In the end, it was the cilantro that finally destroyed me.
Let me back up.
I intensely dislike grocery shopping. I don’t mind going to the store per se, but for some reason if I have to pick up more than eight items, it’s something I’ll fight tooth and nail to avoid. In fact, I’ll go to the store four times a day to pick up three items at a time with no problem. But once that list grows beyond bread, Listerine strips, and Caffeine Free Diet Coke, count me out.
I’ve been trying to figure out my particular aversion to grocery shopping. The biggest hurdle for me is that when it’s time to really stock up, I go to a place called WinCo. Now for those of you who don’t know what WinCo is, let me explain. WinCo is the cheapest grocery store around. They “pass the savings on to us” by doing things like having their customers bag their own groceries, and offering items in bulk, just in case you need 30 pounds of cumin.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Now, nothing against WinCo — after all, that’s where I go — but the clientele that flocks to the cheapest grocery store is usually questionable at best. Whenever I’m in there, all I hear going through my mind is, “Bring me your tired, your poor, those yearning to be free.” People are just sluffing through the aisles, combing through their stack of 1000 coupons so they can save 3 cents on Tuna Helper; haggard-looking people who look like they’ve just given up. I once saw a boy in his underwear running through the aisles, dirty and screaming. This boy was 9.
The first thing that gets me about shopping is the “Grocery Store Math.” There’s nothing worse than staring at that little price sticker and trying to figure out if “5 for $4” is a better deal than “4 for $3.” Look — I’m not here to do quantum physics; I just want Velveeta. I usually just give up and peer at the 3-point type at the bottom of the sticker that tells me the price breakdown, but often one of them will be “price per ounce” and the other one will be “price per fluid dram.” (And for you geeks playing the home game, 1 Fluid Dram = 60 minims = 1/8 Fluid Ounce.)
But at least there’s a logical, proven mathematical base to price comparison, even if I’m unable to do it in my head. When it comes to picking out fruit, however, all logical thought gets thrown out the window. Have you watched people in the produce section trying to pretend like they actually know what they’re doing? Other than obvious factors like the color of a banana, there are all sorts of specious charades people go through to decide if their guava is good to go. You’ve got some who bobble the fruit from hand to hand trying to somehow deduce their relative weights, others who slowly turn the fruit around and sniff at it like they’re freakin’ Lassie, some who just spastically squeeze and poke at things in the hopes that it will squeal or make some sort of noise indicating its readiness.
Then you’re faced with something on your list that you’ve never bought before. In my case, hominy. I was previously unaware of such a food product. For some reason the only thing that came to mind was when old-timey cartoon characters would say “homina homina” when they saw the sexy girl. Anyway, since hominy was listed after the beans in the recipe I had, I assumed it would be by the beans in the store. Nope. So I checked by the other beans, the kidney, lima, and pinto beans. Nope. I finally got to that point where it was like I was trying to find the Ark of the Covenant in the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark: I just started aimlessly wandering the aisles, reading every can, bag, or box on the shelf hoping to stumble across it. Then I wondered if it was in that section by the produce that no one ever buys anything from, the one where you can buy a giant cactus leaf and a 10-foot-long leek. Nope. Not there either. Finally God smiled on me and I found it in the Mexican food section. And there’s where it got weird. It became obvious to me that you don’t buy hominy like you buy other canned foods. There’s no Campbell’s Soup/regular-sized vegetable can portion available. No, you can only buy hominy in the sizes of “vat” or bigger. Apparently those Mexicans love their hominy.
After all of this, I only had one item left: fresh cilantro. I made my way back to the produce section, then over to the herbs section. At first I was confused, as there just seemed to be a wall of leaves. Bushels and bushels of leaves. None of them were labeled, except way at the top of the case. I narrowed it down to the edge where in big letters — just at the top of the case, though — said “Cilantro” and “Parsley.” And then under that on the shelves, about 10 different types of the aforementioned bushels. I stood there staring for literally 5 minutes. My first instinct was to smell them — they were herbs after all. But after smelling 3 bundles of differently-shaped leaves, I realized I really have no idea what cilantro or parsley smelled like. That’s why normal human beings buy their herbs all dried up and in marked containers.
And that’s when I was defeated. I’d had enough. I left without buying the cilantro. But I wasn’t done. Oh no. I still had to check out and bag my groceries.
It’s not so much that I can’t take bagging my own groceries. It’s just that there’s an amount of pressure to do it quickly. When people go to WinCo, they stock up like they’re setting out to cross the Rockies. So when the cashier is done scanning your thousands of items, she puts it on a conveyor belt about 4 feet long that leads to the bagging area. There’s a pad about knee-high at the bagging area that controls the conveyor belt, so you can keep the groceries coming and put them neatly into your bags. Except there’s really no “neatly” about it, because there’s the next guy in line with his 1000 items, staring you down because you’re taking forever. So instead of trying to pack the breads with the breads, the cans with the cans, you’re just scooping up arms-full of groceries like you’re emptying your dyer and just throwing everything into the bag. And since you’re leaning over the conveyor belt, your knee hits the pad and the groceries keep on piling up at the end like you’re in a bad episode of I Love Lucy. Your bag is all ripped up. Your whole ham is on top of your eggs, your cactus leaves are leaking aloe all over the place.
Then, thankfully, it’s over. You stumble out into the parking lot pale and shivering, the 9-year-old underwear boy still screaming somewhere in the background.
So that’s why I’m not a fan of grocery shopping.It just takes too much out of me. And having written all of this, I know it does no one any good except for the fact that now we all know how much a Fluid Dram is.