The Supermarket Trilogy

I. An Evil Plot Amongst Us!
By Fred Stock

          With all the talk of terrorists and evil do-ers these days, it surprises me that someone greater than I has not noted and annotated the nearest evil plot to every man in our society… the Super-Super-Market. There has to be a multi-layered conspiracy here. A vast pick-your-favorite-wing conspiracy. Just look at any man in any isle of any mega-market and you can see it on his bewildered face, his confused staring at mountains of things he has no idea about. “What the hxxx ARE all these things?” I find myself saying!

          I don’t know if you’ve stopped to realize it yet, but it takes an engineering degree and intense concentration to shop in Ralph’s these days. Wal-Mart, A&P, Von’s and Stater’s are no better. I was in Albertson’s this morning and it’s just the same. Oh, what twisted webs we weave when we practice to build mega-stores!

I remember the days when the Ledwon family ran a little grocery store at the corner. Mr. Ledwon always knew what brand of soup your Mom wanted, and always handed it to you in person. Mrs. Ledwon always smiled and handed you a piece of rock candy when you left. They got nearly everything you could ever want into that store about the size of a two car garage. That included their cute daughter Virginia too. I could ride my bike tio this place and always come away with what I needed, and no stress, no confusion! But today, there is a soup isle in the mega store with perhaps 600 kinds of soup, maybe 300,000 cans by my calculation, and that doesn't even consider the city block of spaghetti-o's and chili. Did you know there are about 19 different kinds of chili in that isle. That's enough jalapeño to burn as hole all the way through the entire planet to China!

Here I was staring hopelessly at some thirty-four thousand little cans of soup, looking for “old fashioned vegetable” requested by my wife. I immediately flashed to that TV commercial where the wife is taking digital photographs of the cans and boxes in her pantry closet so she can print out a photo-list for her ordinary (and therefore helpless in a market) husband.

I am suddenly interrupted by another disorientated fellow asking if I had seen the marshmallows. (I guess you have to "network" with people of like daftness in a place like this!) You know, there is no such thing as a “marshmallow” isle. They’re not in “candy”. He and I looked fruitlessly in “picnic supplies”… don’t you always have marshmallows at picnics? They were not to be seen in “promotional items” even though the promotional isle sign has a picture of a kid and mom roasting marshmallows over a campfire. Oh, sure, a MOM! They know about these things! No fair!  I don’t know if the unfortunate bloke ever did find marshmallows. No wonder there’s a Starbucks in this place… Caffeine! Yes!

I told the gentleman about the engineering degree idea. He said, “Hxxx, I’ve got one of those. They don’t help either!” About that time a third guy overheard us and laughed. He was looking for table salt. You’d think there would be a “salt and pepper” isle, but Noooooo!

It occurs to me that they must send only girls to a special class in school to be trained how to shop in a Mega-Market. (In fairness, I guess a few boys are allowed in too… but only if they sign a pledge that says they’re the one’s who will grow up to run super markets.) 

I said to a lady, “Do they send girls to a special class on market navigation?” She laughed, then looking at me with a definite hint of pathos on her face, said, “What are you looking for?” “Salt” I said. “Oh, that’s in spices… two isles over on the right at eye-level.” Way too accurate, I thought, must be in on the plot. She’ll go home and laugh at us.

Then the second guy showed up again. “I’m doing better,” he said, “but I cheated. I asked an employee of the store.” “You saw an employee?” I gasped! “Wow!”  “You know that commercial about the camera? It’ll work if it includes an accurate map and a little GPS system readout.” “Copy!” I said, as I stumbled forward!

Thank God for cell-phones.  “Hello, honey? Hellppp!” 


-Fred Stock

A few months ago, I wrote about the bewilderment we men experience in the wild world of supermarkets.  I had the unfortunate experience recently to be wantonly thrust back into them again!  My spouse had said, “You drop me off at this market, and I’ll start the big shopping. Meanwhile, you drive over across the street and buy the liquid artificial sweetener we like. They don’t sell it here, but they do over there.” Now, just how, I thought, would she know that if she were not in on “the plot”. You know, where they only teach young girls about these places, and keep the boys grunting at football practice.  I was going to complain, but I thought, “Wait a minute, I now have one of THEM on MY side! So, I did as any good obedient English husband (my wife’s ideal for me even though I’m not a Brit,) would do, and did as I was told. I dropped her at Luckys and ran across to the other one to get the “Sweet-10” stuff. It’s another “mega-hyper-multi-super-store” with about 350 isles, all stocked with every possible variety of every product known to man or Chef Emeril (either one). Every possible variety, that is, except the one I was sent to ferrite out.

