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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Storing Up Emotion: the Cookie Monster Returns

So it goes that my return to blogging is spurred by the angry rant that has germinated inside me in the time it has taken me to go from the grocery store less than a mile away back to my home. And it was not like I immediately returned home and started typing. No no. Of course I first unloaded groceries, stared down the pre-cut slice and bake cookie cubes I’d purchased, despite the suggestion of a mental health professional that maybe I not purchase products full of sugar to indulge my emotional eating tendencies (thanks, Nestle, for being on sale, but full-price delicious!), and then ate a row of those cookie dough cubes, even going so far as to bake a few (which believe me, constitutes massive self-restraint)! I watched the in memoriam section of the SAG awards and was reminded of who I’d forgotten had died (sorry, Dom DeLouise), checked my email, and even tried to go back to writing something that is actually an ongoing project rather than a ranting angry blog post. After all that avoidance, whoops! Here I am, back at square one.

But, thanks to a random and recent affirmation by a friend (thanks K.Moore!) that I should really go back to writing ridiculous thoughts and angry rants for the world at large to peruse on my blog, may I say I’m here. I’m angry. Get used to it.

So, I ended up having a Sam Cooke kind of Saturday night (get me here people?), and decided, after realizing I was indeed watching the SAG awards including commercials in between awards, that I should go ahead and go to the grocery store tonight to avoid the Sunday afternoon cluster F that happens most Sunday afternoons in the grocery store parking lot, even more aggressively so when there is a good deal of football gaming on television throughout the day that people might be stocking up on any number of bulk items to use and consume during game watching. The grocery store shares its parking lot with Costco, and MY GOD people really lose their minds while seeking parking near a membership warehouse store. Like you would really think Costco is either selling indulgences or bottled fountain of youth water inside, given the fanaticism and frenzy of those trying to park near its doors. This problem is exacerbated by both the Costco gas pumps and the In n’ Out Burger that are also located in this plaza. On the weekend in that parking lot, people do everything animal style, not just their fries.

I realize that this In n’ Out reference may be arcane to those familiar with its goods, services, and french fry specialties as a fast food establishment, and I am thrilled that I am still aware not everyone on planet earth has, or should have, the same conception of/ perception of/ understanding of life and its meaning, values, fast food chains, and priorities based on my residence in the state of California (sorry Californians! I’m not mad at all of you, just those who give CA, and love, a bad name [bad name!]). Because my interaction (a.k.a. blog writing inciting incident) with one particular Californian really made me go to Carolina in my mind. And hope this lady never finds her way there.

I had successfully maneuvered through many aisles. I’d stocked up on some produce, been pleasantly surprised to learn that the 69 cent apples I surely thought were missing the “$1” from the first part of their signage actually were 69 cents a-pound, decided, through price comparison, that I was done paying double for my toilet paper brand and would try another (in a reasonable, 24 roll trial package, of course), decided to get wild and try the new caramel yogurt Dannon has been pushing on me in pictures on the lids of my usual preferred flavor (only one carton – I’m not completely crazy, this is my yogurt we’re talking about, not my ass), and even found some lemonade I enjoy (yes, yes there is an abundance of sugar in there as well, don’t tell my shrink). As I reviewed my cart and decided, yep, it was go time, giddy at the prospect of making it home to see most of the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating championships (it’s hard to believe I’m single!) , I approached the checkout area to discover a long-ass line.

Is this what made me angry?

Surely, inefficient industrial organization must be the source, especially given my new and seemingly ever-growing need for maximized efficiency whenever possible in life, including, but not limited to, towel return policy at the gym and coffee bar lid stacks and sugar accessory set up at local coffee shops (Check that from before, I am completely crazy).

