Close your eyes and remember: Thanksgiving is right around the corner and you’re shopping for the holiday. You’re at your favorite grocery store, the bustling parking lot offering a red alert to the amount of shoppers set to share the aisles with you. But you take the challenge, go inside, and pull out your list.
Shoppers are everywhere, but navigation is manageable. Every slice of humanity is represented. Some families have split up and are using multiple shopping carts, a modern version of hunters and gatherers.
As a writer, even as I’m shopping, I notice details about the people around me. Check that – I notice the contents of other’s baskets, which offers clues to my fellow shoppers.
But some shoppers catch my eye. I know you’ve seen them, and an eating holiday like Thanksgiving forces them to rise from the graves of their homes and shamble into their local supermarkets. They tend to be men, usually middle aged or older. Their movements are slow and uncertain. Their expressions are blank or dazed as they struggle to comprehend their situation. They stare glassy eyed at sale items. You wonder what thoughts are streaming through their minds.
Captain Crunch cereal sounds good, but it’s really for children, right? Will all that sugar kill me? Will the checker think I’m crazy if I buy it? And if I get the cereal, I’ll have to buy milk too. There’s more than one kind of milk, isn’t there? And I’m almost out of plastic spoons and Styrofoam bowls…
It’s sad, really, to see grown, mature men who run farms, manage businesses, and have built successful careers from scratch, transform into supermarket zombies. Their condition appears to be temporary. Symptoms begin to exhibit when they drive into the store parking lot.
These are not the gruesome, flesh starved undead. They aren’t the result of chemical warfare or voodoo or an alien virus. These zombies are created by the overwhelming primal urge to seek out sardines or mozzarella sticks. And their mindlessness is driven not by a return from the dead, but by a bewildering, foggy confusion. Literally a fish out of water, they’re mentally gasping for breath, completely out of their element.
And don’t tell me I’m crazy. I know you’ve seen them. You’ve seen dudes who share the same expression as self-professed innocent men entering their new cell block for the first time.
What am I doing here? What did I do to deserve this? For God’s sake – where is the pickle relish and the toilet paper? What happens if I don’t have coupons?
Everything they see is part of a large and looming alien landscape.
Where is the pancake mix? And those packages of sliced pepperoni?
They push the basket with the wobbly front wheel. They move up and down the aisles like they’re navigating a cornfield of landmines. So far, all they’ve discovered is beer, ground beef, and tv dinners.
Sure, they’ve been in a store before. They’ve stopped in for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. Heck, the wife did all the shopping on Saturdays while he avoiding the Honey-Do list. Now, she’s gone and run off with the cable guy, and here he is, doing grocery.
These men reach out a pick up a can of soup like it’s a live grenade. They scan the labels of packages like they’re written in a foreign language.
These grocery zombies do better in some areas than others. They can manage in the produce section – potatoes, bananas, onions, tomatoes. They can also buy meat. Especially anything made to grill. Bread is also a fairly easy assignment.
But then come the quagmire of the dairy section.
Whole milk, 2%, 1%, or skim? And what’s this Almond crap? And who knew eggs came in medium, large, extra large, and jumbo? And what’s with the brown eggs? I’m not racist, but what’s the deal with them? And should I buy butter or margarine? Sticks or tubs? I really can’t believe it’s not butter…
Watching the life return to their eyes when they emerge from the store exit is like seeing a death row inmate pardoned at 11:59p.
I wish I had the background to help find the cure to this horrible illness that afflicts so many otherwise healthy adult men. But like Athlete’s Foot, some battles have raged since the beginning of time.