A Farmer's Nightmare: Lost in the Supermarket

Occasional forays along aisles of the grocery store help husband understand his wife's frustrations with the monthly shopping.

Confused in the Supermarket

Pretty familiar with this feeling? Us too.

Illustration by Wayne Stroot

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Call me crazy, but I believe tall people tend to be better at basketball than short people, that fish are better swimmers than cows, and that my wife is better suited to grocery shopping than I am. 

Once a month, my wife prepares for her trek to the local supermarket like Hannibal preparing to cross the Alps. She checks the pantry, the refrigerator and the bathroom, prepares a shopping list the length of an axe handle, grits her teeth, and growls at me on her way out the door. For my part, I offer helpful suggestions like “Don’t forget the Oreos,” or “How about some of that chocolate almond ice cream?” 

I should point out that grocery shopping does not put my wife in a good mood. When she returns two or three hours later, I can hear the car door slam and the sound of her feet as she stomps her way inside, yelling at me to go unload the car – a task I am happy to do, having escaped the monthly assault on the supermarket. 

But there’s a problem with buying groceries and necessities once a month. It means you’re probably going to run out of important stuff like bathroom tissue, milk, bread, eggs ... and chocolate almond ice cream. 

My wife recently sent me to the supermarket with a list of things she needed. I dutifully stuck the list in my pocket without looking at it, and headed off.   

I entered the sprawling palace of palatables, list in hand, and plotted my strategy. First item was bathroom tissue. Since I remembered which aisle I wanted from my last trip, I’d just start there. But did she want the four-pack, the eight-pack, the 12-pack, or the giant economy pack big enough to supply a family of eight through the winter? The two-ply, the four-ply, the scented variety, or the super-soft brand? And how the heck do you compare the cost per roll? I finally just grabbed an eight-pack of the house brand and left the scene. 

“Canned tomatoes.” OK, now here’s a challenge. Our supermarket carries about 2,000 varieties, sizes and brands of canned tomatoes. Whole, peeled, chunky, diced, sliced and smashed. Plain, or mixed with mushrooms, peppers, onions or various exotic spices. I looked at my list for guidance. It simply said “canned tomatoes.” I made a wild guess and moved on. 

Next on the list: “onions.” Unfortunately, the produce section was a mile or so back where I first entered the store. I steer my cart around an elderly lady driving one of those electric carts, then past a mother with two screaming children. I arrived without mishap and found bins of red, yellow and white onions. My list, of course, just says “onions.” I compromise by picking two big red ones and two yellow ones – plus a bunch of bananas, which suddenly appealed to me. 

“Roast” was the next item on her list. I headed for the meat counter at the back of the store, where I met up again with the mother with the crying babies. The roasts all look the same to me, just different sizes. I look ’em over carefully, and pick up a 4-pounder. Done. 

My wife has “cookies” written on her list. There must be at least a hundred brands of cookies on the shelves, but I am undeterred. Since I’m the principal cookie eater in our house, I just pick the brand I want. Check. My sweet tooth kicks in, and I decide to grab a couple of packages of candy while I’m in the vicinity.  

Milk, no problem. Butter, got it. Eggs, yep. Here’s where I put my vast grocery shopping expertise to use and started checking the cartons. I find cracked eggs in the first two cartons I examine, but I solve the problem by replacing them with perfectly good eggs from other cartons. Hey, I’ve seen other shoppers do the same. 

“Hairspray.” No brand name, just hairspray. My cart and I amble toward the personal care products aisle, where I try to remember the color of the hairspray can that sits on her bathroom counter. I think it’s purple. Or blue. Or it could be pink. 

It’s when I see “lipstick” on the list that I realize I’m officially in over my head. It seems our supermarket carries more than one brand of lipstick, each offered in hues that describe some kind of fruit or vacation destination. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t wear black, green, blue or purple lipstick. But with a half-dozen shades of reds to choose from, I feel like I’m buying a lottery ticket.  

“Hair removal cream.” I vaguely remember television ads for a product called “Snare” or “Bare” or “Dare” or something like that, but I can’t find anything similar among the cans of hairspray, hair dyes, or shaving cream and razors. I give up and decide to just tell my wife the store was out of stock. 

One more look at my list, and I realize I forgot to pick up cans of beef and chicken broth. I head back to the soup and canned vegetables aisle and get broadsided by the old lady driving the electric cart. I am now limping, and one of the wheels on my cart has suddenly decided it wants to strike out on its own.  

My luck improves when I reach the checkout aisles. Aha, just one shopper ahead of me, who, I now discover, has in her possession every discount coupon known to man. When it’s finally my turn at the counter, I stupidly ask the clerk if she knows whether the store sells hair removal cream. Before I can stop her, she broadcasts my question over the store intercom. I cringe in embarrassment while the mother with the screaming children waits in line behind me, giving me the evil eye.  

I’m beginning to understand why my wife stomps through the house when she returns from the supermarket. I wheel my cart to the car, unload the bags and drive home, where it is my job to bring in the groceries. 

I start emptying the bags on the kitchen counter, expecting a word of praise for a job well done, when I hear, “You forgot the coffee!”   

Jerry Schleicher keeps his list in hand and his shin guards on during his regular incursions into the grocery store in Parkville, Missouri.