No! Spoiler alert – No! This was not what made me angry. Not at all. Probably because I have been to grocery stores on weekend evenings before in my life, so I know exactly what to expect. There’s the me’s – people buying themselves treats under the guise of taking care of errands while the store is fairly empty because they are kind of bummed they have nothing to do on their weekend evening but errands and are assuaging their feelings with chocolate chip cookie dough (with walnuts!) while also buying a month’s worth of toilet paper. Then there’s the weirdos – folks who are also doing very random shopping, but in a cart-filling kind of way, and then get into petty disputes about using expired coupons or end up taking three to seven seemingly random items off of their bill after they’ve been scanned due to insufficient funds, holding up the line and frustrating the store clerks and fellow patrons all at the same time. Then there are the party pitstoppers – folks who either need to take a trip to the store and run around goofily with their friends from aisle to aisle, not really needing anything (teenagers, I’m looking at you), or need to stop at the store to pick something up to take to a friend’s house (these people will be dressed up, holding a bottle of wine in one hand and either a pre-made baked good, balloon, or flowers in the other), or need to stop at the store to pick up something to take to their own house or a that of a friend whose house they can treat as if it were their own – these are the people with a bag or two of Doritos and usually a case of beer or bottle of hard liquor, or both, under their arm. Sometimes this will be accompanied by toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, or some necessity for which they probably originated the trip to the store or, alternately, Totino’s pizza rolls.

This line, long-ass as it was upon approach, both seemed to be moving, and seemed to be comprised nearly entirely of pitstoppers. It was an average item load of about six. The magazine racks were fully stocked with glossy covers touting Jennifer Aniston’s revenge (because she’s a pirate, apparently, hellbent on swashbuckling her ex-husband by, you read that right – being hot in an evening gown), plenty of good page-turning picture caption skimming to be had. I actually felt bad being the only cart-full me in the line, and was already eying the girl behind me in her party dress with a bottle of bourbon in one hand and an apple in the other. Probably her dinner. She was very clearly going somewhere, but was pleasantly resolved to waiting it out in the only open checkout line. I was going to let her go first. The self-checkouts weren’t open. There was just one line.

Now yes, it was annoying. Yes, a front-end manager at five o’clock on any weekday would have surely addressed the situation by calling someone else to the front of the store to open the register. But this was 9:30 on a Saturday night. The rest of the staff was either not there, themselves having things to do on a weekend, or were occupied restocking or cleaning for, oh, I don’t know, say that busy time that would occur tomorrow beginning around 10 a.m. and probably lasting until 6 p.m. There was one guy stocking a giant display very near the registers. And I don’t mean Mr. Whipple, just checking to make sure the products were in the most visually pleasing pyramid display, I mean stocking products with cardboard box skeletons up to his ass on the floor around him and a good bit of sweat on the brow from trying to build a cereal box fortress single-handedly at the end of the ice cream and frozen novelties aisle.

Enter my anger source.

So just as I’m about to select a magazine to flip through but not purchase, a middle-aged woman and her very average husband approach. I say this to differentiate between this woman and the image I would draw as a reader if I’d merely read “entitled, self-satisfied, self-ISH Californian in a west side Los Angeles supermarket.” That lady, in my mind, is either young and hot enough that she always gets what she wants, just ask her dog, or the guy paying for the dog food and her pilates and Jag, OR she’s older, but has had enough work done to rigorously deny the realities of the passage of time and the aging process as having any effect on her whatsoever, and still has a dog and a Jag and someone very, very rich around to ensure she continues to have nice enough clothes to wear to the store to be entitled to use a plastic bag for each and every produce item, including potatoes and bananas and garlic and items designed by nature to be encased in their own natural protection, and to treat the rest of the world’s inhabitants as people who should be at her service.

This was not either of these women. This was not that man. This woman was wearing average pants, an average sweater, and a knit cap that looks like it might have been made by hand. She and her husband sought to purchase three packages of organic, store brand cookies. Now, maybe there are a few inferences you can draw to select a character from your own portfolio of stereotypes (come on, you know you have one), but not enough to expect her to behave like a raging ass and then act like she was Sally Field in Norma Rae.

It began.

“Oh my God, can you believe this line?” to her husband.

“This LINE! I can’t believe it!!!” to her husband, by all auspices, but really more to the line itself, seeking affirmation that her outrage was more than justified.

“They should really open another register, look at this, one register!,” eyes up to the other line members, inviting them to join her outrage with nods or eye contact.

“Is the do-it-yourself one closed?” to her husband, then to the one-man Egyptian building the cereal pyramid, “Are those self-checkouts closed?”

