It’s “Coupon Thursday” at my local Shop ‘N Save grocery store: $10 off $50 or more (excluding fuel, fresh milk, pharmacy, alcohol, lottery, tobacco, and sales tax). Being the self-professed cheapskate, I know I need to go grocery shopping today.
There’s something about grocery shopping, however, than annoys me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It probably has to do with spending money on items that will probably get pushed to the back of my refrigerator and become experiments later in growing penicillin. It might also have to deal with fighting the crowds, and the hassle of pushing my way through aisles and clinking into other grocery carts. I tried going to Whole Foods recently to get out of my comfort zone and switch up my choice in foods, and also to “mingle” with different people. The location was different, and the food a bit more “exotic”, but instead of bumping into others’ carts, I was knocked around by anxiety-filled, Type A people who wore hiking shoes and workout gear and had wiry hair and skin the consistency of cured leather due to over-exercising and lack of trans and saturated fats in their diets (being replaced with flaxseed oil and whole grains).
So, back to Shop ‘N Save I go. First, I have to take stock of what’s in my freezer, refrigerator and pantry:
1 box of year old popsicles
2 bags of frozen veggies
1/2 carton of freezer-burned ice cream
1 Boca Burger in a freezer bag (date unknown).
The refrigerator doesn’t look much better:
A bottle of champagne from my sister’s wedding 2 years ago
Slimed turkey meat
2 shriveled peaches
1/4 qt. of orange juice
bread (lots of it)
An almost empty tub of butter
3 bottles of used Ketchup
2 bottles of salad dressing
Tupperware of browned lettuce
Tupperware of brown stuff
1 mushy cucumber
1/2 green pepper
The dry goods cabinet is littered with half-emptied cereal boxes, baking goods, packs of tuna fish, peanut butter, pasta boxes, an assortment of crackers, cans of soup, boxes and bags of rice, and shoved to the back are 3 jars of maple syrup (1 bought probably 2 years ago). Mrs. Butterworth appears to be scolding my for my excesses and wastefulness.
I write down my new grocery list on my pad of paper. I add other items like toilet bowl cleaner, toothpaste, and Kleenex. I get into my car, and drive myself unwillingly to the grocery store.
The Shop ‘N Save is set up so you have to enter at the checkout area and head straight for the fresh produce. On Coupon Thursdays, Jim, a man in his late 50s with white hair, glasses, clean smock and silent ways, is vacuuming out the produce stands. He nods at me and silently continues his work, unbothered by the raucous children and crying toddler who are whining to their mother on who gets to sit in the race-car shopping cart. Jim probably knows my routine fairly well by now. Today, I secretly decide to surprise him and grab a bag of dried cranberries to pair with the romaine lettuce I just bagged.
I walk over to the bread and condiments aisle right next to the produce and debate on getting fresh bread or not. While I’m debating this, I see the “two for” signs: 2 lemons for $0.98, 2 bags of chips for $6, 2 jars of applesauce for $4. I’m hooked. It’s Coupon Thursday, so I can splurge a little, right? I throw in a bag of pita chips and a bag of hummus and some more fresh veggies and I’m already up to $25 without going down the main aisles.
$40 later, I’m perusing the coffee, tea, canned veggies aisle where I am stopped by an elderly black woman wearing a long weave, orange flowered, tight dress, owl glasses, and bright orange nail polish. She mutters something to me and shoves her cell phone in my face. I am momentarily taken aback. She does it again, and I realize she is mute. Her voice comes out in scratchy tones and inarticulate sounds. I take her cell phone and cautiously say, “Hello?” On the line is a man and he angrily asks me, “What does she want, do you know?” I turn and ask her and slowly, and in gravely sound bites she utters something which I decipher to be “…take the bus.” I relay that back to him.
“Which bus?” he asks me, and I figure he knows this woman, and so back and forth I go relaying their bizarre question-answer segments. I figure out her bus stop, metro stop, and point of destination. He tells me to tell her he will pick her up at 6:30p.m., then abruptly hangs up. I inform her of all this and she leans into me, wraps her arms around me, and gives me a big hug. I hug her back. Then, she pushes her cart down the aisle and picks up some canned beans and wheels off.
