If you're struggling to find a plus side to the economic downturn, how about this: Fewer jagoffs in your way during mid-day grocery expeditions. Observe:
In years gone by, only suburban night-owls were able to enjoy such roomy aisles at the local Übermart, but as this recent photo clearly demonstrates, a Wednesday afternoon trip to a city supermarket isn't half the battle it used to be. It's an eerie feeling to have one's perusal of the turkey bacon suddenly shattered by the realization that you are the only living human around. And naturally, the sensation multiplies tenfold if you happen to be somewhere that's ordinarily crowded with mouth-breathing, stretch-panted, cellphone babblers.
Strangely, though, this is all brilliant news for me, as my hatred of crowded food markets is something of a legend in its own time. The most ubiquitous offenders of the would-you-please-die-or-at-least-get-the-hell-out-of-my-way portion of the grocery-shopping genepool are as follows:
- The Recently Unemployed Husband who Doesn't Know Where Anything Is: This unshaven menace wanders the aisles aimlessly with his cellphone glued to his ear. On the other end of the line is his wife, who is busy reminding him why the toothpaste is not displayed near the olive oil, what the fat content of the milk they've been buying for the last five years is, and why Extreme Taco Bacon Pizza Blast Doritos are not an appropriate substitute for reduced sodium tortilla chips. For an extra dose of mean-spirited fun, try following this confused soul to the produce aisle and watch him struggle to distinguish Italian parsley from cilantro.
- The Grown, Seemingly Educated Person with no Awareness of Spatial Physics: These come in both genders and are easily identified by their willingness to abandon a loaded shopping cart in such a way that it blocks passage for other patrons approaching from both directions. I've lately become less tolerant of this behavior, and upon recently encountering one such offender, I abruptly shouted out the following phrase as a method of public humiliation (and urban justice):
(Note: I often shop while wearing my iPod along with one of those big furry hunter's hats that have ear flaps which dangle by the chin. In my more expository moments, such as the one described here, I have been known to feign a slight mental instability (which the hunting headwear enhances), so as to reduce the chance of actually being reprimanded by the shopper who has irked me. If you are not prepared with a suitable I-might-be-crazy routine, or are perhaps very slight of build, I do not recommend tangling with other cart-pushers in this manner. Go cool off in the detergent aisle, and then come back when the coast has cleared.)
- The Four Male Roommates who are Barely out of College, and for whom Grocery Shopping is treated as a Team Sport: I have the unusual distinction of never having lived with another male member of the species. I went through college via night school, and therefore never acquired the co-habitation skills that dorm-life is alleged to provide. Throughout my twenties, I either lived alone or with female roommates -- each of whom I would now like to thank for sparing me the indignity of becoming one of these offensive alpha males. I'm sorry, but at what age do you intend to stop mimicking football passing with a roll of paper towels? Never? That's what I thought you were going to say, you artless weasel. If you're foolish enough to join a checkout line behind a gaggle of these pituitary retards, you're in for a double-whammy of punishment as you'll have to endure the sight of A) the revolting prepared foods that sustain them, and B) the lot of them jacking around and garishly gesturing towards one another's testicles instead of bagging their own groceries like smart people do. Take whatever steps are necessary to keep your disgust inaudible while observing these overgrown fratboys. Even if only slightly motivated, they can pound your pansy, organic fennel-buying ass out in the parking lot.
- People who Begin Eating their Food Before Paying for it: OK, maybe this was cool in the 70s. I plainly recall my mom asking the deli counter guy for a slice of baloney to appease me, the four-year-old who squirmed impatiently in her cart. But with germ-o-phobia now at all-consuming levels, I can no longer condone acts such as eating a Suzy-Q while shopping, and then instructing the cashier to scan the cream-smeared cellophane on the way out. Maybe it's my own squeamishness, but I don't really want to watch people eat with their hands, and then touch things that I might want to buy. Behavior like that is just plain vulgar, and it makes the world look even more like a Devo video than it already does.
- The Brain Dead High School Kid who just Relieved your Favorite Cashier Five Minutes After you Joined her Line: Is there a more loathsome turn of phrase in the English language than "I NEED THE KEY"? Well, you'll be contemplating it just as you and your groceries appear on the dim horizon of this guy's mental reckoning. That's precisely when some technical snafu will require him to gaze heavenward and begin calling for the you-know-what. If the Holy Keymaster -- who is always a potato-shaped woman with a depressing haircut -- does not appear after 90 seconds, feel free to join the chorus by yelling "HE NEEDS THE KEY" in unison with the cashier. Encourage other shoppers to do the same, and then smile warmly at those who take up your cause. Remember, alliances that are forged in moments of shared misery are often the most enduring, which is why people who've experienced power outages while stuck underground on the subway have reunions every ten years. No matter how bad it gets, avoid any considerations for the greater theological riddles that such moments of despair can summon. Questions like IS GOD HERE? NOW? IN THIS SUPERMARKET? AND DOES HE HAVE A PLAN FOR ME? will only inspire unnecessary panic. Should things turn particularly grim and desperation becomes unavoidable, get in line behind anyone who's muttering along with their iPod and wearing a big floppy hunter's hat. Chances are good they've got their coupons in order, and will be paying with cold cash money.