A nod from him. This line, this long-ass line, this grave injustice in the face of her wants for cookies and cookies right-quick, was the only option.

“This is crazy!” to the line, the world, the gods, the fates, all who know pain and suffering at its truest and ugliest depths.

“They should open another register. Can you call someone to open a register?”

Cereal Egyptian nods. He eyes the line, looks around furtively to see if anyone else might be available on staff to open a register. Failing that, he turns from his work, neon yellow caution-identification jacket to be used in the stockroom darkness still on, and says, “I can take some of you over here,” to the line.

The line, feeling collective release of minor annoyance or inconvenience, sighs as it splits in two like a reproducing cell.

“They should thank me, these people should be thanking me,” to the husband, the scattering line, and the stocker-now-checker as she moves her husband into the newly opened gap that exists in front of me after three people left the original line for the new line.

Come again?

Yes, after rectifying her line problem by providing unsolicited consulting that no one asked for but everyone surely needed, without this pushy, bitchy lady, I would have wasted at LEAST four more minutes at the store! Thank God for her and her self-serving dictatorial attitude! she CUT IN LINE. Just went right on ahead and, to her thinking I’m sure, took her deserved place as close to being immediately gratified in her need for cookie purchasing, as close to the front of the line, as she could.

I somehow stopped short of a guffaw, probably because I was so engrossed in the machinations of the BALLS on this woman, this crusader, this frontline line organizer of oppressed impatient customers everywhere. But her husband, perhaps having an inkling of, oh, I don’t know, kindly societal function, turned around and must have noticed the disbelief and are you f-ing kidding me??? on my face as he tried to apologize and move out of the line to what many, in traditional line function parlance might deem, his rightful and fair place – the end of the line. His wife, noticing the movement, still telling everyone in the vicinity how we should be thanking her (outloud!), as if she had personally overthrown legal Apartheid, or something of similar humanitarian value to society at large, turned to me and asked, “Are you in line?”

I think I blended a guffaw with a resigned “you’re a real piece of work” look, because I somehow managed to NOT scream, “Yes, yes I am, as well as the other four people who are behind me and have been standing here longer than you have, watching you tell us we should be thanking you.” I can only give credit to a higher power, or maybe my knowledge of upcoming cookie dough to suppress my rage, for my actual response which was, “Youuuu go ahead.”

The husband, rightfully mortified, tried to move out of the line, noting that I thought his wife was an a-hole. I felt bad for him, but insisted he stay, stopping just short of, “she’ll never let you move backward anyway.” I offered to let the bourbon apple girl go ahead too. She declined.

This woman, mid-purchase, was still ranting about the unbelievablility of the single register, and was STILL asking people to thank her. One woman in front of her did thank her. I somehow wanted to punch her more than the annoying lady for giving the annoying lady what she wanted.

The muttering continued, “I mean, one register…I have kids!”

She said this as if she were buying diapers, formula, a child’s thermometer, children’s Tylenol, and the cheapest vodka they sold, and as if her sick, screaming child were strapped to her at the time. Obviously if you and your husband both can be away from your kids – be they in minivan in the parking lot, or rec room at home – they are old enough that “kids” is not quite the hardship worthy of justified complaint of say, a new single-mother with triplets with diphtheria and no money because her husband died in the factory accident and Mr. Saxonbury just won’t pay her a schilling.

Maybe she meant goats. A herd of wild goats. Inside her house. Only tamable by organic, brown-rice sugar, zero transfat, hydrogenated oil-free cookies. Then maybe I’d understand.

I could not take my eyes and ears off of her as she continued her pleas to all within earshot. She turned back at one point, perhaps still sensing my outrage or annoyance, or that I was not showing particular gratitude for her customer advocacy on my behalf, and luckily I had transferred my icy stare to the candy rack just to her right. The Egyptian stocker should have moved those Snickers to the frozen foods aisle after I was done with them.

Her husband whispered something to her.

“Oh!” she said, turning to look at me.

“Are you from North Carolina?” she asked, looking at my Wake Forest University sweatshirt. Well, at least she knew where Wake Forest was, a plus in my book every time.

