So the Houseguest likes to shop at Trader Joe’s, a store that she has a love affair with. Yeah, I guess it’s a pretty good store, but since it’s outside of the two-mile shopping radius I’ve established around my house, I just don’t go there even though it’s an easy ten-minute drive from home. I used to go to a Trader Joe’s in Tempe when I carpooled with my friend Melissa Natusch because it was by her and Ben’s house, and she would stop by after work, but once we both got different jobs, Trader Joe’s became a mere memory and it was back to my local Fry’s and Sprouts for me.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t really fit my lifestyle now anyway. Since I’ve been doing contract work and Ubering after leaving ISM, I’ve become very Spartan in my day-to-day life — well, minus the rigorous physical training, pederasty, and militaristic outlook on life. Rather, I’ve cut out most extravagances. That includes adopting no-frills meals in lieu of fast food, eliminating eating out at restaurants and refraining from purchasing most brands of frozen meals. Sure, a lot of the simplicity of my eat-at-home diet is born out of sheer laziness because let’s face it, I’m a scavenger at heart, but there are cost savings at play along with notions of eating healthily. Food-wise, I tend to eat very simply these days. Bread is a staple. A big salad I make with basic ingredients is always popular. Baked potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper have made a frequent appearance. Raw carrots, Granny Smith apples, and string cheese are frequently on the menu. Canned tuna fish with a few fixings served in a street taco shell, yum yum. I’ll even branch out and buy a few healthy frozen Indian dinners and get the occasional indulgence. The upshot is, my menu may be boring, but it makes my shopping relatively cheap and most importantly — it makes it really easy to complete.
One of the Houseguest’s greatest joys is to display her latest Trader Joe’s finds and explain to me why they’re so awesome. She has been urging me to go there with her for a while, so I agreed that I would go the next time I needed to shop. Well, that day came today. I finally relented because other than porridge and some Granny Smith apples and carrots, my larder was getting pretty lean and like a hungry bear waking from hibernation, I was getting weak with the hunger and restless. So off we went.
After the first five minutes, I think the Houseguest was regretting extending her invitation to me to go shopping. She was moving slowly down the aisle, looking at everything offered, weighing her options, looking at labels, savoring ingredients, commenting on pricing, and keeping up a running monologue for my benefit about various applications certain foods could be used for as well as schooling me about protein levels, acceptable grams of carbs, etc. I dragged silently behind her like a large, sullen child. After a couple of minutes, I started getting antsy and walked off, trying to hurry her along. This slow, thoughtful progress was against my nature. My normal shopping protocol is like a search and destroy mission. I swoop in, moving quickly and with great purpose to all my established waypoints, not stopping for anything extraneous. I see my targets; I grab and basket them; I move on. My goal is to get in and get out in under fifteen minutes.
That wasn’t happening today.
As we worked our way slowly down the aisle, things began to become congested. Everyone seemed to be pushing a cart. Me? I was carrying a basket. It lets me stay nimble and the limited space prevents me from buying too much stuff plus I get to work on my stacking skills as I try to fit in as many products as possible.
Carts jostled as moms with kids in tow and suburban foodies battled for position in the limited space. One clueless woman had parked her cart diagonally across the aisle while she wandered off to look at something, unwittingly achieving the maximum interruption of traffic. I felt my blood pressure and anxiety levels peaking as the carts piled up in the aisle. Normally, I would U-turn and go to another aisle, but the Houseguest had staked out her territory and wasn’t budging and was continuing her attempts at educating and refining me. While she was talking, for my sanity, I pushed through the traffic jam, unobserved, and wandered off to the back of the store to stand near the chips and microbrew beer in the only uncongested spot I could find.
About five minutes was enough to restore my emotional equilibrium, and I dived back into the shopping melee and quickly filled my basket. Finally, the Houseguest was back in sight and I followed her around for an excessively long time before breaking off to go solo again. The next time I saw her was near the registers, so to force the issue, I got in line. I could see her eyes narrow at my bold power move. After checking out, I had to stand there and wait while she finally checked out. The female cashier asked her if she had found everything she needed.
“Yes, but I made the mistake of bringing a male shopping with me, so I was rushed.”
The bagger, who was in her 60s, chortled and replied, “Live and learn.”
We stored our respective groceries in the Houseguest’s SUV and then she told me she wanted to go and get some stuff from Sprouts, and there was one next to Trader Joe’s. I objected strenuously on the grounds that my milk was in danger of spoiling in the back of her vehicle even though it wasn’t very hot out. She told me to suck it up, that my food would be fine.
All I could think of as I trudged into Sprouts was there was soon to be an asexual bacterial orgy going on in my milk container in the back of the SUV.
Finally, she finished up her shopping at Sprouts, and we rode back to my house arguing whether the term first generation immigrant that a guest on NPR used was valid.
To be honest, I don’t know if it was an actual hour of hell — it just felt like it. Either way, I don’t think I have to worry about being invited shopping again.
Read more about the Houseguest and Trader’s Joe.