The cookie wall looms ahead of me. Like Alice in Wonderland, I imagine I see a sign that reads “Eat Me” on a bag of double-stuffed Oreos. But, it’s Coupon Thursday and as it is I already have excesses I can live without and so I choose to buy toothpaste instead. I slink off to the beauty aisle and grab a tube of Colgate. I look both ways and reach for a box of tampons, too, which I will later hide under a frozen pizza I will pick up 5 aisles down.
I turn down the cleaning supplies aisle and I can hear the same screaming kids before I see them. When they do come into view, the youngest has lost her shoe and the two older kids are slapping each other while the mom reads the label on the dish soap. She blindly reaches out her hand, points to the children and murmurs, “Stop it right now” as she picks up another cleaner and places it into the cart. The littlest one screams even louder and I think to myself, “I don’t need toilet bowl cleaner today,” and I reverse out of the aisle and turn down the pet food section.
On and on my tour of the grocery store continues: putting away items I can live without and filling up my cart with yogurt, soy milk, frozen pizza, eggs, granola bars, cereal, while almost knocking into other thrifty shoppers who are stocking up as well. We are numb and bored, and wishing we were somewhere else. In the snack aisle, I get hit on by a married man who hides his hand in his pant’s pocket when he saw me stare at his ring. I cut him short when he asks me if I live around here, and I turn and head for the deli area to pick up some smoked turkey slices.
As I turn a corner, a short, middle-aged woman with salt and pepper hair and a pretty smile asks me where she can find the popcorn. “Aisle 10, on the left-hand side,” I tell her. Then, I mentally grimace and realize I have spent too many Thursday evenings at the Shop ‘N Save.
One last stop and I can check out and go home. I turn down the novelty and ice cream aisle and bump into a 20-something guy in baggy khaki pants, oversized sports jersey, and red ball cap tipped backwards. He licks his lips and eyes me up and down. I raise my eyebrows and purse my lips and give a “deer in the headlight” look. “LL Cool Whip” puts his hand on his pants and says, “Mmm. Damn. You got a body.”
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” I say as I open the freezer door.
“You don’t want all that ice cream to mess up all that do you? Mmm hmmm,” he croons as he switches hands to hold up his pants.
I grab the Breyers mint chocolate chip ice cream carton to my chest to hide my feeling of nakedness and I quickly turn around and mutter, “Later” to LL Cool Whip who is already checking out the mother with the screaming children.
I get into Kelly’s checkout lane. She is standing there as usual with her big smile. She is visiting with each of her customers. Her big feathered red hair, big glasses, and brown smock have a certain sense of familiarity and comfort to my local grocery store. She belongs here as much as Jim the produce guy. As I’m unloading my cart, I realize that this store really is packed with friendly cashiers, clean aisles, fresh food, cheap prices and the best granola bars this side of the Mississippi. No Super Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club can ever replace that.
I hear a burly voice behind me say, “Damn, you sure do eat healthy.” I look up to see an elderly man with white hair, plaid shirt, and bolo tie. He is unloading his 5 steaks, case of Stag beer, 2 onions, a bag of tomatoes and barbecue sauce. “Cowboy” smiles at me and I smile back. The next thing I know, he, Kelly and I are talking about neighborhood barbecues and the good ol’ days. Kelly punches in my last item and tells me that I need $5 more to hit the Coupon Thursday discount. I ask Cowboy to pass me a pack of gum and the People magazine on the rack next to him. “Sometimes you gotta smut it up,” I say and we all laugh as I sign my name to the check.
Cowboy and I continue talking about this and that as we bag up our groceries. I say goodbye and watch him saunter off towards the parking lot: his loping gait making him seem like he’s been riding his horse all day. I continue to bag more of my groceries and wonder why it is again that I hate grocery shopping.