“No, not originally, but I went there,” I said pointing to my sweatshirt, not saying “but if Pittsburgh weren’t also sacred to me, I would probably pretend I am from there, so deep is my love of the state and its people.”

“Oh did you go there?” she asked.

“Yep. Yes I did.” I repeated.

“Did you live in Wake Forest?”

“No, I went to Wake Forest the school. Wake Forest the town is near Raleig—“

“We might move there,” said the great listener, “My husband’s an artist. We were thinking about Carrboro and Chapel Hill.”

“Ah, those are great,” came my trying-to-be-polite-but-actually-thinking-of course you were reply. I started to prepare another sentence, but then realized she was still going. Wanted no actual input since she clearly, already knew best.

“Yeah, his parents are in Charlotte, but that’s too Bible belt for me,” condescending eyes included.

“Ah,” was my reply, as of course it is returned to my mind. Followed closely by what a self-satisfied and self-important bitch.

I joked with the cashier, once our personal supermarket savior ascended into her Prius or VW van, off to solve another world crisis of convenience in the greater Los Angeles area, I’m sure.

“Well, it’s a good thing you have someone who knows how to run the store come in and tell you how to do it,” I said, wanting to go off on, well, this rant, preferably over the store intercom while he rang up my items (cookies!).

“Yeah,” he said, “she’s not the only one we get.”

“Yeah, I mean, that other guy was doing nothing before she got here.” The cashier smiled as he handed me some of the coupons my purchases generated by whatever genius computer follows trends of my consumer behavior and then gives me offers I can’t refuse on products I probably will purchase. Ah, yes, the computer at the grocery store – someone who most times actually does know what I want and need more than I actually do. Succeeding where humans – especially humans in need of organic cookies and praise for being pushy – have failed.

As I got back into my car and watched a guy struggle in the darkness to wrangle grocery store carts so that they’d be back where they belonged before the chaos of the Costco hordes ran roughshod over cart return stations for miles around, I realized that, had I not just bribed myself with the contentment of cookies, and had that woman been in any way actually interested in what someone who has lived in North Carolina but now lives in California’s opinion of North Carolina was, I might have really told her the following:

Well, Carrboro and Chapel Hill are both different than Charlotte which – though it’s a banking capital and probably peopled a bit more by those who are certainly fiscally, if not socially conservative than Chapel Hill – it is far from the Bibleiest part of the Bible belt, but I’ll presume you view all Southerners of faith of any kind as one unthinking, unfeeling, uneducated block o’ stupid who all watch and love Fox News rather than as people with complex value systems and intellectual inclination to consider things as being capable of containing nuance. Yes, ironically, I’m sure you think they’re all small-minded. And, while yes, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will be full of liberal people thinking globally and acting locally, might I go ahead and tell you now your husband will not be the only artist there, as yes, people in other parts of the world, even the South, are capable of producing art. And, furthermore, while I’m sure social activism will be appreciated, the majority of people in the great state of North Carolina, even the liberal ones you’d like to surround yourself with so as to avoid the Neanderthals in them thar’ hills, would be appalled, simply appalled at your behavior in this grocery store line because, to put it mildly, it was rather impolite. You were pushy, brash, abrasive, self-important, self-congratulatory, self-serving, self-centered, condescending to those serving you, condescending to those in line with you, condescending to your poor bastard of a husband, and I do not, though you were very concerned with others thanking you, I do NOT think you bothered to say thank you to that employee who finally freed you from the shackles of the long line at the store that you found so oppressive. That is not genteel, mannered, polite, or kind, even in artifice. So, while I would like you to go to North Carolina to get the hell out of my grocery line, I know that nothing there will be up to your standards, as not much is here. But there, you would be such an offense to those around you in your public interaction that it would be an affront to North Carolina, a state I hold dear from the Outer Banks to Waynesville, and every Bible Belt notch in between. Please, stay here, where your kind is anticipated, tolerated, and unfortunately, sometimes appreciated. And anything but kind.

Though I write that rather than saying it, even I feel a bit rude! What if that woman somehow sees this! What if this rant offends other Californians? What if this is seven single-spaced pages of brain spew and anger that should just stay in my head!

There is a cookie for every problem, I’m quite sure. Chips on my shoulder should always be chocolate.

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