maybe we should start a campaign for candlelit shopping.  We would be surrounded by flattering ambient lighting, and the stores would profit because thanks to the dim lighting, we would barely notice any flaws in the produce.  It would be a winning situation for everyone involved.  

Once you enter the supermarket, you will need your shopping list.  If you can’t find it, it’s back at your house.  Don’t worry, it will be exactly where you left it, so you will be sure to confirm all of the things you forgot at the store as soon as you arrive home.  If you do manage to bring the list, the challenge will be to actually stick to only the items written on it.  Yeah, right. The real purpose of the shopping list is to confirm what you were really supposed to buy. 

Try not to be intimidated by the pros.  You know, the professional female shoppers who move with such precision and skill that everyone else scuttles like crabs out of their way and secretly watches in awe.  These women do not even use lists.  They laugh at lists as they zoom past you in the produce section.  They don’t even break into a sweat while trying to find the perfect melon.

By the way, if you have always wondered how to find the perfect melon, I will let you in on a little secret.  Nobody really knows.  Sure, people will give you tips here and there, but it’s all an act.  It’s all about the face.  If you watch people who seem to know what they’re doing, they’re just making a face to convince you. 

You must first pick a melon that looks halfway decent.  Try to avoid the rotten ones with flies pouring out of the holes.  Then you turn the melon every which way, gently squeezing it as you set your face like stone.  I’m not sure why, but apparently melon selection is a very serious business with no smiling allowed whatsoever.

The following faces are acceptable for feigning melon expertise:

  1. Passing a kidney stone.
  2. Understanding quantum physics.
  3. Finding the square root of a six digit number.
  4. Surviving an IRS audit. 

Tune in next week to learn, among other things, how to survive the deli…

Blood In The Water: A Tale Of Supermarket Sharks

Do you go to the supermarket for a gallon of milk and come out with enough food to sustain a third world country?  Does your grocery bill resemble the sticker price of a small used car?  If you fear that your shopping skills are less than par, don’t worry. When it comes to grocery shopping, no one really knows what they are doing anyway.  

It begins in the parking lot, which always seems to be full, even when two people are inside the store and they both rode their bikes.  Where are all of those cars coming from?  Maybe the lots are staged to make it look like the store is doing better business.  Or maybe a grocery store parking lot is the perfect spot for criminals to ditch stolen cars.  Whatever you do, do not look in the trunks of those cars.  (Note to self:  Stop reading crime novels.) 

Most shoppers waste precious time trying to strategically pick the best possible parking space.  Why do we do this when we know darn well we are just going to forget where we parked anyway?  Just park far away and wear good walking shoes, because no matter what, you’re going to be getting some exercise as you wander aimlessly about, searching for your car and your memory cells.  Inevitably, someone will start slowly following you to take your parking space.  This car-shark smells blood in the water, and you must shake him off your trail without panicking. Three options here:

1.  Force a stiff smile and try to look cool as you smack your head and pretend to suddenly remember something you forgot to buy.  Bolt back towards the store.

2. Cut a zigzag path in between cars where the shark can’t follow.   He’ll get so annoyed that he’ll give up and hunt someone else.

3.  Ask the shark if he remembers where you parked, because you sure as heck don’t; then brazenly ask him for a ride to your car.

Once you survive the parking lot sharks and make it to shore, it’s time to pick out a grocery cart.  The biggest concern here used to be the wobbly wheel.  That problem is so 1980s.  Today’s shopper must think about the fact that the handle of a grocery cart contains more germs than a public school desk.  Thankfully, most stores now supply hand sanitizer…twenty feet from where you have to pick up your cart. At all costs, you must avoid touching the Petri dish handle with your hands.  Just use your elbows to steer over to the sanitizer, where you can then confirm that it is indeed empty.  That’s okay, here is a little SAT problem for you;

hand sanitizer :  grocery cart handle =

A.  Band-Aid :  severed artery

B. muzzle : T-Rex

C. handcuffs :  Houdini

D.  All of the above.

If you chose D, you’re getting better already.  If you would rather play Jeopardy!, your correct answer would be What are things that are pointless?

If there is no way to clean the cart, you will have to either pull your sleeves over your hands and burn your shirt when you get home, or continue to steer with your elbows. 

Tune in next week to learn, among other things, how to pick the perfect melon…

Mall Carnival

The doors open and I swim upstream with the other school of people who have leaked through the front entrance.  My fins disappear and suddenly I am being pushed along in a mob of people through the muddy madness of the mall, each of us walking with determined steps as though our destination is of importance to national security.  We know exactly where we are headed, but too many distractions derail us.  Stuck in a strange nightmare, I’m greeted at every turn by freak shows and loud games and brightly colored prizes that cry out to be won. 

Step right over here, folks.  Win a diamond ring for your girl.  Look over here, ladies and gentlemen, and witness the world’s most pierced teen.  Come buy this magic potion; for the price of a house, it will make you smell like Britney Spears.

A tall ride looms ahead, and I blindly step on.  Up, up, up we go, slowly creeping with abandon of time, watching other versions of ourselves riding down in the opposite direction.  Their ride looks more fun, but these people look spent at the end or their journey, like gently used cashmere sweaters, slightly worse for wear.  My adventure is just beginning.

At the top, the blended aroma of popcorn, hot dogs, and coffee punches me harshly in the face. I suddenly get sucked into the vortex of a new ride: a carousel-like room, which I then ride around and around and around, trying to find a new swimsuit.  I select enough swimsuits for an entire Olympic swim team. Needing to try them on, I am ushered into a Hall of Mirrors, and the door ominously closes with a thud behind me.  For some reason, I sing along to the Pop Song From Hell, with lyrics as catchy as a spider web but apparently written by a fourth grader.

Clearly these are no ordinary mirrors.  There is something wrong.  My hips look too wide, and those are definitely not my thighs.  In fact, this does not look like me at all.  I see gray hairs and wrinkles and every detail that I would not want to see;  I feel like I’m back in high school biology, forced to examine  an earthworm under a microscope.  I look tired and a lot older than I remember.  I curse the sordid invention of fluorescent lighting. Wait a minute. Oh, I get it!  These are Fun Mirrors!

Out of hundreds of swimsuits, only one fits.  Now I get to put them all back on the hangers, but how did they ever get them on in the first place?  Maybe if I win this challenge, I will win a giant panda bear that won’t fit in my car.

I leave that haunted house, and approach the cash register,  where I actually get to pay money for that fun ride.  The sales clerk has had a rough day and demonstrates her fire breathing skills.

Just one more ride, and I’m done for the day.  I ride the roller coaster down this time, avoiding the mirror coming down the side.  I’ve had enough mirrors for one day.  Everyone around me has the same expression: a weary look that speaks of the need to leave this carnival and move on to the amusement park of the freeway.  Up first: the bumper cars.