Now, listen to me, savages. I’m just going out for a quick ride on the bike. Just a quick circle of the downtown, because nothing clears my head like strangers darting out of side streets and trying to kill me. 

I’m not going anywhere NEAR a grocery store, so stop looking at me like that. Stop waving your “little” shopping list like a flag and gaping at me with those hungry eyes. Leave me be, won’t you? I just want to live my life! 

I’ve been waxing nostalgic lately. Not about the big stuff, like that time I totally struck out four in a row in the Little League championship. About the little stuff — like making quick stops at the store for one or two items in an age where that was the most normal thing in the world. 

Back in those days, if you had a hankering for a vague, meat-like substance, there was no shame in ducking into Hannaford for a can of Spam and nothing else. There was no reason to check in with your friends, loved ones and neighbors to see if they needed something, too, while you were at the store. That would have been considered weird, in fact. 

“Stop calling me every time you go to the grocery store,” your neighbor would have said, “or I’m getting another restraining order.” 

You wouldn’t have been considered selfish for going to the market for one measly item. Heck, you could go to Shaw’s just to use the gumball machine, no one would care.  

It’s a different story these days, though. These days, if you’re heading to the grocery store, Dollar Store or — God help you — The Walmart, common sense dictates that you plan the trip with all the strategy and precision of a military operation. 

First, you huddle all your best people together around a rickety table with a bare bulb hanging over it. On the table, you unfold a map of The Shaw’s, The Hannaford or The Walmart, depending on where this operation is to take place. 

“Now look here, men,” you’ll say, tapping the map with an old curtain rod you fashioned into a really nifty pointer. “As you can see, aisles 1, 3, 5 and 7 are marked by south-pointing arrows. Even numbered aisles go north, so we’ll have our best chance of getting to the beef cooler unmolested if launch our attack … here.” 

Here, you use your impressive curtain rod pointer to indicate the yogurt coolers in the northwest quadrant of the store. 

“Will we have a cart?” your timid, squeaky-voiced neighbor will ask, all a-tremble. At which point you’ll slap your neighbor with the back of your hand, just like they do in all the finest war movies. 

“Calm down!” you’ll roar at him. “Of COURSE we’ll have a cart! You think we’d go into an operation like this without one? Good God, man! Get a hold of yourself.” 

And anyway, it doesn’t matter how well you plan and strategize and cuff your neighbor. You’ll think you have the whole trip under control, but the very second you have that first foot out the door, a certain somebody (I don’t want to name names here) will suddenly remember nine things that she, Corey, my wife, forgot to add to the list. 

“A cucumber!” she’ll holler as you attempt to flee down the driveway. “A bag of salad greens, American cheese, two tomatoes, some left-handed stewing beef, a nonbinding turnip, a can of mashed beets and a carton of that ice cream I like but which always takes you six hours to find. Oh, and get me a surprise.” 

So much for the OPSEC with which you planned this dangerous excursion. 

Maybe we’ve been selfish in previous years. Maybe this new way of shopping — going out only once every other week and picking up everything that you, the guy down the road and his third cousins once removed need in one giant armful — is the more responsible way to go about it. Perhaps it’s even good for our pampered little minds learning to strategize our every decision. 

But dadgummit, it seems to me that in various ways over the course of our lifetimes, we’ve earned the conveniences that are now lost to us. We’ve earned the right to buy just one little thing at the supermarket; to decide at the last minute to get take out pizza for dinner; to walk willy-nilly through department stores with no need to follow arrows this way and that; to go for an impromptu walk on Popham Beach because you and the missus couldn’t decide how to spend a Saturday afternoon and Popham is a nice fall back position. 

The new way of food (and Spam) gathering is a tough adjustment to make for the more casual, lawless shoppers among us. And it seems to evolve by the day so that every fresh excursion to the stores is fraught with the unexpected. 

I suspect that sooner or later, someone will put hopscotch grids in there and tell us it’s for our own good. And by gum, we’ll use them. We’ll hop from one foot to the other all the way to the produce section because come hell or high water, we need the full-tang plums and sway-back peas our wives ordered us to get and we won’t go home without them. 

The good news is that once you’re safely out of the stores, you won’t have to go back for a week or more, so there’s time to sit back and gloat over our successful missions. 

Hey, where’s that American cheese? 

You DID remember the cheese, didn’t you? 


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