Don’t Ask

OK, let’s see. What’s next? I check my list.

In the last few months I’ve developed a new relationship with grocery lists. I’ve always used one, but had gotten a little casual about them in the last decade or two. It started when we lived downtown: With a grocery store at the end of the block, an oversight cost only 10 minutes. My lists degenerated to sketchy suggestions intended more to enable on-site opportunism than to direct on-task activity.

In the last few months I haven’t shopped for groceries once: I have only bought groceries. Impulse buys? Gone. Comparing labels? Gone. Rooting through the packaged meat to find a preferred cut or just the right size? Gone. Replacing a package of low-fat whatever, picked up in error, with the full-fat version? Gone. Getting inspired by a special deal? Gone, gone, gone.

Now I move through the store like a Navy Seal on a mission. Fast . . .

In, out: Nobody gets hurt.

. . . and efficient. And the basis, the undergirding, the foundation of my speed and efficiency? My written list. Lovingly tended for a week or two, and then meticulously reorganized to follow the layout of my local grocery store so I can minimize backtracking.

Regrettably, I can’t eliminate backtracking. Sometimes I have to veer off into another aisle when I see someone walking towards me. And sometimes a whole section is taped off as a worker cleans and re-stocks it, necessitating a re-visit.

Today, on my third pass by the taped-off meat section, I stopped. It was clear that he wasn’t going to be done anytime soon.

What do you want?

Oh, buddy: That’s a big question. If I start I might not finish.

I want to go grocery buying sometime after 8AM.

I want to look with my hands again, not just with my eyes.

I want to pick up something and Put. It. Back.

I want not to throw something into the cart only because there’s someone coming behind me in the aisle and I should keep moving even though I haven’t really decided what I want.

I want it to be OK to take the time to take photos of reflections in the store, just like it was in the old days.

Reflection of food in a grocery-store cooler.

I want to have the mental energy to notice reflections.

I want to stop trying to guess what it means when stock is low: Does it mean “There’s a shortage and I’d better not take more than one or maybe not even one” or does it mean “We have more in the back and it’s just not restocked yet today I mean for goodness sake it’s not even 8AM so taking whatever I need for two weeks is the right thing to do”?

Is romaine lettuce restocked overnight?
Every night?
Through the day?
What about pickled onions?

I want to walk past the shelves for flour and yeast and hydrogen peroxide and disinfecting wipes, and not see a gap.

I want flour and yeast and hydrogen peroxide and disinfecting wipes to not be on my list.

I want to remember that I need fresh basil when I’m in the laundry-soap aisle and not think twice about going back for it.

I want to buy 14 dozen eggs if I want to.

I want it to be OK again to buy 14 dozen eggs.

I want to go back to taking abundant food and a reliable supply chain for granted.

I want to forget the scary feeling I have when I can’t take it for granted, even in the small ways that affect me.

I want to stop experiencing that must-donate-again-to-the-Food-Bank impulse every single time I buy groceries: an impulse driven by that scary feeling.

Alas, these items are not on the shelf today. I settle for boneless chicken thighs, selected for me by the cleaner-guy in the meat department. He did a pretty good job, I think.

As I head out the door, thanking the masked staff from behind my mask, I realize that I want one more thing. I want not to get tearful when I buy groceries. Of course, it’s not even 8 AM and I haven’t had my breakfast yet. Yeah, that must be it.


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10 Responses to Don’t Ask

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Fifteen “I want”s in a row. Once upon a time, we used to criticize our children for saying, constantly, “I want…” We saw it as selfishness, or self-centredness, or greedy, or something. But it wasn’t appropriate. It wasn’t Emily Post.
    Maybe, though, as we grow older, it’s worth saying “I want…” more often. When we have most of the THINGS we want, maybe “I want” can become a sign that we have actually thought about what’s valuable, what’s desirable, what’s good for ALL of us.
    I find it hard to think about what I want, in the ten years or so that I may have left. I realize I don’t know what I want. It’s important for me to think about.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Thinking about life in blocks like that can be both overwhelming and helpful. Depends on the day, maybe? And the thinker? It’s not abad question, even though we can only live it one day at a time.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Did I tell you about the last time I went to Costco, and one of the items on my list was eggs, and somehow I picked up egg whites instead of eggs? I did spot the word “liquid” on the carton but even that didn’t deter me – after all, eggs are liquid, not solid, right?

    Now I’m trying to figure out what to do with four 500 ml. containers of egg whites (for non-metric folks that’s 7 gallons I think). I can only eat so many lemon meringue pies at a time…especially when there’s only me.

    From now on, I think the top words on my grocery list should be, “Pay attention, dummy!”


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Oh dear. Maybe a soup kitchen would take them off your hands? Maybe you could get into meringue sculpting on your balcony? Slowing down enough to really see what I’m putting in the cart is an ongoing effort. And to see it before I pick it up.

  3. I want to think that every item of change you have noted is temporary and will revert. From some of the things I’ve read about collapsing supply chains and the massive destruction of herds and flocks, I am afraid we may look back on these days as the still-affluent times. I am old enough to remember the tail-end of WW II rationing. Our arrival in the countryside in 1983 taught me about gardening for food and raising fowl for meat and eggs. I can still make baked goods from starter and have a jar that I’ve used a couple of times although we found some packaged yeast a week ago. We, meaning mostly Dan, are putting in larger veggie gardens. It feels like Back to the Future here!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Yes, yet another implication of our pandemic response. Maybe justifiable, maybe even necessary, but not without its own pain.

  4. barbara says:

    What is this thing about baking bread from “scratch”? — where we shop: Farm Boy and Independent there has never been a shortage of breads… course: We go at 7 AM to both shops.

    For the first time in 10 weeks I saw a white woman yell at somebody to “Get Out of the Way!” the man in question was on his mark, waiting to be called up to the cash. He was black. I was shocked. But she later yelled at me, too, “You’re going the wrong way in that aisle.” (I wasn’t, just about to…). Her husband followed behind her in each case with a “don’t hit me smile” on his face.

    I can’t imagine the incivility in the States right now, if I am seeing shit like this HERE.

    My Hungarian friend years ago invited her sister to visit from Hungary and was taken to a grocery store (not a big one) and the sister walked in, burst into tears at the shelves: full and varied.

    We still are SO spoiled.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I think bread-making has caught on because it uses time and because it gives a sense of control. If you’re afraid to go out, that’s OK – you can make your own bread and never leave the house. And, of course, what’s better than bread warm from the oven? And yes, we *are* spoiled. Recognizing that fact doesn’t make me happier, just more resigned.

      • barbara says:

        “Resigned” ??

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Yeah. Because I recognize that even though I find it unpleasant, I am not (objectively) in any particular distress. And certainly in no danger. I have a car to get to the store, a mask to wear when I get there, and money to buy whatever happens to be on the shelves today (no large bottles of salsa today, for some reason).

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