This is not a position to which I am eminently suited, believe me. I don't drive, so my cargo capacity is somewhat limited--unless I break down and take a cab, which is hellishly expensive. But that's not even the half of it.
Like most men I know, I'm firmly in the "get-what-you-came-for-and-then-get-the-hell-out" school. Unless I'm shopping for books, I don't linger any longer than I absolutely have to. I detest crowds, I usually hate the Muzak playing in the background...the whole shopping experience is often one big drag.
And I freeze when confronted with too much choice. That's because apparently my name changes instantly to Murphy whenever I cross the threshold of a store. If there's more than one choice, I'm apt to screw it up. Sometimes even one choice is one choice too many...why'd you get that?
Yesterday morning, I sallied forth, armed with a list and some cash and a troubling lack of coffee. See, my first destination was the St Jacob's Farmer's Market, and that place is an absolute zoo starting about thirty seconds after it opens. I had therefore resolved to get-what-I-came-for-and-get-the-hell-out as soon as possible. The place is about a seven minute drive from our house if you count a couple of minutes of idling the car in the driveway...just far enough away that walking is out of the question. When you insert that seven-minutes-by-car number into the Public Transit Equation and work the calculations, you come out with 45 minutes-by-bus-and-you're-lucky-it's-that-quick. Actually, you're lucky you can get there by bus at all...it's a relatively new route.
This is just the price you pay when you don't drive. Most times I pay that price cheerfully, without even thinking about it. Travelling by bus doesn't bother me unless the bus is packed, and GRT buses rarely are. I can sit comfortably reading or listening to my iPod, knowing that for once I'm fitting in with the crowd: nearly everybody else on the bus is doing one or the other. And I don't have to worry about navigating myself through all the potentially deadly traffic. So it takes a little longer, big deal. Time I have. If I don't have time, I didn't get up early enough.
Yesterday, I didn't get up early enough. I weighed options in my head: dash out the door without coffee or breakfast and hit that market before it was overrun with Saturday shoppers moving at half the speed of smell...or take my time, fortify my brain and get swallowed up by the crowds, never to be seen again. The choice was clear.
The choice was wrong, as it turned out.
I had two stops: the market and the Wal*Mart store next to it. The first stop went by without much of a hitch, probably because I only had one thing to buy there. I had a few panicked moments when I couldn't find the 'Hacienda' stall I was instructed to look for, but even my java-less mind figured out that 'Hacienda' was actually 'Halenda' and that problem was dispatched effortlessly.
On to Wal*Mart...my least favourite store on the planet. But some sales are not to be ignored. It's not every day big bags of Splenda can be had for seven bucks, or Peek Freans chocolate covered digestive cookies for $1.98, or...just about everything this Breadbin needed or wanted, large or small, was on sale. TWO DAYS ONLY. Another reason I wanted to get there right early. I work in retail. I know two days can easily translate to two hours.
In hindsight, which is often the only sight I seem to bother with, what I should have done was sit my butt down at the McDonald's inside the Wal*Mart store and avail myself of their free coffee. Even I recognized how exceptionally dopey I was, and a jolt of joe would have cleared that right up. But no, I was here, I was ahead of schedule, and I was brimming with misplaced confidence at how easily my first errand had gone. It was TIME TO SHOP, DAMNIT!
Well, first there was the matter of what to do with my backpack. I knew Wal*Mart didn't take too well to backpacked individuals roaming their aisles, but I didn't want to surrender mine, not with a frozen bag of Eva's all-time-favourite spring rolls...and my iPod and earphones...inside. The greeter solved that problem by affixing a sticker over the zipper of the bag, and I was ready for the fray.
My list consisted of items all over the store, and so I trundled ass all over the store trying to fill it. Some things refused to be found. 'SPLENDA X3' said the list, but I couldn't find 'SPLENDA X1' anywhere. I approached someone for help. Girlish of me, I know, but you guys ought to try it...sometimes it works. 'Go to the sign that says sugar', I was told, 'and it'll be there'. I remonstrated that I had just been to the sign that says sugar and there wasn't even a hole where Splenda could go. Sweet'n'Low, yes. Equal, yes. Even generic sweetener. No Splenda. But hey, I've missed things a hell of a lot bigger in my time, so I'll look again.
It's nothing short of incredible how I can walk into any big box or grocery store at any hour of any day and find a rep I know. Barely eight o'clock on a Saturday and who do I see but our Hostess rep working his aisle. After exchanging a little small talk, he asked me what I was looking for. 'I think they keep that stuff in the pharmacy', he said.
A memory breached, up from the depths. Oh, yeah, that's right. We got Splenda here before and that's where they keep it. It was the first place Eva looked, because her mind works differently from mine.
It really does, you know. I'd probably look in friggin' infants wear for the Splenda before I'd even consider the pharmacy, and if Mr. Hostess hadn't mentioned it, I never would have remembered that they stock just one brand of coffee sweetener in their pharmacy when the rest of it is with the sugar where it belongs.
But hey, look, there it is, SPLENDA X144 or so, a big block display right next to the shampoo. Splenda: it's good for your hair. I hate this place.
Ken, said an interior voice, calm down. You knew when you came in here that you weren't going to get help from the employees--this is Wal*Mart, after all. And who are you to criticize product placement? Where does your Price Chopper keep its horseradish, again?
--On top of the seafood bunker, right. And where's the gravy? Yep, the baking aisle, 'cause everybody bakes with gravy. So shut up and go find those Peek Frean cookies.
(Any Merkuns reading this blog, do you have Peek Freans? If not, go here and buy some. Yes, they're that good. So are a lot of other things on that Canadian Delicacies site.)
