Saturday, October 26, 2013

Deli , Dairy, And Drama: An Eleven Aisle Odyssey

There may be no more wondrous place to observe human behavior than in a supermarket. A hundred or so customers surrounded me, yesterday afternoon, as I was cruising the aisles for hamburger buns, pre-cut salad (I love it when salad comes in a bag), and pita chips. Fifty different varieties of crackers were sought out by people with fifty different preferences. Harried cashiers, fingers numb from scanning everything from vinegar to cans of cling peaches, carried on conversations about the football game, and are you going to Jason's party tonight? Arriving shoppers jockeyed against rival customers for parking spaces closest to the doors.

Tanya moped.

The truth be known, I have no idea what the child's name actually is. I assigned a name to this little kid so that I don't have to refer to her as "some child". "Tanya", who appeared to be about five years old, walked (stomped) about ten feet behind her dad, lower lip protruding and eyes glowering about some gross injustice perpetrated recently. One look at that adorable little face told me that the answer to "can we buy some animal crackers?" was "no". And boy, I'd sure hate to be in anyone's shoes who dared push a cart past her with cookies in it.

While Tanya impressed with an Academy Award-quality pouting performance the likes of which has never been seen before in Aisle 7, consternation was brewing at the deli counter. The counter person was learning of Mabel's dissatisfaction with Swiss cheese on her favorite lunch meat. So were the other fourteen customers, whose involuntary education on the matter led them to discover that she likes her pastrami "completely plain" whether they wanted to or not.

And what's deli meat without cheese? A very nice lady was busy handing out free samples directly in front of the wine section. Honestly, being six feet, two inches tall and weighing two-hundred eighty-five pounds puts me on the more readily-noticeable end of the visual spectrum. That made it all the more difficult to disguise myself a little differently each time I came around the corner in that part of the store. Being big increases the odds that I won't be fussed at, but when it comes to hogging free cheese all bets are off the table. The long, "I've-seen-you-before" knitted-brow look from the elderly woman wearing a ruffled apron and serving Kraft's finest told me that it was time to go check out the car magazines.

That's where I got to see, ringside seat, more drama unfold at the self-checkout. I also got to witness what happens when approximately five-hundred dollars' worth of groceries are rung up and bagged, only for Jerry to remember that his wallet is at home on his dresser. "Honey, PLEASE grab my billfold and meet me. That rocky road ice cream you wanted is going to melt. No, I can't put it back because I've already rung it up. Hurry!" was met with any number of impatient customers fidgeting, politely clearing their throats, or else curtly spinning their carts to other lanes with the obvious intent to signal to the poor man that "my time is too important for this nonsense." I felt sorry for Jerry. He meant well, and he only made a simple error.

In all, this latest experience at the grocery store reinforced lessons I learned when I was studying social psychology during Reagan's second term. Lessons such as cognitive dissonance and norm of reciprocity. I'm talking about the hard-hitting issues which define our character as a people.

Too bad none of them involved pastrami or free cheese.


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