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January 16, 2014

Shopping is never fun, simple

Cooperstown Crier

---- — I am not a shopper. Quick ins and outs are what appeal to me. The sooner the ordeal is over the better. 

Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. No matter how many times I go to the supermarket nothing is ever where it should be. Or, for that matter, are things where they were the last time I finally found them, usually with the help of a mother pushing a full cart often loaded down with at least one child aboard and several in tow. They seem to have the whole joint mapped out and committed to memory. One of these days I will figure out why I can remember obscure facts read in a book months or years ago and never ever remember where fairly common household staples reside. 

One of the values of shopping at small, locally owned shops is that if one is befuddled one only need ask the owner, who invariably has your buying habits inscribed in memory. I ventured into one store several days ago in search of a can of hot peppers. As soon as I told the owner what I was looking for she led me to the right shelf, picked up the can, handed it to me, and assured me that this was the product my wife usually bought. It is nice to know I am following in such dependable footsteps.

Americans are shoppers. My sources of delight rest elsewhere. Besides, if I want to test my fragile ego there are plenty of daily opportunities to do the job. One of these days, and it will not be soon, we will run out of living space on the planet because landfills will have taken over. We are all complicit in this. When the landscape is transformed into one vast stretch of landfills perhaps we will come to our senses.

Despite what on the surface appears to be sound advice, one thing I will never stoop to is shopping with a cell phone, no matter how confused I might be. I suppose that were I not so stubborn that would have helped me out of an existentially dispiriting experience in front of the bread section of a local supermarket last week. My wife has baked our bread for years so our need for store bought bread is rare. Every once in a while we run out, which means stopping the gap with commercial fare. Granted, there are some that are quite good. But once seduced by homemade bread there is not turning back. Last week I had one task to complete – go to town and buy a loaf of bread. On the surface that does not strike one as a particularly daunting task. That is, until one is confronted by choices so innumerable that winnowing down to a final decision seems insurmountable. Having had a long and sometimes painful relationship with insecurity, it is a bit embarrassing to wrestle with that demon when figuring out which loaf makes the cut.

The good news is that I had a fellow traveler there to share the pain with me. As I turned the corner he was standing there with a quizzical look on his face and it turned out he too felt challenged by all those choices. Be nice if there were just plain bread. No. There are multi-grained loaves of innumerable combinations, plain and not so plain whites, ryes, dark and not so darks, round ones, oval ones – the list goes on. We both stood there sharing our frustration, considered the relative merits of each, and then each selected the same grainy loaf merely because it represented, at least to us, the choice least susceptible to recrimination when set on the table at home for inspection. I do not know about other people, but when I am sent to the store with specific instructions my fear of failure fuels the entire enterprise. Why? Because I have failed on many an occasion.

Shopping is not that simple. It is easy to say, honey, while you are downtown get a few cans of this and a box of that. Well, trouble is there is never just one can of this or that or one box of anything. I have come home with the wrong stuff or brand so many times it is a wonder I am trusted at all. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust me. My usual practice is to empty the contents of a shopping spree on the counter in a way suitable for inspection when the resident Inspector General arrives home. Our IG works hard, puts in long days, so my first thought is always that fatigue will trump displeasure. Not so. Very few of my shopping forays have been error free. Good thing I always keep the receipt – many for years!

There ought to be a way to simplify the process. Unfortunately, simplicity is not amenable to the free enterprise system. It causes one to think seriously about the virtues of socialism!