I know that I say that I am afraid of car accidents, that they are my greatest fear and that whenever I have a nightmare it is usually involving the fiery doom of a hunk of metal smashed against a freeway barrier with billowing smoke and onlookers weeping silently, their tears drawing parallel lines of sorrow down ashen faces (yes, my nightmares are quite poetic).
All of that is true, except for the “greatest fear” part. That was a big fat lie. My greatest fear is, in fact, The Grocery Store.
There is no word for “fear of the grocery store.” I googled it. “Agorophobia” literally means “fear of the marketplace,” but is used to describe fear of crowds (which I can totally handle– with proper musical encouragement and a glass of…cherry coke). “Topophobia” means “fear of certain places or situations,” but it’s more like stage fright or fear of a place where something bad happened to you– like the skating rink that was the site of my worst birthday party ever, or that time the little old lady flashed the entire restaurant where I was working. (You’d be scared too!) I don’t think it’s quite so general as to mean every single building with the primary function of providing large quantities of food items, packaged for the convenience of the individual and/or family unit, at reasonable prices with ease and reliability.
Besides, why would they make a word for such a heinous thing?? The grocery store is of such horrific power that no one would actually want to speak the word!! It would be like saying You-Know-Who’s name, only with more produce, but just as much soul splitting!!
Yes, I could go so far as to say that the grocery store is the root of all evil. The self-check-out machines are clearly possessed by the devil, as evidenced by their unprompted talking and their insane beeping whenever you do something wrong OR right. That is correct, they don’t just beep at you when you’ve been a complete and utter idiot and couldn’t push the right button, like the cash machine or the library-book-scanner. They beep at you when you have successfully accomplished all that the machine says you’re supposed to do. COSMIC BULLIES, I TELL YOU!!!
There are also just far too many choices. I do not need to have four different sized boxes for three off-brands of my Grape Nuts-esque cereal. And when one of them is on sale, then we’re getting down to fractions and percentages, and I’m wondering how much it cost them to purchase the cardboard around the bag around the cereal, and does the change of surface area of cardboard affect the price of the cereal inside especially when considering the shape change for the inner plastic bag, which is when the shelf-stocker-kid with a gigantic pimple on his nose who is staring straight at my boobs even though I’m in a baggy sweatshirt says, “Can I help you find something, ma’am?” That is when I take a deep breath and realize that I’ve been looking at cereal boxes for over five minutes and this kid thinks I’m old enough to be someone’s mom. (But I’m still hot.) Awkward. And unnescessary. My brain does not need such stress, not when I am picking out the items that are to nourish and sustain my body! I am going to eat the food, not derive the chemical compound for theta out of it! (And by the way, that product tag line spelled “every day” incorrectly…)
Every single grocery store is different. Why??? They all carry the same general stuff. There is, in fact, a fairly logical order for where most things should be placed within the store. Usually, the stores get the order pretty close to right (after two or three years of shuffling everything around). But then, they get it into their teeny, tiny brains that the grocery store needs to be “remodeled.” So they tear it all down, move everything into the corners where no one can walk to get from one item to another, and then put it all back together again in a completely different pattern because the old way was blocking the chi, or the chai, or the path to the Starbucks or something. If you’re so ridiculously obsessed with how to organize your groceries, you could stock them alphabetically. I’ll get you started: A is for Apples, Applesauce, and Aspirin. B is for Brownie Mix, Bacon, and Burger. C is for Coffee and Condoms. D is for Dungeness Crab, Doughnuts, and Drain-o. See? The head’s not just a hat rack. The world needs creative people. Create museums! Write poetry! Cure cancer! Knit sweaters for trees! Design a car that runs on dog poop! Don’t bother trying to plan the layout of my local grocery store. That way, it won’t take 45 minutes to find $50 worth of groceries in the frikkin aisles! And the aisles. Oh the aisles….
