“What’s your recipe for chocolate chip cookies?” I ask my mom via text message.
My mom makes awesome cookies, so I won’t be disclosing that recipe. She describes the instructions in detail, to which I realize I don’t have several of the required ingredients, most notably chocolate chips. Great. Looks like I’m going to the store.
When it comes to grocery stores, you have your blue-chip, can’t-miss stores. Top of the line products, great prices, clean stores, and a friendly staffs are enough to make you conduct your semi-monthly food stock ups at a specified locale. Everyone has this first choice grocery store. However, most people also have a backup. The backup grocery store is kind of like the ugly girl in high school who is really good friends with everyone, but people usually only come to for favors. She’s happy to comply, but she knows deep down no one can truly love her like the prettier, nicer, more fully stocked gir…I mean stores.
The first choice store is where you go when it’s time for a big grocery trip. You know you’re going to walk out that door with two-weeks worth of groceries and $150 less dollars in your wallet. The backup store is where you go when you need to get milk or bread quickly, or decide last-minute you randomly want to make chocolate chip cookies.
I embark to my backup store. This store is unique for many reasons. For one, they only stock one brand of milk, which I suspect comes from the utters of the junior varsity squad of dairy cows. The store possess a “Wall of Values” which is exactly as depressing as it sounds and includes a separate aisle of items strictly priced at one dollar. If you ever need to purchase motor oil and a chocolate bar made from the finest of Swiss chocolates and only those two items and spend not a dime over $2 then this is the place to be. I also suspect the bathroom graffiti is done with spray paint, because even the vandalism at this store needs to be unique.
This store is also the type of store that enforces a dress code for its employees. Typically, the dress code for any grocery store I’ve visited has been “wear this polo shirt or apron and please remember to wear pants.” However, the dress code at this store has the employees required to wear black pants, a white shirt, and a tie. That’s more dressed up than I got for my Homecoming Dance in high school.
So I park my car and embark into the store. Within seconds, I feel bad about myself. I crawl through this parking lot dressed in stained sweatpants, tennis shoes with no socks, and a hoodie I think I worked out in the day before. Also, I hadn’t showered yet that day and probably haven’t shaved in three or four days. Meanwhile, I see the cart pusher, donned in his stylish semi-formal grocery store wear, and I immediately realize I, who on multiple occasions has given fashion advice, now look like a homeless vagrant compared to this disgruntled 19-year-old cart caddy getting paid minimum wage to chase carts across a parking lot.
I push onward. I’m here for chocolate chips, milk, margarine, and peanut butter.
I don’t come here often, so I panic and grab a cart. Subconsciously, I think I got it as an extra layer of protection against the elements. I locate the chocolate chips with relativeease. Check.
Finding milk should be easy. I head towards the refrigerated section of the store. At the deli, two large men and their fat, stupid children stand in the middle of the aisle. They don’t notice me at first. I stand there like an idiot for about three seconds before I politely say, “excuse me.”
“Whoa, sorry there fella, I’ll git aughta yur way,” said the man, wearing a polyester Steelers jacket that I believe was team issue in 1994.
He then moves his cart out of the way, while his chubby daughter busts out a literal juke move that would cause Barry Sanders in his prime to crumple to the ground with two broken ankles.
I get to the dairy section. An older-ish lady, maybe about 60 was standing in front of the milk display, mumbling to herself.
“Mur mah mur mur baba mur buttermilk,” the lady said. I was thoroughly uncomfortable. I’m not exactly sure what she is contemplating, since there’s only one brand of milk, which comes in three sizes, with the only choices being whole, 2%, or skim.
Seemingly overcome by the unlimited, infinite milk possibilities, the lady comments, “harmaana blabba mah murr $3.59.”
The milk was actually only $3.47, so I’m not entirely sure where she compiled that figure. I quickly leave.
I need to find peanut butter. I’m not sure where I go to accomplish this task. I must have looked confused because an associate saw me and asked, “Lookin’ fer the bathroom?”
For a second I was confused. What emotions could I possibly have been conveying non-verbally for this stranger to assume that was my problem. Faced with an existential crisis involving the appearance of my “poop-face”, I respond with, “No, I’m good, thanks,” which must’ve satisfied the clerk.
I give up. Peanut butter is gonna have to wait.
I approach the check out line and realize I’m still pushing a cart filled only with a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips and a gallon of milk. I then remembered I needed margarine, so I pushed my cart back to the aisle to find butter. Polyester jacket Steelers fan is there. “That makes sense,” I thought to myself.
I am now ready to check out. I push my cart with my three items to the 10 items or less lane. The cashier was on break. We made eye-contact, my expression saying, “Look, I only have three items. I fulfill all the requirements for this service,” to which her look says, “That may be so but I’m eating a sandwich, so you will be getting in line with the commoners.”
I get in line behind a guy who only has a few items. Our cashier is a young woman. This guy sees this as his chance to chat this lady up with some classic sweet talk.
“You know,” he said to the cashier, “these candies here on this rack weren’t here this morning, and I would know because I was here in this line.”
He then turns around, looks at me and smiles, as if it say, “Take some notes, son, that right there is how it’s done.”
The cashier replies with, “Yeah, I didn’t notice that.” This guy is getting a propane tank filled. It’s 30 degrees outside.
“Yeah, I just had this here tank laying around, figured I would top it off and maybe do some grillin’,” said Casanova.
“It’s pretty cold outside,” said the visibly annoyed cashier.
“Yeah, well, I think I’m gonna do it anyway,” he said as he turns around again, as if to say, “Hook, line, and sinker.”
By now, an elderly woman in a motorized scooter had made her way behind me in line. Casanova is blowing his chance and I can’t watch, so my eyes begin to wonder around the store. I can see through my peripherals scooter lady is looking at me. The judgment in her eyes says it all; she does not approve of my decision to use a cart on this day. Whatever, I don’t need her validation.
Casanova mercifully completes his transaction with no number in hand. He smells like motor oil. Some guys just can’t win. I don’t look at my cashier at all, knowing I would laugh if I did so. I realized by intentionally avoiding eye contact the entire time I looked like I had Aspergers. Scooter lady now looks like she feels bad for me.
“Do you want your milk in a bag?” the cashier asks.
“Uhhh,” I say, sincerely unsure of how to answer that question. I was caught off guard. “No thanks, it’s milk,” I finally say.
I pay for my items and carry my single bag and milk in one hand, while pushing a cart with another. I put my cart back in the entrance of the store. The cat-caddy kid looks offended, since I kind of just did his job for him. He’ll get over it. Probably.
I exit the store into the freezing cold. Casanova is driving a giant Ford truck with a lift kid. “Yeah, I figured,” I noted audibly. I pull out and head home, and a lady in a giant Denali nearly hits my car as she failed to stop, or even slightly slow down at a stop sign. She looked at me like I was eating a diaper, as if it’s my fault she couldn’t drop the phone her husband bought her.
I then remember I hate my backup store and reconsider finding a new one. That’s a story for another day.