Posted by: chance47 | 02/15/2010

not hungry for optimism…

I’ve discovered a new urban battlefield.   Not quite as destructive as “The Single Scene Massacre” or the “Battle For Dominance in social networking”, but equally treacherous.

What makes this new territory nearly impossible to counterattack is that it is absolutely essential to our everyday lives.  It houses most modern necessities and prides itself in being a hotbed of requirement.

I am talking about…the grocery store.

Okay…tendency for hyperbole aside, I am finding it increasingly difficult to navigate my local Jewel lately.  Its proving to be a stern taskmaster in the lesson of self-esteem.

Case in point.   Over the past two months I have run into an old college friend several times while shopping for many of life’s essentials.   She was a good friend in college and made the long sojourn to the windy city, along with a small cadre of graduates.  Through me, and about six other connections, she met my Freshman roommate and they are now happily cohabitating and well on the way to indentured marriage (what no judgment???).  In all honesty, they make a great couple and from everything I have heard, make each other splendidly happy.   I say “heard” because this is one of those friends that you rarely see and only at special occasions; birthdays of other old friends, openings of shows/art installations/cafe/keg parties, or randomly out one night when one or both of you are completely hammered and one or both of you may have just puked/peed in an alleyway and someone caught it on camera.

The rarity of these encounters makes it exponentially more painful when you begin to size up life status with one another.   The less you see someone the greater that chances that the last time you saw them your life has changed in some grand and exciting way.   Or…if you are me, the more excruciatingly obnoxious/embarrassing it is that absolutely nothing has changed about you except for your “new hairstyle” (see: unwashed) or your waistline.

So picture if you will:  I make my way into the local Jewel, grab my little gray basket and begin to dash between all the aisles, grabbing everything from my mental list in record time, so I can make it home, attempt to ride an exercise bike for an hour (see:  20 minutes), prepare a fresh home-cooked meal (take the plastic off the lean cuisine), and continue working on my novel (RuPaul’s Drag Race).

So I’m standing there in front of the frozen vegetable aisle trying to decide which brand of peas is less likely to cause me food poisoning when I hear…

“Ben,   is that you?”

And there she is.

And there I am.

Holding my little gray basket.

Full of single serving frozenness, hand lotion, AA batteries, and ohdearlordcatfood.

She looks at my basket.   Looks at me.  Looks at the AA batteries.  Looks back at me.   Looks at the lotion.  Tries really really hard not to look at me.  And even though I don’t want to…I look to her shopping items.  Two boxes of family sized cereal.  Cases of diet soda, cases of Gatorade.  Many multi packs of yogurt.  Lunch meats, cut from the deli counter.  Assorted fresh vegetables in individual plastic bags.  Two tubs of ice cream (strawberry…I assume for him and something with a chocolate ribbon in it for her).  And masses and masses of practical, great home-cooking implements.

There I stand…with my basket of solitude.   And her with a cart full of marriage.

Conversation goes as expected.

“So what are you up to?”

“Oh you know.  The usual…still looking for a new job.  And um…the new season of “Lost” started.  You?”

“Well I’m starting a new dance program to help inner city kids with physical disabilities learn to love themselves and nurture the karmic circle of life.”

Or something similar to that.  Neither of us can finish the conversation fast enough and we part ways only to be reunited (OF COURSE!) in the checkout aisle.

Typically I use the self checkout lane, but always after seeing my grocery store friend I require that human connection that can only be gained by having a sixteen year old girl go,  “Do you have a coupon for the hand lotion?” or “Fried chicken again huh?”  At which point I start to contemplate how much hand lotion I actually buy and what sort of pervert these grocery store employees must think that I am.   Then I look behind me, and there is grocery store friend, waving politely…smiling.  I pay for my wares and leave as quickly as I can, feeling wholly dejected and slightly embarrassed.

It isn’t so much the being single thing that bothers me.  Its the envy.  So much of grocery shopping is buying for your lifestyle.  If I were a jet-setting type who was rarely home, I would have no qualms buying single serve items and stocking up on double AA batteries.   If I was a social lynch-pin who was constantly throwing amazing cocktail parties I’d have no qualms leaving the grocery store with only a bottle of jack and a dozen limes.  I, unfortunately, am neither of these things.  When you hit a certain age and you realize that your expectations of life aren’t quite measuring up with what is in your grocery cart, you can’t help but feel inadequate.

I mentioned this to my dear friend Lauren, who shops at Costco as if it were going out of style and always brings home the freshest produce and best tasting wines.  I admit now, in this posting, that I am envious of her grocery lifestyle.

Now you may say.  Well Ben, why don’t you just buy what you want?  Why don’t you just stock up on the greatest vegetables and freshly butchered meats.   Because…it would be a lie.  My lifestyle hasn’t caught up to that yet and sadly those vegetables would go to waste.  My friend Lauren lives up to her grocery shopping lifestyle.  (Seriously…cook with her sometime…its one of life’s little wonders)

It was during this conversation with my friend Lauren that she presented a test to me.  She said, “Why not make a challenge out of your next shopping trip?”

“As if it it wasn’t challenging enough just getting there?”   I asked.

