The Lane of Shame
Grocery shopping has always vexed me. No matter how well or how poorly I do it, I have to do it again next week. Week in, week out, I push my cart on the right, I check for traffic at intersecting aisles, I take a number for the deli, and I weigh the fruit. The routine, at least, is vaguely calming.
This is a good thing, because I don’t particularly enjoy grocery stores. Crowds and great alleyways of food make me uncomfortable, and so I’m typically just this side of an anxiety attack when I’m in one. Some of my issues are legitimate, as I blushingly recall taking out a display with the so-called “toddler carts” that require a Class 6 license, or the shattered just-in-case-sized jar of pickles that, in retrospect, required two hands.
But I also admit to harboring a few leftover fears from the old days—the days of the microphones and “Price check on Register 4 please! King-size box of Playtex Super Tampons!” I know they don’t do that anymore—I love technology!—but I keep waiting for the pharmacy to announce, “Party for Simone—Maggie Simone! Please return to the pharmacy; there’s a question about your anti-anxiety medication!”
Between my disinterest in cooking and my deep-seated fear of embarrassment, then, it’s safe to say I’m not a huge fan of grocery shopping. But I do it, because—well, you know. Kids have to eat, blah blah blah. And the familiarity of it keeps me sane. The routine rhythm of it every week makes it bearable.
A couple weeks ago, however, my rhythm was thrown completely out of whack. I was in line with my usual cartful of random foods, toiletries and such, when a manager tapped me on the shoulder and directed me to an empty “seven items or less” lane.
I looked at the sign, then at my cart, then at the manager and said, “I don’t have seven items. I have 700. Please. Don’t make me go there. Trust me. People don’t take kindly to this. Someone’s going to yell at me. Please, pick someone else.”
She laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I’m a manager. I’m sending you there. No one’s going to say anything.” Not quite convinced, but really wanting to get home, I found myself in the express lane.
The cashier was gracious, as she knew I’d been sent with my overflowing cart to what is essentially the supermarket passing lane. I kept glancing nervously behind me, but no one else came. I was safe. No one was going to yell at me that day. Life was good.
Just as she announced my total, a customer came in behind me. “Sounds like an awfully big total for seven items or less,” he said, loudly enough to pique people’s interest.
I threw my hands up and cried, to no one in particular, “See? I told you this would happen! I told you! There is no happy ending here!”
The quick-thinking cashier said, “It’s all lobster!” But it was no use. The man behind me, and the other customers watching, were shaking heads and judging me harshly for breaking the checkout code of honor. And I wasn’t going to throw the manager under the bus because she had, in fact, been doing me a favor.
I stood there, frozen, several pairs of eyes watching and waiting for my next move. Suddenly I started giggling, which turned into full-blown laughter. “It’s all lobster?” I finally managed to spit out to the cashier. “How the heck did you come up with that on short notice?!” My eyes were starting to tear, as others started to join in.
The tension was broken. And I don’t know about the man behind me, but for the first time in a long time, I left the store with a smile. Maybe, I thought, I’ve turned over a new leaf. Maybe I’ll start enjoying shopping more, and stressing about it less. Maybe there’s something to breaking out of the ol’ comfort zone and learning a new step.
Or, maybe not. We’ll know next week. ■
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.