Some pieces of writing brew for weeks and months. This one has been simmering for years. It came to a head on November 15th at a supermarket in the toothpaste aisle. I was in a gargantuan supermarket with a bustling lunch area, warehouse high ceilings, and aisle after aisle of saleable goods. I only go to this store once every few weeks when I get my hair done. It’s two minutes away from the salon. I go for a quick lunch. And to grab a few things on our grocery list. On the 15th, I failed that last step.
When I got home from this megastore, I told Bill that we should go there, together, some time when we have time to explore the store, together, then cook a meal, together, in the evening. That’s the mindset with which this store needs to be approached. As a team. An adventure. An outing. A date with my husband. Not to quickly pick up a few things I need at home. On the 15th, I went into that supermarket to pick up ten items. I left after finding three.
There were too many aisles to search. Too much ruckus from echoes bouncing to the 100-foot high ceiling and back to my ears. Too many choices on the shelves. And on this day, the toothpaste aisle did me in. I have a basic opinion about toothpaste: every adult human wants to keep their teeth as long as possible and to have fresh breath, and one toothpaste can accommodate those basic needs.
This mantra flows when I’m in the drugstore shopping for toothpaste. Crest whitening. Crest with Scope. Crest whitening with Scope. Crest Pro-Active. Crest Complete. Complete sounds good, proactive even – and complete should include whitening. I see Crest for sensitive teeth and my general opinion widens about toothpaste. There could be two kinds: One complete, and one complete with an ingredient for sensitive teeth. I contemplate which one to get for our family. I’m a Crest loyalist. But beyond that? I want it all. All. In. One. I maneuver those drugstore shelves and depart with two tubes of toothpaste with Scope on the logo. I don’t know what else the toothpaste was capable of – visually, I’ve narrowed the choice to Crest and to a box with Scope on the label. No true reason for selecting one with the Scope other than it’s a second tier of easy visual selection.
In the supermarket on the 15th, toothpaste was on my short list. I found the long aisle with toothpaste stacked on shelves up and down both sides. My eagle-eye spotted the Crest logo five feet ahead of me on the left. I pulled my cart as far to the right as possible and stood back to peruse the shelves for the words Scope.
In disbelief, my laser scan measured Crest shelves five-feet high and ten-feet wide. I scanned again to reaffirm the measurement. Was this like the ceiling that I felt was 100-foot high but in reality was only 50 feet high? The second scan proved to be an accurate measurement of 5’ x 10.’ Bigger than a standard 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood. Two of me lying on the floor head to toe would span the entire length. My senses were on fire with overload of choice. The Crest tubes leapt off the shelves and danced in my eyesight. Heart pounding, I broke the trance with a head shake and continued down the aisle to the nearest check out. Without toothpaste. Without six other items on my list.
The word “choice” baffles. It’s not always a positive word. I want to live in a place with freedom of basic unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To have the choice of making major life decisions in whichever way I wish. To have freedom of choice. However, when it comes to small stuff like toothpaste, the market is clobbering me with too many itty-bitty choices.
Even the two local supermarkets where we normally shop for standard supplies are feeling too big. Fortunately, I can write my list based on the layout of the stores and make my way through each of those buildings grabbing items pretty quickly from their appointed spots. And skipping the thousands of items not on my habitual list.
One afternoon the week after Thanksgiving, I needed a few staples, plus food for dinner. My heart skipped a beat thinking back to the megastore experience. On that day, I couldn’t even do the local supermarket. I needed a small space. I wanted to go to the place that feels to me much how I envision Linus’ security blanket feels to him. I picked up Liam from school, and we went to our small, local family-owned grocery store. I’m guessing the total square footage is maybe less than a quarter of our local supermarket. Pushing a mini-sized grocery cart, I felt a coziness when I walked through the door.
Normally, we go to this store for the fresh stuff: fruit, vegetables, meat, breads, and desserts. However, on this day, Liam and I shopped every aisle. After picking up fresh fruit, that smelled and looked just-picked, I went to the back of the produce section to the dairy case. I have a quirky habit at this store when I open the door to get a gallon of milk. I inhale. Then I smile. For every single time I open that door, I either get a whiff of cut-up fresh fruit or of pleasant disinfectant cleaner. Never is there the lingering smell of spoiled milk that I’ve come to accept at the supermarkets.
From the milk, Liam and I scooted through the dry goods aisle for Goldfish crackers, Cheezits, and Wheat Thins. There may have been only two flavors of each, which was fine. We are the original-flavor-cracker-eating kind of family. I grabbed one roll of paper towels, and we rounded that short aisle and approached the meat counter where I was greeted by one of the butchers.
“How are you today? What can I get you?” And he handpicked and packed the steak tips, the marinated chicken, and the boneless pork chops for me. Same thing at the deli counter. And in the bakery. Liam picked out a package of hamburger buns from the choice of two brands on the shelf.
We pushed our cart up to Shirley’s checkout lane; if Shirley is working, I’ll wait in her line so we can visit as she scans and bags for us. Once bagged, we pushed our cart out to the parking lot where just twenty cars can park.
Sometimes, I buy toothpaste at this store. I couldn’t say which kind of Crest, just one of the three tubes on the shelf. Here, I do not have too much choice. Just two or three options. And a little bit of community. And that’s refreshing.