Where Are The Grocery Carts With Sidewinder Missles?

There are things in our modern world that are sometimes a big cross to bear. Many scenarios - buying a car, navigating the bank's phone mail, or anything to do with the health care/insurance industry spring to mind - simply try our patience beyond all reasonable bounds. But few things compare to our own personal hell...grocery shopping.

Come along, if you will, as we tackle today's provisioning expedition:

The trip begins in in the parking lot. The lot - apparently designed by lobbyists for the funeral industry - is gridlocked with monstrous SUVs idling away fossil fuels at a prodigious rate. They are blocking traffic in every direction because the drivers are too lazy to grab the caribeners and rope, climb down from their heady perches, and walk an extra ten feet to the store. Better to wait for a closer space.

We grab a cart. It is one of the new plastic ones, twice the size of the old metal ones and with a quarter less internal space. It's been taken up by a baby seat big enough for an overweight cop. With our head down and fingers in our ears, we run the gauntlet of Calcutta beggars raising money for everything from bird flu relief to a new bowling alley for the blind. Pulling our pants leg away from one particularly aggressive Girl Scout cookie vendor, we triumphantly enter the Grand Palais of Victuals.

First stop. The produce section. It's that place with all the moldy and rotting fruits and vegetables. The carefully waxed and watered veggies were fresh-picked in Chile and New Zealand a scant six months ago. Why this is necessary when we live in California - where you can't swing a leek without hitting a vegetable farm - is a mystery. Finding a cucumber that resists the pressure of our thumb before turning into a putrid, green mass is impossible. We select one with only a very fine fur of mold. And don't get us going on onions. There are apparently 6,000 varieties, none of them resistant to rot or mold.

Entering one of the aisles, we run into the first of 50 aisle blockages for the day. A smart young shopper has parked her cart crosswise to the aisle while she simultaneously yammers on her cell, topples a display of canned beets, and rifles her purse for a stick of gum. Her response to a little omnipotent throat clearing (and finally, a polite "excuse me") is to stop yammering, throw daggers at us, and move the cart just far enough so that we can squeeze by if we tip it up on two wheels. We still don't understand why grocery carts don't come with stupidity-seeking Sidewinder missiles as standard equipment.

The cereal aisle is our favorite. It stretches away into infinity with walls ten feet high that display all 500 varieties (Kellogg's only though, General Mills cereals are on aisle 3). Each box shouts in a graphical orgy of bright colors and cartoon characters to be selected. And the sizes - everything from a single serving to a box the size of a La-Z-Boy. It comes with an optional financing plan and forklift for easier handing. With all the visual tumult, we find it difficult to actually focus on a single box. So, we just swipe about three feet worth of boxes into the cart and get on with things.

Selecting milk is easy by comparison. It simply requires putting on a parka and entering the freezer in search of a bottle that isn't already past it's expiration date. However, we are baffled as to why the same type and size of milk from four separate dairies have varying costs spread over a $1.50 range. Our theory is that Big Oil also controls the vitamin D market and runs prices up and down just because they can. We'd call for an investigation, but Congress wouldn't put the vicious greedheads under oath.

Then, it's on to the meat department where we find all manner of fat, gristle, and bone posing as edible protein. There's some green beef over there, but the tag still shows a week left before expiration. We search several minutes trying to find a chicken breast that came from a bird raised away from a nuclear power plant. All of the ones in the counter cost $28.73 and were apparently taken from the breasts of 75 lb. swans when the chicken supply went south. One will last a fmaily of four six weeks. We fair little better buying fish. We pick up some "fresh salmon" that is ice caked, stiff as a board, and glows red in the dark.

From meats we move to frozen foods where some frozen mastodon hump - 98% fat free! - was squirreled away after the last Ice Age. Then, we enter an entire row of walk-in freezers containing pizza. How anyone can stomach these particleboard, glue, and cheese concoctions is beyond us - much less enough buyers to warrant an entire aisle. Have these people never heard of delivery...oops, guess not, it's DiGiorno!

Finally, we stumble wearily to the checkout. We are tired and we want to go home. But alas, the suffering is not over. There are 10 manned checkout stands and two of the new self-service stations. Four of the manned ones are open, two are broken down, and the remaining four checkers just went on break.

Over at the self-serve area four checkers play canasta and wait until someone at the self-serve needs help. We estimate this to be approximately 100% of the self-serve users. We can clearly see the nice lady from aisle one, still yammering and scanning the same can of peas over and over. Behind her is the elderly woman we've already passed seven times as she moved around the store opposite the flow of traffic. She is searching a handbag the size of a sailor's duffle looking for her checkbook and yelling, "Where do I put the check? Where are all the baggers? How come there's no cash register? Where's the beef?" (Really, she did say that...we're not making it up!)

We politely ask our bagger for paper. He says, "we don't have none," and starts shoving a large can of beans into a plastic bag on top of a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. We reach over to the end of the next checkout and retrieve 25 paper bags. He replies, "I didn't think we had none," apparently unable to see the three feet to his left. We wipe up the egg yolks as he continues to use plastic every other bag.

We leave and run the beggars gauntlet again. Out in the parking lot we feel as though a heavy weight has been lifted. We quickly put our bags in the car, settle in with some good music, and start to back out.

As we begin to move, a woman pauses directly behind the car and stoops down to tie her toddler's shoes. After narrowly avoiding tragedy, we beginto move again, only to have one of the behemoth SUVs pull to within four feet of our bumper. As we search for a way to get out without starting a game of chicken with the Hummer, the driver stops talking on her cell phone, honks, and motions for us to vacate HER space pronto. We try to back into her in frustration, but the bottom of the beast clears the top of our small car and we suddenly find ourselves free.

As we pull away we see a huge Bush/Cheney 2004 sticker on her window and we are left yet again wondering why - for the love of God - cars don't come with Sidewinder missiles either.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, January 15, 2006

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