I had no trouble locating Peek Frean cookies. There was a giant wall 'o' Peek Freans staring me in the face as soon as I backtracked from the pharmacy/Splenda section to the grocery section. But do you think I could find chocolate covered digestives on that wall? I could not. I found a box that said 'Family Digestives' adorned with two pictures, one a chocolate covered digestive cookie, the other a naked digestive cookie. Hmm, half and half, I thought. I better not get that, she specifically said chocolate covered. Better not scratch that off the list.
A big 2-pack of Lysol wipes was in the flyer at some ridiculous price...and was only in the flyer, nowhere else.
On to the electronics. iTunes cards were on sale--never have I seen that before--and Eva wanted a 'Wii Classic Controller' to play her old-school Nintendo games. Also, supposedly, on sale. The iTunes cards were no problem, but the guy manning the electronics counter had no idea what a 'Wii Classic Controller' was. He showed me a giant pile of Wii Remotes, Wii Nunchuks, and other controllers that looked nothing like the little diagram Eva had so helpfully supplied me with. Another item I can't stroke off that list. They were glaring at me.
There were various and sundry other adventures before I finally made it to the check out. I called Eva to let her know the slippers she wanted weren't stocked in her size and I'd do my best to find something decent that was. I texted her a few minutes later to inform her the brand of socks she desired was not available and I was going to get what I thought was the next best thing. Knowing of course that it wouldn't be, but I was getting frustrated. This happens every time I'm tasked with buying something. It's never there, and so I have to decide whether to attempt getting a maybe-equivalent or to just let it go. It's enough to make me want to scream, some days. Like yesterday.
At the end of all that, having checked out and paid, I hefted the seven bags in one hand and hiked the six-pack of paper towels under the other arm and debated with myself. I can carry this. I should take the bus.
--You can carry this now, and by the time you get to the bus stop your arm is going to fall off. Call a cab.
--If you call a cab, it's going to cost like fifteen bucks. The bus you've paid for already, you've got a ticket, so it's essentially free. What are you, made of money?
--Yeah, I am. I'm also made partly of arm, and I don't want to lose it. Call a damned cab.
Alas, Wal*Mart doesn't have a direct line to a cab company, like every other large store in the Tri-Cities. What do you expect, they stock Splenda in their pharmacy! They do have a pay ph--wait a minute, Ken, you have a CELL PHONE IN YOUR POCKET.
I wonder how many months (years) it's going to take before my first thought is that cell phone.
Cab home, pay (ouch) $15 just as expected. Unload. Bring everything in. Start putting away. Discover that I did okay with the items I chose equivalents on. The socks and slippers were perfect. Explain the lack of Lysol Wipes and Wii Controller while putting away SPLENDA X1...
Look around several times. Check bill. SPLENDA X2 missing. Call cab company. Not there. Wonder what the hell I did with what was evidently bag #8. At least it only had SPLENDA X2 in it. Call store. They don't know either. $7 Splenda sale has, through the magic that is Ken, morphed into $21 Splenda butt-reaming. Maybe you should go back and get something for that. In their pharmacy.
"If I left it at the till, I'm pinning at least 20% of the blame on the cashier," I told my remarkably understanding wife. "Love", she replied, "for all you know she was running after you. 'Sir! Sir! You forgot a bag!'"
You laugh. You're not me. That's entirely possible. In fact, it wouldn't be the first time. And it probably won't be the last.
Eva really wants that Wii Controller, and some lunch stuff besides. (The Wal*Mart I'd spent half the morning in is not a SuperCenter--no deli, no produce, and pretty limited grocery stock.) So, like a glutton for punishment, I went out again, on a bike this time.
Future Shop first. "Yes, we have Classic Wii Controllers', the guy said. "Here's a third party brand for $16--oh! Here's an open box model that retails for $20, but we can knock that down, probably half price, ten bucks. And here's the actual Nintendo product for $24.95."
I looked at the generic brand. It looked flimsy as hell. The open box model, while a great deal, was some other generic brand, and whether it's rational or not, I don't like to buy stuff that might have been tampered with. Plus, the actual Nintendo controller was supposed to be at Wal*Mart for $20. What's $4.95 if get gets me out of here?
On to Sobeys, the full service arm of Price Chopper. I know this store. I know the products I'm looking for. Shouldn't be a problem in here at all, get the luncheon meats, get the buns, now let's go to the checkou--
--Peak Freans Digestifs Glaces--
Hey! Somebody didn't face that! I'm forever bitching to my staff, what are you, French? because they'll often stock shelves French-side forward. You get pretty fluent in French pretty quickly up here in Canuckistan just from shopping in grocery stores. I knew, for instance, that the above translated to Peak Freans Frosted Digestives. Frosted...with chocolate. The identical package I'd been looking at in Wal*Mart, but there I hadn't looked at the French side. If I had, I would have figured out it wasn't half chocolate covered and half naked, the way it was shown: it was all 'frosted', and the naked shortbread cookie was only pictured to confuse the hell out of any passing Kens.
I love my wife. I really do. I mean, any other woman would have lost her freaking mind at me. I'd left SPLENDA X2 behind, somewhere, somehow. I'd taken almost five hours to complete a shop that would have taken her (maybe) one. I'd had to interrupt her day twice to ask stupid questions. I'd wasted $15 on a cab. (Okay, that was budgeted, but in my mind it was still a waste.) I'd come back without Peek Freans that were staring me right in the face. On and on and on and what does Eva do? She gushes at me about what a great husband I am because I went out and shopped for her.
I'll go out and move mountains for this woman. I just hope like hell they turn out to be the right mountains.