It had been weeks and Julius knew he had to make the trip or he’d end up starving to death. “And how pathetic would that be?” he groaned to himself. Despite his bravado, the thought of making the dreaded trip was giving him heart palpitations. The last trip had cost him dearly and had taken years off of his life. Of course, it hadn’t always been this way. He could recall a time where, as a young boy, he had accompanied his mother on multiple occasions and it had been a pleasant and even anticipated event. Those had been simpler times.
Julius spread the last remnants of the tapped out jar of mustard on one of the three remaining saltines and looked again at his list. “God, I hate this,” he said, spraying bits of cracker everywhere as he flipped to the second page. The list was your basic grocery list… on steroids. When you’re a man like Julius, paralyzed by any more than one choice, relying on a basic ‘bread, milk, eggs’ grocery list was like bringing a spoon to a gun fight. No, Julius had armed himself as best he could for the harrowing experience that was… grocery shopping. ‘The List’ was a laminated multi-page document, which in honesty could more accurately be called a booklet, and included a breakdown of every item Julius could expect to find at his local Supergigantico Market. Sorted by aisle, down to the shelf, each item included a color picture, short description, size or quantity, weight in pounds or ounce, price and a rating based on Julius’ own scale. On the back pages of ‘The List’, Julius also had a list of the store’s employees, down to the last stock boy, and in similar fashion to the goods they sold they were listed by position with a picture, their typical work schedule and a rating scale. Julius left nothing to chance when he visited Supergigantico Market.
Denoting the items he would need to purchase on this trip with a gold star (that could be easily removed upon completion of the repugnant errand) Julius sighed, it was time to go. Grabbing his trusty porkpie hat and steel-tipped cane, he tucked his list under his arm and walked out his front door. Driving the 0.2 miles to the Supergigantico Market that had popped up about three years ago, Julius parked his sedan in the furthest spot in the lot and walked towards the storefront with the gusto of a condemned man on his way to meet Old Sparky. Walking through the automatic doors, Julius braced himself as the rush of cooled air hit his skin. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered and took two steps inside, and instantly froze. The blindingly harsh florescent lighting, the din of customers and shopping carts over the canned Today’s Top 100 playing over the speakers, the brightly colored packaging and displays, the faint layer of compounded smells propelled by canned air, the lack of clocks or windows… it all added up to more stimuli than Julius could initially handle.
After a minute or so of playing human statue, Julius would begin to regain his senses, and much like a turtle reemerging from his shell, he would slowly lift ‘The List’ to his failing eyes and focus on the first item listed. “Ok, Croissants from the bakery,” Julius said out loud. Then, checking his watch continued, “Ok, it’s 10:10am now, let’s see if I can get outta here before three o’clock today,” and he set his timer. Buzzing up and down the aisles with constant reference to ‘The List’, Julius was making excellent time and had yet to encounter any large issue (well, some brainiac had changed the fluid ounces in his brand of ketchup from 16.1 to 16.12 but he managed to overcome this change with a few deep breaths and by making a notation in ‘The List’ to update this item upon his return home).
Just as he was gaining some confidence, it happened. It was the third to the last aisle, the candy, gum, and infant aisle, and Julius was coasting along in anticipation of locating and placing in his cart his favorite chocolate bar. The creamy, rich and tantalizing texture of this one indulgence had Julius’ mouth almost watering. Walking to about the middle of the aisle, Julius reached out to the third from the top shelf for his sweet without bothering to look up. His hand landed on a wrapper that instantly felt wrong. Looking up, Julius realized, to his horror, that instead of his delicious chocolate bar, he now held in his hand some monstrosity in a purple and white wrapper. Dropping the item in disgust, Julius bent over and examined the discarded item, now lying on the floor. “Randoms? What in the Sam-hill is that garbage?” He almost yelled. Frantically looking back to the shelf, Julius searched for his chocolate bar. It was not there.
“Sir? Sir, are you alright?” Julius barely heard the concerned woman now standing next to him. A few minutes later she was joined by one of the store’s employees. “Don’t worry ma’am, he comes here regularly and sometimes gets like this. Eventually, he’ll snap out of it. Is there an item I can help you retrieve?” the employee smiled and tried to coax the woman away from Julius.
Ten minutes prior to the store closing, a Supergigantico Market store manager walked over to where Julius was still standing and despite feeling a pang of guilt, unscrewed the top of a chilled bottle of water, and dumped it on the old man’s head.
“Eck! What in tarnation!” Julius came out of his catatonic-like stupor sputtering and cursing like a drenched alley cat. “Sorry Julius, store’s closing,” the manager said apologetically. Wiping the water from his face, Julius looked at his watch and hung his head. “That’s ok Frank, sorry for any trouble,” Julius looked around for his cart of groceries. “It’s fine Julius, it’s fine. Oh, I took the liberty of checking out your groceries and storing in my office refrigerator,” Frank smiled at his elderly patron and handed him a folded receipt, “here’s the receipt, come up to the front of the store and you can pay”. Walking Julius towards the two dozen checkout lanes, Frank pulled out his walky-talky and called for a bagger to bring Julius’ groceries to lane 17.
As they waited for Julius’ groceries to arrive, Frank coughed nervously and looked as if he wanted to say something. “Well? What is it Frank?” Julius asked a bit gruffly. “Julius, I would just like to thank you for your years of patronage to Supergigantico Market and to show our appreciation, corporate has awarded you your very own personal shopper. Your personal shopper will take your shopping list, go through the entire store for you, selecting only the items you have requested. They will then will your groceries to the checkout where you will be rushed to the front of the line and they will personally check you out and help you to your car. Congratulations!” Frank said with just a hint of hesitation.
Julius gave Frank an indiscernible look and after a few seconds replied, ‘Hmph… well, I suppose I could add that to ‘The List’,” and with that he walked out into the dark parking lot.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: Man, did I need to do some grocery shopping! You know it’s time to hit the store when the only items in your fridge are an old take-out box, a shriveled piece of ginger and lots and lots of condiments. So off to Publix I went! While I’m not as bad as some, there are times when the overabundance of choices for one item simply paralyzes me. I go in thinking I know exactly what I want, but then as I stare at the wall of 24 different kinds of oatmeal I suddenly feel powerless and confused (no, I don’t want lower calorie, light or less sugar! No I don’t want cinnamon roll, banana muffin or strudel! Where is the OATMEAL, dammit!). Ahem… anywho, after spending over an hour in that people-infested, bright and shiny place, I was all too happy to return home. The entire ordeal had left me feeling physically ill, to the point that all I could stomach for dinner was a bowl of LIFE cereal (buy one get one free!!!). Am I an introvert or what? ;o)
TWO: The candy that replaced Julius’ preferred chocolate bar is based on an actual sweet treat I saw in the “British” section of the store. I couldn’t resist (and the name kinda works for this story).
THREE: The first item on Julius’ list, croissants, in a reference to my desire to buy a giant pack of croissants from the bakery at Publix and getting the stink eye from my boyfriend who informed me, “there is nothing good in those things”. Begrudgingly, I placed the calorie-packed baked goods back on the shelf… I knew he was right, even though I wanted to counter his argument with “butter is good and there’s lots of that in croissants”. Sigh… damn his logic.
Love & Squirrels.