Hey look!! A store lady stocking a shelf! I know these creatures had to exist, though they are elusive as shadows most of the time. “Hi! Can you tell me where to find artificial sweeteners?” ‘They’re in Isle Ten’ I looked up at the sign over my head. It said 10a. “Where is isle 10, please.” ‘You’re standing in it.’ “Oh, great! Can you point me to the sweeteners?” ‘There on the shelf behind you!’ “Oh, I’ve scoured that whole shelf-bank clean. There isn’t any Sweet-10.” ‘Let me look… yes, you’re right, there isn’t any left.’ “You know, there NEVER seems to be any of those.” ‘I know, those are so popular, we’re always out of them.’ “Then why not order a lot more of them? You’d make a lot more sales…” ‘I know, Corporate sets those levels.’ “Where’s Corporate?” ‘In East Flagigazonia , I think.’ That’s about 85000 miles from here! “On what do they base their setting of the levels?” ‘Sales, I think.’ “Wouldn’t you think that since they are always out of that, they’d think they had sold out very quickly?” ‘Probably not. They just see that they only sold a few so that’s what they restock.’ “But you’re always out!” I protested!  ‘I know, I know,’ she said.  I think I hurt her feelings.

Finally had to give up. As I walked through the check-out counter without anything to show for my half hour visit to the largest store in 500 square miles, the register lady said to me, “Did you find everything alright?” It was probably rude to walk past without answering her. I drove back to where the smart half of this marriage was gliding easily through the shelves. I told her, “None there.” She looked at me as though I had told her Scott Peterson’s jury had just changed it’s mind. “Well, we’ll have to go to Staters or Vons I guess. They all have it most of the time.” Good grief! She knows about those too! It’s the Plot! This is scary!. This thing is real!

I just quietly followed her through the store, watching in amazement.  We ended our journey in the vegetable department. I feel even more foreign there than in the meat department. Let’s be honest guys. How many of us really know what to do with any of the following; basil, endive-chicory, parsnips (wasn’t that a cartoon character when I was a kid?), cilantro, and rutabagas. And this one really got me. Bok Choy. I thought he was a rookie pitcher for the Dodgers or something! fhs


Another Supermarket Experience!

-Fred Stock

            In looking over the essays I have penned in this series, I realized there were several which had originated in mark ets!  Really scary places, indeed! Women’s shopping habits have been a source of fascination to me from early childhood when I watched my mother with limited budget walking through the local A&P store in Lancaster New York . They must have had three isles, and a choice of maybe two - perhaps three - brands on any one type of product. She was feeding (at that time) six or seven kids (there were nine of us ultimately, I was the oldest,) which meant she was almost always pregnant, and Dad was always working several jobs to pay the bills. So we springers-off duck-trailed along behind her, mother duck and all her stair-step ducklings. It was amazing how she handled all of us kids, and simultaneously purchased a carefully budgeted list of ingredients for exactly the correct number of meals, NEVER on a piece of paper. I am sure there have been times when my spouse felt the same feelings, and did the same amazing mental tight-wire acts, but it was more apparent to me as a kid at the front of the line!

            Women always have a system for doing all the girl-things they do in mark ets. Look around at all of us retired or semi-retired guys following our wives around with the basket, and note the dazed look on all of our faces. The things they know! For instance, watermelons. Men walk up to the counter, look around at the pile of melons mountain-ed up before them. They spot one of the size they imagined when their wife said “buy one” and they grab it, put it in the cart and go. A woman on the other hand will turn over about five of them, and tap on them listening for some specific sound. There is no telling what exactly they are listening for, or what would make them choose this one and reject that. I tried it after watching my lady knock on several of them. They all sounded the same to me. I picked one up and knocked on it holding it to my ear. That’s when I noticed the produce guy was standing over at the door, watching with a little grin. “What does this schmend rick expect, he’ll get an answer heah?” I’m sure that is what he was thinking!

            Anyway, no answer heard. The wife, on the other hand, knocked on several and proudly handed me one, saying, “This one is exactly right.” So I should argue? I put it in the basket.

            Then we hit the check-out. Waiting in line I noticed headlines on the bird-cage-bottom magazines on the ends of the counters. “Shocking Weight Gain For Sally!” I guess I’d be shocked too! I mean, my word, nine pounds? That’s terrible! “Lanni Convinced Husband Danny’s Family Is Pushing Him To Dump Her In Favor Of Jen!” Who the heck is Lanni, Danny or Jen, and why should I care? Are they worried because I have an extra ten pounds of my own (shocking!) and my hair is thinning a bit too! (It’s breaking news!) “Samantha’s Sizzling Plan To Save Her Marriage!”  How in the world can you expect me to concentrate on learning my melon picking methodology with a crisis like this to solve! And then there’s the vital information on being a better lover for your mate and looking better on the beach. Seven of ten of those magazines have articles on this nearly every month, so it MUST be an important subject that I have neglected. For shame, self! Slap, slap!

            I tell you, you have to hand it to the ladies. They are able to find things in a store with more compartments and hallways than a small aircraft carrier, totally control the quality of the fruit they purchase with just a knuckle, and they know everything that is going on between Jasmine and Bobby from “As The Stomach Turns” on daytime TV. Not to mention the Court TV cases they fully understand, while still doing all their homemaker things and diligently studying a correspondence course on the internet! Amazing! We men will never understand! -fhs