Do they need to be stacked that high? Wouldn’t tall people like the satisfaction of looking over the top of the shelves, spying on unsuspecting shoppers and just having the natural sense of accomplishment that I imagine comes with being tall? Some of us would like the option of reaching items on the top shelf without jumping (risking pulling down the entire stock of pancake mix in one flour-y explosion which won’t settle for days) or asking for a step stool like a child who can’t reach the bathroom sink. I am of average height! You can’t ignore me, or I’ll form a group to lobby at the Captiol for strict grocery aisle height in America. Some of those grumpy old men are very short due to the weight of the bad decisions they’ve made over the years, so they will support me!!
And maybe I have more in common with those grumpy old men than I thought. Because really people, the grocery store is not your socializing time. I prefer to go to the grocery store after 10 pm, when others are home snug in their pajamas for the evening with no intention of interfering with my already unpleasant shopping experience. The middle of the day is the absolute worst. How did this become people’s mainstay? Are there no bartenders, no hairdressers, no sympathetic cats to listen to the pointless jibber-jabber?? Silver-haired women chatting obnoxiously loudly and switching between English and Spanish: You do not need to catch up on your friend’s latest divorce while scanning the packages of Rice-a-Roni. Man who works behind the deli/chinese food counter: You seem very nice, but I don’t really care to tell you how my day is going because I am currently in the frikkin grocery store, so it can only get better from here. 6-year-old who is screaming in the cart while her mother blocks an entire aisle and is talking on her cell phone: I’m sorry. I want to go home too.
In fact, I want all of my groceries to magically float their way off of their shelves and into my cart so I can go home right now. No awkwardly lugging around a basket that is too small for all of my groceries because the cart is too big for me. No two mile walk from one end of the store to the other, and back again, and back again, and back again, because I can’t find the enchilada sauce that I swear was right here last time. No sudden gust of cold when passing the refrigerated section. There would be no moving at all!
It would be glorious, because, while I believe that grocery stores are the antithesis to internal peace and happiness and everyone should agree with me, I do have a more personal reason for hating them which (I understand) is not shared by all: Grocery stores actually make me sick.
It’s a spatial awareness thing, but I feel very disoriented when I’m in them and I have close to a panic attack. Especially in the ones with non-traditional aisles (see above). When the aisles go in opposite directions, it’s like riding backwards in a car. Or standing up too fast after lying down. Or that scene from A Bug’s Life when the leaf falls off the tree and blocks the path of the ants to bring food to the pyramid, and the ant yells, “I’M LOST!!!!!!” I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I am, or how to get to where I want to go, because I can’t see forwards and obviously I don’t want to go backwards because I’ve just been there. If you gave me directions to find my groceries like, “turn right at the peas and keep going until you see the packaged ham. Then turn back to your left and you’ll see the peanut butter jars on the third shelf from the top (perfectly at eye level, with only two options– chunky or smooth),” then I think that maybe I could make some peace with my anxiety. But no. They do not have instructions such as these in grocery hell-holes, and they never could because the stores change every year, every week, and in fact every day. Such inconsistency is too fickle for a place in my life. And so my last argument is this: My mother always said to trust my gut. Well, when my gut walks into a grocery store, it simple wants to hurl. How much clearer could it get, hmmmm?!
I know that it all comes across as anger, but that’s because anger is the appropriate response to such a total disregard for all that is good and sensible in the world. And so I am afraid of the grocery store. That it will someday eat me, instead of the other way around. That I will be lost inside its haunted aisles with no sense of the front or back of the store and wake up shivering near the dairy (which is really terrifying for someone lactose intolerant). That I will actually puke in the frozen foods section just as Colin Firth walks by because he is shooting his latest film in a nearby town and he needs a Diet Coke as a pick-me-up. And I am really, really, really afraid of self-check-out stands. I think they bite, and they don’t make antibiotics for that.
Author’s Note: If you have read my previous posts, please disregard my comments that “Jenn is always right.” In the case of the grocery store, she is dead wrong. And don’t ask her side of the issue, because this is not a controversial topic. Just walk away and sadly shake your head.