Monday, January 17, 2005

Cholesterol Problem Flummoxes Grocery Shoppers

I ran into some cholesterol in the grocery store yesterday. Not the kind on the shelves, although there is plenty of that too, particularly leering out of the snack and dairy aisles like, well, a nutritional hooker. (what an awful term. did I just invent that? Has anyone ever used the phrase nutritional hooker before?) I blame myself if such a tawdry term catches on in the American lexicon. Anyway, the cholesterol I am referring to has nothing whatever to do with food. I am talking about the people in the aisles who are clogging up the freely flowing passage of shoppers with their carts. There are certain traffic patterns in the grocery store that people need to obey in order to keep everyone from getting trapped in front of the milk. Of course if it is a light day and you have the whole aisle to yourself you can put your cart anywhere you want. Normally, though, if business is brisk you want to keep right, the same way you would in traffic or on the sidewalk. (note: if you ever wonder why Americans keep running face first into other pedestrians in Europe it is generally because they are in a country where the locals "keep left.") You are supposed to stay with your cart until you know what you want, then you go to the shelf and grab it without dropping it on someone's head or elbowing other shoppers. Generally this sytem works for everyone. But then there are people who are nothing but pure cholesterol. They are a giant wad of plaque floating through the store in such a manner that everyone's rhythm is disrupted and the system breaks down. I ran into such a woman yesterday. I first encountered her near the bakery. I could tell right away she was going to be a problem, because in our store the bakery is the first aisle, and it is much wider than the other aisles. Somehow this woman had found the narrowest part of the aisle where a display of french breads was sticking out. (however even with the jutting french breads it was STILL a very wide aisle.) She had angled her cart so it was almost sideways to the loaves. However she had no interest in french bread and probably had never even heard of the term baguette. She was directing her daughter to grab one of the juices ACROSS the aisle from the french bread. So the sequence was: rolls, french bread display, annoying woman with outstretched arm, innocent daughter trying vainly to follow mom's instruction, and JUICE. Meanwhile there is me with my cart (sans toddlers) so I can't dream of getting past this woman. You would think I could just wait for the pointing arm to retract, but no, it is an animated conversation, and the innocent daughter (who, I want to emphasize, is INNOCENT of her mother's obvious boundary issues) has to keep whirling to hear another instruction, or show her mother a different brand of juice. Also the mother's posture keeps shifting, as she is not totally focused on acquiring the juice, she is also eyeing some things further up the aisle and fumbling with her purse. So the communications with the poor daughter are interrupted with "huh," "what" and "no not THAT kind" and "what did your father say?'" and "never mind about that" and "are you SURE he doesn't like that kind," etc. So at that point I am debating whether to try to squeeze between the rolls and the french breads, vault the croissant display, try to go through this woman's flailing arm like a red rover teammate, or just ram her cart with mine and keep on pushing until she is interred in the shelves with the juices. (Just kidding about that. I would never resort to violence. It was just a brief fantasy as I had plenty of time to fantasize while the juice discussion continued.) Eventually I got close enough to their disarray to say "excuse me," whereupon the woman whirled and accidentally elbowed me as she knocked a french bread to the floor. As she bent over to retrieve it, enough space opened that I was able to push on through and finally get to the deli. But don't think I was done with those people. Oh, no. Their aura of confusion follows them to every section of the store without exception. I can tell the difference between someone temporarily blocking an aisle because they can't help it, and someone who is a big fat Plaque Blockage to the grocery store. She was a plaque blockage supreme with extra sauce. I next spotted them in canned goods where they had the cart positioned DIRECTLY in the middle of the aisle. The woman was on one side of the cart scanning the tomato sauce products. ("So many varieties. Which ever one shall we choose?" I imagined her saying.) The daughter was on the other side trying to translate mom's opinions of the pasta choices. This left absolutely no room for other shoppers, two of whom were behind them already trying vainly to get Plaque Woman's attention. I skipped that aisle. Our paths crossed again in produce. In yet another maneuver designed to ensure other shoppers starved, she had her cart lodged in the busiest portion of produce, one hand on the cart while she stretched across to the opposite side and fondled various fruits with her other hand. The daughter meanwhile was completely unable to figure out how the plastic bags came off the plastic bag dispenser -- I kept a neighborly eye on that situation in case I was needed to prevent accidental suffocation. Our last encounter was near the checkout, where she had her cart angled in an uncertain direction so you couldn't tell if she was "in line" or perhaps pondering the paper towel bundles on sale. There was space between her and the cart so you couldn't get around her, couldn't get through her and couldn't get past her. "Excuse me," I said again. "Are you in line?" She looked confused. Why would other shoppers be speaking with her? What did I know about juice or paper towels? And where were her coupons? Finally after calling to her daughter, just a little distant in the Snack Aisle, she said, "I think so." After waiting for her to retrieve the daughter, find the coupons, and re-orient her cart, I was able to squeeze past. The problem with these Plaque shoppers is that they enter the store as if they are the sole planet in the Grocery Solar System. They have no idea that their orbits or gravitational pull affects other shoppers. Nay, they aren't even aware there ARE other shoppers in the store. They are always surprised, even shocked when other people want to get past them. And they don't make that process easy, even when it is belatedly brought to their attention. Sometimes, though, when I am shopping with my 3- and 5-year-olds, they serve to act as a clot-busting drug. Because I pack them into the cart with the plastic car accessory on the front, and they begin shrieking and making car noises. THIS type of thing is capable of scaring even the Glob of Plaque shoppers, and they are able to tear their attention away from their grocery-induced fog long enough to let us get past. So even though shopping with little kids is taxing, it does have its benefits. And I should also add that although the daughter was not the cause of the plaque problem in the aisles, this sort of condition tends to be inherited, so unless she takes active steps to combat the problem, it is very likely that in 10 years or so she, too, will be blocking the aisles of grocery stores. And so the story continues...

8 Comments:

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