by Kris Neri
I have a friend who absolutely hates grocery shopping. She hates it so much, if anyone even mentions a trip to the supermarket, the rant it generates seems more appropriate for an unexpected descent into hell than an errand to buy food.
Of course, she brings a level of organization to it that the military would have considered excessive for the D-Day invasion. She works out meals for at least ten days, figuring out every single ingredient she’d need, and adding it all to her list. My own organization involves seeing a few items that happen to fall close together in the grocery cart and thinking, Hey, there’s a meal. I never think through all the ingredients, however, and that invariably necessitates another trip down the grocery aisles.
But I like going to the grocery store. The people-watching there is first-rate. I’m convinced that no matter how we try to present ourselves in other settings, the supermarket sees us as we really are. In one of my favorite lines from Noel Coward’s Private Lives, the character, Amanda, says, “I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives." If you doubt the truth of that remark, swing by the grocery store sometime soon, where I promise you that you’ll see some people in their absolutely abnormal/normal states. Look at someone’s grocery list, and you’ll understand who they are and how they live.
I remember the first time I saw someone wearing pajamas in the frozen food aisle. I actually felt sorry for the poor girl, believing she’d gotten so confused, she forgot she hadn’t dressed before leaving the house. Then I learned wearing PJs in public had become de rigueur for teens and twenty-somethings. Now that state of undress isn’t limited to the young ones anymore. I recently found myself trapped behind a guy closing in on Medicare, whose hairy butt showed through the thin pajama bottoms he wore to do his shopping. Not a pretty sight. That the elastic had seen better days has probably left me scarred for life.
Once my husband stopped at the market on the way home from work for his favorite indulgence after a bad day, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The guy in front of him in line happened to notice my husband was buying ice cream, while the woman behind him was buying whipped cream. The guy in front quipped that if only he was getting chocolate sauce, they could build a sundae. Joe laughed, but the woman behind him acted huffy and annoyed by their intrusion. Joe’s car happened to pull behind hers as she waited in the market’s driveway for a break in traffic so she could pull into the street. Suddenly, he could see quite clearly through the rear window that she'd thrown her her head back and squirted whipped cream directly into her mouth. I have to wonder if her huffiness was the result of strangers taking too much note of her secret indulgence. Well, not that secret, given that car windows are transparent. What did I tell you? The supermarket sees us as we really are.
One of the consequences of our homogenous society is that there isn’t much difference in grocery shopping from coast-to-coast. I miss the mom-and-pop stores that reflect more distinctive local tastes. Oh, sure, you’ll see a little more of this in one region, and a little less of that, but since most of our supermarkets are part of national chains, I never spot that much difference when I travel. And I do look.
I also check out supermarkets in foreign countries when I’m lucky enough to travel to abroad. Once, on a trip to England, we bought British pet food to bring home as gifts for our pets. Security at Heathrow was extremely tight at the time, with all carry-ons being hand-searched. When the grim-faced security officer pulled out a box of British dog biscuits, she actually had to suppress a smile.
What? Other people don’t visit grocery stores when they travel? Obviously, I need to get a life. I can’t work on it now, though. I need a few more ingredients for tonight’s dinner, and I have to make a quick trip back to the supermarket.