September 10, 2008

Suburban Turmoil - When grocery shopping gets old

It’s not even noon, yet the supermarket parking lot is full. Frowning, I pull into a spot at the end of the lot and walk briskly toward the entrance. My stepdaughters are watching their younger brother and sister for me and I don’t have much time. I step through the double doors, quickly scan the crowd of shoppers and feel a cold chill go up my spine. Unwittingly, I’ve entered the 9th circle of suburban hell, otherwise known as Senior Discount Day. 

It’s not that I begrudge my blue-haired neighbors their discount. Hell, old age doesn’t have many perks; other than shuffleboard, 10 percent off groceries is about as good as it’s going to get. Besides, on a normal day at the supermarket, the seniors who show up are quite nice. They smile at my children and I, in turn, retrieve hard-to-reach items for those riding on motorized scooters. 

When Senior Discount Day rolls around, though, our shaky truce dissolves. Banding together, they flood the aisles, their white heads bobbing like foamy crests of waves in a windswept sea. I try to stand firm against the bargain-hunting tide, but before I know it, my cart and I are caught in the current. As I’m swept past the meat department, I futilely attempt to grab a discounted tenderloin, only to be butted from behind by a cart pushed by a dried apple of a man wearing a beret and an evil grin. 

“Ouch!” I shout, rubbing my hip. The old man laughs spitefully and snatches my meat.

“Hey!” I protest. “I saw that first.” 

Immediately, his face changes, assuming an expression of bewilderment and sorrow. “I’m sorry, dear,” he says, trying to hand me the tenderloin. My face burns with shame. 

“Oh, no,” I mutter. “That’s OK. You can have it.” His face resumes its original expression. He cackles delightedly and shakes his head at my naiveté before tottering back to his cart. 

Bruised and forlorn, I manage to collect a few more items before ending up marooned amid three other carts, while a small group of mall-walkers argues heatedly over which brand of peanut butter is cheapest and whether coupons on Senior Discount Day are doubled or tripled.

“Excuse me,” I say, trying to nudge their carts out of my way. They ignore me. I raise my voice. 

“HEL-LO. EXCUSE ME.” One of the women frowns before making a grand show of adjusting her non-existent hearing aid. 

At this point, I cut my losses and limit my shopping to areas of the store most likely to be free of AARP members. First, I try the expensive organic foods section, but with its free-sample trays, seniors are circling like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Next, I check the beer aisle, but it’s being mobbed by a half-dozen Sansabelt wearers fighting over what’s left of a sale on Pabst. 

That leaves the baby-food aisle, which turns out to be a peaceful and empty haven in this senior storm. 

My cart filled, I race to the front of the store, only to find long lines at every checkout. I move to the back of one, glancing impatiently at my watch. Within minutes, my favorite bagboy appears and catches my eye, pointing to register 10. Grinning, I quickly wheel my cart toward his register. Two lanes over, I spot a woman with a cane looped over her arm doing the very same thing. I can see by her face that she’s witnessed our entire exchange, and is determined to get to register 10 before me. 

Making eye contact, we glare at each other for a split second before simultaneously running for it. I make it in record time, but my competition is closer, and noses her cart into the aisle a split second before I get there. 

“Come on, Myrtle,” she says, looking over her shoulder. “This nice boy opened up his register just for us.” A grandma in a velour tracksuit shuffles up behind her, snickering at me before getting in line. The bagboy shrugs as if he’s seen this happen many times before, then resolutely starts scanning box after box of Depends. 

I stand behind them, grinding my teeth and vowing revenge. In 40 or so years, these oldsters’ cherubic and adored grandchildren will be supermarket-shopping adults and I’ll be the one cutting them off in line. Just see if I’m not the meanest and most competitive little old lady of them all.


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