By James Hold
[Copyright 2017 James Roy Hold
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“I spend a lot of money and I spent a lot of time”
— Steely Dan, “Reelin’ in the Years”
Have you ever gone to your local big name superstore and found a package of lunch meat in the soap aisle? Or seen a hairbrush in the frozen food section? Well, here’s a confession: that was me. I put it there. Not that I didn’t have a good excuse.
It’s my wife’s fault to be honest. She insists I go shopping with her. And therein lays the problem. Because there’s a fundamental difference between men and women when it comes to shopping—namely, women browse while men purchase.
Say a man wants a can of motor oil. He goes directly to the automotive department, selects the grade he needs, pays for it, and leaves. Period. Takes five minutes tops. In other words, he purchases what he needs and is done with it.
Women, on the other hand are not capable of purchasing. A woman can wile away the hours in a clothing store and walk out with a single handkerchief. She can spend all day in a crafts store only to come out with a needle and a button. The reason for that is women never really know what they want. They simply respond to a primal urge to spend.
And as a result, they have to browse. They have to take their time, examine every item carefully, consider its merits before deciding it meets their exacting standards and is worthy of a place in their shopping basket. It is a slow and meticulous process, and entire civilizations have come and gone in less time than it takes a woman to decide which particular brand of laundry detergent will get her whites the whitest.
And who suffers in the process? You guessed it. The poor sap that’s forced to accompany her.
“C’mon, dear. Let’s go.”
“Can it wait? The game’s got maybe an hour to go.”
“Oh, you men. Just come along. We’ll be back in plenty of time to finish your silly game.”
And there we are, me pushing a wobbly wire cart with wheels that go every direction except straight, while she leads me down one aisle after another, stopping randomly to examine some item and place it in the cart, then proceed a few feet and repeat the process. If you think it takes forever, you’re right. It does.
“Gosh, dear, didn’t we buy a new shower curtain last week?”
“Yes, but you never know when—Oh, look at those adorable candles!”
“We have a utility cabinet full of candles. In fact, the last time the power went out you wouldn’t let me light any of them. You said they were decorative.”
“Oh, stop complaining. Honestly, there are times I don’t know why I let you come along with me.”
Me? Come along with her? She was the one who ordered me along! All right, calm down. No use arguing. Just bite your tongue and get it over with.
And so it goes. No matter what section we’re in, she has to pick up two of every item and “compare” them. Not that there’s any difference betwixt the two, other than one pain reliever contains aspirin while another has acetylsalicylic acid. Still she stares at them as though performing some Vulcan mind meld that will reveal which is best.
Meanwhile all I can do is wait, and hope, and pray.
At some point she starts wandering randomly—by which I mean even more randomly than she had been—muttering to herself and showing increasing signs of irritability.
“Maybe if you told me what you’re looking for I could help you find it,” I suggest, stupidly thinking she’ll listen to me. Which she doesn’t. She never does. She just continues grumbling and growing grouchier by the second until I lose all patience and demand, “Sweetie, what the heck is it you’re looking for?”
To which she replies, “That thing I bought the other time.”
That’s all. Just “that thing I bought the other time.” Pressing her for details does no good. Asking her what it looks like or what it does is pointless. All she can tell me is it’s a “thing” and she bought it “the other time.” Oh, well. I didn’t really want to watch that ballgame anyway.
So by now we’ve been down every aisle in the store and examined practically every item on the shelves. (I believe we spent forty-five minutes alone examining nail polishes, but then I can’t say for sure as by then the battery on my watch had run down.) The extra-large shopping cart is crammed with merchandise to where it’s within an inch of overflowing… And then she stops… Reaches into her purse… And pulls out… The shopping list.
Now understand, all this time she’s packed our cart with paper towels, plastic cups and bowls, cooking utensils, cat litter, clothes, office supplies, greeting cards, and everything else you can think of.
Everything that is, except food.
And our cart, which now weighs close to a ton, is about to get even heavier.
Cans, boxes, bags, it doesn’t matter. Her arm reaches out and sweeps everything she passes into the cart as my knees buckle beneath me, my wrists ache with the strain of pushing, and my back is bent into an “S” shape from the effort of trying to peek around the side of the basket because I can no longer see over it, while my arms somehow encircle the mountainous heap of goods threatening to tumble from the cart to the floor.
So is it any wonder you find the occasional out-of-place item on a shelf where it doesn’t belong? It’s a matter of necessity to dump this excess stuff wherever I can. Otherwise it would spill across the floor and impede the progress of other husbands pushing equally over-burdened shopping carts while struggling to keep up with their wives who suddenly remember, “Oh, we need catsup,” after passing it three aisles back.
I believe can pretty much skim over the rest. You the reader and I the sap have suffered enough so I need not go into detail about the checkout process—with her supervising the unloading of the cart, double-checking the price of each item as it’s rung up, and arguing over coupons…
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but this coupon isn’t good here.”
“What do you mean? It says right here panty liners are half off.”
(To which I mutter beneath my breath, “Then I can’t imagine why you’d want to wear them.”)
“Yes, ma’am, but your coupon expired six weeks ago.”
“Really? Let me speak to the manager.”
Up to the point of finally getting the bill…
“That will be $616.07.”
After which she smiles at me and says, “Wow, we really ran up quite a bill.”
And I can only rationalize, “It must’ve been the candles.”
Ultimately we make it back home, the darkness setting in and my ballgame long over, only to have her say:
“We need to go back. I forgot to buy bread for your sandwiches.”
“No, dear,” I tell her in my gentlest tone of voice. “You stay here and rest. You must be tired from your busy day so I’ll go back myself and get it.”
Which I do. Because like I said before, women browse and men purchase.
Only this time around I elect to make three purchases. First I head straight to the bakery section and pick up my loaf of bread. (I’ve a feeling I’ll be eating lots of sandwiches from now on.) Then it’s over to the hardware aisle where I select a nice solid steel hammer and a good sturdy shovel. Five minutes tops and I’m done.
Back home it’ll probably take a little longer. Oh, the business with the hammer will be quick enough, but digging a hole in the back yard could take a few hours.
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