The Bearded Life: Lost in The Supermarket

Usually, when I share my monthly 'Bearded Life' column from the Southern Minnesota Scene magazine, I will link directly to the magazine's website for you to read the latest piece. Putting it politely, we are having some issues with our website at this moment, and despite my best efforts, my column for the August issue is not showing up anywhere. And in an effort to continue to generate content for this humble blog, I've opted just to copy and paste it all here. 

Lost in The Supermarket

“I'm all lost in the supermarket. I can no longer shop happily.
I came in here for that special offer—a guaranteed personality.”
-Joe Strummer

When I was around ten years old, I discovered the modern wonder that was the revival of the television game show “Supermarket Sweep.”

I was a sickly child, often home for long stretches of time with yet another debilitating bout of bronchitis, leaving me bed ridden and coughing uncontrollably—but because I was a product of the middle class in the 1990s, I had access to cable television.

“Supermarket Sweep” aired mornings on the Lifetime network, and on it, three teams of two competed through rounds of questions about brand name products and goods in order to earn increments of time, that were then added to the grand total amount of time they got to spend making a frantic dash through the grocery store set up in a soundstage—manically tossing product upon product into shopping carts—the winner determined by who spent the most money at the end of the final round’s melee, aptly titled “The Big Sweep.”
As I child, I thought this show as incredible, and because I had spent so much time in the grocery store with my parents, I would daydream about how well I would do if selected as a contestant on “Supermarket Sweep”—how I’d ace those questions in the preliminary rounds, and what items I would sprint to first and load into my cart during the final round.

The revival of “Supermarket Sweep” concluded in 2003, running off and on for eight years on various cable networks. As I’ve eased into adulthood, my days of daydreaming strategies on how to spend the most imaginary money with prop groceries in a fake grocery store came to an end when I arrived at a pretty stark, yet very true realization: the grocery store is a terrible place.

Out of all the public places I’ve selected to either be on the verge of, or straight up have, an emotional breakdown of some sort, I think a majority of them have occurred in the grocery store.

While it may be a terrible place, filled with terrible people (and terrible children with those awful 'customer in training' carts) it is, unfortunately, a necessary evil. Because unless you are incredibly wealthy, the option of going out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for your entire life isn’t viable.
More often than not, you’re going to have to prepare your own meal—whether it be the simple act of pouring a bowl of cereal, opening up a can of soup, or following the directions in a cookbook to create something lavish.

To do all those things, you have to go to the grocery store.

I suppose the first horrible thing about having to go to the grocery store is making a grocery list because as we all know, you can’t honestly be expected to remember every single thing you need to pick up as you trudge behind a shopping cart—you gotta write that shit down.

But writing that shit down means you have to, like, raid every cupboard to see if you have enough of a certain ingredient for a meal, or find the page in the cookbook to confirm that you need only one onion instead of two.

After you’ve gone through the struggle of planning out a week’s worth of meals, (we all know what a wretched, time consuming struggle this is) and you’ve written down all the items you’ll need onto a scrap of paper, it’s finally time—it’s time to brave the elements, and head out to the store.

Depending on which grocery store you patronize, your next hurdle may be simply finding a place to park.

Have you ever been to the Trader Joe’s in St. Paul, right off of the highway? I think more than one meltdown I’ve suffered has been induced by simply trying to find a parking spot in their tiny lot.

If you’re able to find a place to park at your store of choice, then the fun really begins.

After you’ve selected a shopping cart with trash left in the bottom and a fucked up wheel that will bother you the whole time you’re in the store—well, then it’s time to actually start grocery shopping.

First, you find yourself in produce section, and if you’re like me, the produce section is maybe the most important section of the store. You rummage through and manhandle the avocados, attempting to find one that has started to ripen, but isn’t all the way there yet, and could maybe be ready to go for the dinner you have planned two days from now.

You endure the eye rolling of the sullen teenager after you've inquire about fresher, less rotten and moldy cilantro because you live with a companion rabbit who happens to have a discerning palate.

After you’ve loaded up your shopping cart full of produce, it’s time to find the strength within, and move on through the rest of the store.

It’s time to read ingredient lists on packages to make sure there’s no secret dairy product or tree nuts involved; it’s time to reach for a specific item, only to find it’s no longer being carried, or that it’s been moved to a completely different location in another part of the store.

And aside from the paralyzing anhedonia and ennui that come along with consumerism as you lifelessly lumber along behind a shopping cart, I am fairly confident the worst part of the grocery store experience has to be the other people—specifically, always being in the way of other people.

The aisles of grocery stores are narrow quarters—and when they are filled with other people who are as equally or even more miserable than you are, you may as well throw away all your cookbooks because in this situation, you have a delicious recipe for an emotional breakdown on your hands.

At the end of each episode of “Supermarket Sweep,” the hollow shell of a human being, host David Ruprecht, would look at the camera and deliver the chilling tagline to the show—“The next time you’re at the checkout counter and you hear the beep...” (then a cash register beeping sound would play) “Think of all the fun you could have on SUPERMARKET SWEEP!”

However, whenever I am at the checkout counter, and I hear the beep, I am unable to think of fun; I think about the horrible experience I have just put myself through, and I am comforted, ever so slightly, by the fact that after I bag my groceries and swipe my debit card, I will be freed from the confines of the grocery store—only to get home and unpack my groceries, finding I’ve forgotten something, and I will have to go back out and put myself through it all over again.