Perhaps the most unexpected thing about becoming an adult is the amount of time you spend in supermarkets. No one preps you for that. They warn you about children, lack of sleep, and taxes, but no one tells you about the astronomical number of hours you’ll be navigating a rusty cart through a parade of people who seemingly learned to walk yesterday.
I’ve grown to hate the supermarket as a necessary evil in my life. I will literally spend an hour buying things we need only to get to my car, have a moment of clarity, and scream, “The paper towels! I forgot the paper towels! That was the whole reason I came here!” During the summer, when my windows are rolled down, it leads to some concerned stares.
For the amount of time I waste away wandering their aisles, you’d think they would reward me, right? Wrong. Sure, they offer a “rewards card” to access discounts and give you that warm feeling of appreciation. Then, after you finally finish filling out the information and downloading the app, you quickly learn it was all a trick when the cashier says those six words to deflate your spirit.
I’ll punch in the store card.
Ugh. It’s maddening but, truth be told, my issues with the grocer start long before we reach the payment process. In those moments that I want to scream, I wish I had my kids with me. Lucas is more of a Target kid, but my daughter helps lift the mood at the market. Olivia, in one of her earliest walks through the produce section, showed me the type of freedom children are allowed to have in social situations that we, the beaten down grown-ups, have long forgetten.
The smell among the fruits and vegetables that day was, well, not good. The stale refrigerator odor permeated the air and all the adults pretended not to notice. I could tell by the look on her face that my daughter was not on board with the “ignoring rotten produce” train.
Her face contorted with each step. Her eyes began to squint and then, without breaking her stride by my side, she just said it. Really loud.
Her voice echoed through the aisles and a woman, walking past us and holding a shopping basket, nearly fell to her knee laughing. It was a true Olivia classic.
Without the kids, my jaunts to buy groceries are less doubled-over-laughter and more teetering-on-a-breakdown. The yin to that story’s yang was the day I went to an unfamiliar store looking to buy a package of turkey slices. I was already having an annoying day and all I wanted was to do was make my children lunch. That’s it.
This particular supermarket was laid out different than most and, after circling the deli department in vain, I could not find the prepackaged sandwich meats. They had the guys with mustaches slicing them and they had the little bundles that they wrap in white paper. They didn’t, however, have the ones that the truck brings to the store. Those were the ones my kids like. I was getting more frustrated by the second. So, I found an employee laying out cheese on a display table and asked.
Excuse me, where can I find the prepackaged lunch meat? Like Oscar Mayer turkey slices?
For kids’ lunches.
After a brief pause, he gestured over his shoulder to the mustache guys in the deli department that I just came from.
Yeah, I looked. They have the deli ones you can order, but I’m looking for the containers. The prepackaged ones that they have in the luncheon meat section. You know, like Oscar Mayer.
With the voice of a mumble rapper, he looked me in the eye and said.
I don’t know what that is. We don’t carry that.
What? There was no way I was in the one supermarket on Earth that didn’t have packaged lunch meat. Even if they didn’t, there was definitely no way that this guy, who worked in a freakin’ grocery store, never heard of them.
Yes you do. You know them. Everyone does. The prepackaged slices. They keep them with the Lunchables and things like that. Every place has them. 7-11 has them.
Dead stare. I figured I’d cut my losses and just find them on my own.
No problem. It’s okay if you don’t know where they are. I will just look.
That was it. That should have been it. We were done. I started to walk away. My back was turned when, in a low voice, I heard him say it.
OK, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I felt something in my head snap. It wasn’t the type of a snap that makes me take out the entire deli department in a fit of rage. It was a small snap, but a snap nonetheless
Before I knew it, I was Robert Dinero in Goodfellas. I’m standing a foot away from this guy’s face. My head tilted down and my eyes raised up with a, “How’s that? Huh? Whatchu just say to me?” That’s not a Dinero quote either. That’s word for word what I said to him.
He seemed surprised and shrugged as if I had imagined it. So I reiterated in a pretty firm tone.
You. Have. Them. They are in this store. I know they are. I am going to go. I am going to find them and I am going to bring them back to show you.
I briefly contemplated betting him $20 but thought that would come off as pretentious, so I didn’t. I did, however, set off on a mission from God. Within five minutes, I had found the lunch meat section. It was on the far end of the store nestled between the eggs and bacon. I grabbed a tub and began to speed wheel my noisy cart back to the deli counter. There he was, still stocking the cheese display. I feverishly held the turkey slices up as if they were my gold medals from the Lunch Olympics.
Hey! Yo! Dude. Look. These. These! They were over there. I told you they were here.
He glanced up from his display and gave me the most disinterested nod you can imagine. It was suddenly obvious that he didn’t care. In fact, if I was paying attention, I’d realize that he didn’t care this whole time. I cared. I was the only one who did. That was the whole point of this exercise.
But I didn’t mind. I had my Oscar Mayer meat slices. As far as I was concerned, I won Supermarket that day.
So yeah. This is my place now. When I was a kid, my place was Chuck E. Cheese. When I was a young adult, it was clubs and parties. Now, as a 41-year-old man, it’s supermarkets. They seem to capture the essence of those other locations. They have alcohol and pizza…and occasionally mice. So, it all works.
Yes. The supermarket. I was there yesterday. I will be there tomorrow. I’m just glad that I don’t have to go today. There’s nothing we need to buy that I forgot…
Argh! Paper towels!