“Next time you grocery shop…grab a cart.  Fill it with all the items that ‘Ideal Ben’ with his ‘Ideal Ben Lifestyle’ would buy.   Take a look at it.   See where you are in comparison.”

As masochistic as this challenge sounds, it was intriguing.   Shop for the me I want to be.

I decided to take Lauren up on her challenge, and more importantly, I decided to look at it as something hopeful and not as a source of huge potential personal pain.

So there I was, cart in hand, Ipod in my ears.  I had to pick galvanizing music.  Music to motivate me.  So of course I put on a playlist of Lisa Loeb songs.  (Shut up.  Just shut up.)

I began to peruse the produce section.   I selected several fresh apples of different varieties, because honestly I love apples and could see myself running out of the door on the way to my exciting new job, grabbing an apple as my easy breakfast.

I added fresh garlic and unpacked mushrooms to the cart.   Okra (because I make some mean fried okra).  Potatoes, sprouts.  Expensive salad dressings.  And grapes…and I’m not sure why the grapes, because honestly I hardly ever eat them and most certainly never crave them.

I left the produce section and began putting whole grain bagels and fiber filled bread into my cart.   A single pack of chips ahoy cookies, you know, for those times I feel like rewarding myself after a good week of diet and exercise.

Next came meat and poultry.  Thick cut steaks and a whole chicken.  Because you see…Ideal Ben can butcher and cook a whole chicken like it was making easy mac.   A bottle of Jack Daniels of course, because some things never go out of style.

Buttermilk and eggs for deep frying (my specialty).   yogurt and luncheon meats for making my own lunches for work.  Ideal Ben would never eat at Cosi five days straight for lunch…nope.  Huh uh.

A few frozen meals made into the cart for the nights that I am just too busy to cook.   Orange juice and tomato juice and pineapple juice.  Because I believe in what the crazy juice tiger man said.   My favorite sorbet made it into the cart as well, because its whole fruit and nothing to be ashamed of.   I circled around the store about four times and finally thought.

“This is it.   This is enough.”

This was my cart:

I looked at its contents.   At the freshness of it.  The practicality.  The whimsy (who were those grapes for…my late night lover who visits me occasionally?)  I realized, whoever this person was, they were definitely single but dating.   They did well for themselves.  They had great taste and a slight penchant for excess.  More importantly I realized…this wasn’t me.   Not yet anyway.   Maybe not ever.

I know I’m okay with the being single thing.   Let’s face it.  I’m a catch.  Its everyone else who has to realize that.   And maybe someday, when I know exactly where it is I want to be…I’ll buy those damned potatoes and whole chickens and expensive salad dressings.  But not the grapes…seriously…how did those get there?

I went around the store and began unshopping, returning all the perishable items and groceries with expiration dates back to their freezers and coolers.   I began to round the bread aisle and I looked down at the cart again.

This was someone.   This cart was someone’s lifestyle.  Just not mine.

I parked the cart gently to the side of the aisle and walked away from it.   Thinking to myself, someone could walk by see the contents and marvel at the serendipity.  That all of their favorite things made it inside.   Or maybe some employee would look at the cart and say,  “Maybe that will be me some day.”

Me?   I grabbed some whiskey, some fried chicken, a bucket of cat food and made my way to the self check-out.  Feeling just a little bit more certain about where I was headed.



  1. You rule.

    • Aw thanks. You are also on my list of people I have grocery store envy for! teach me master and I shall be grasshopper.

  2. Lots and lots of love for humoring me. And you.

    • Not humoring me. You are my grocery guru!

  3. You at least kept the whiskey and chips ahoy, right?

    In all seriousness, I get the grocery thing. The most panic-attack-inducing event for me following RSB’s death was grocery shopping. I could not bear to go to Jewel anymore. I couldn’t face shopping for just myself and bypassing everything I wanted to get for him. I couldn’t handle navigating around all the couples who were blissfully shopping together and for each other. It made me sick and it hurt.

    I’ve learned since then to shop at Dominicks instead (to avoid memories), and I’m sort of learning to be OK with my cart of Lean Cuisine and Marie Calenders and Eating Healthy boxed meals. I’ve even learned to get sort of excited when I find the “5 for $10” sale on them.

    But I have also learned to pamper myself by stocking up on red wines and keeping a wine collection at home, too.

    The little steps count.

  4. i heart you

  5. What a great post! I love your friend’s idea to do the ideal grocery cart…and I love that after you filled it up, you realize how un-you it was. The way I see it, that’s how you’ll find the right relationship, too. Too many people try to fit the “ideal” and be someone they’re really not. And they hope that by being some perfect version of a human, they can attract another perfect human — but that’s not how it works! If you want to naturally end up with the right person, you have to fully embrace the most authentic version of you, and you and your fried chicken are SO doing that. Good for you. Whatever makes you feel most like yourself–the BEST version of yourself is what’s going to get you in the best relationship. Keep up the confidence, keep being you, and I know the right relationship will follow!

    • Thanks! I’m working on some dating optimism. Maybe meeting my half-orange.

  6. Ben- great writing. My favorite line “There I stand…with my basket of solitude. And her with a cart full of marriage.”
    You rock.

    • Thank you! This means so much to me.

  7. wonderful wonderful writing! side note, I heart lisa loeb!

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