Friday, May 14, 2010

Supermarket Shopper Nomenclature Part I: In The Aisles

In the nearly three years that I have been married I have logged more hours shopping in supermarkets than I had in the previous twenty-four years combined. As a kid, I was oblivious to the adults wandering the aisles around me; my only concern was how many of those people my Mom would talk to and how long I would then have to stand idly by while she chit-chatted (more on that in an upcoming entry). As an adult, though, I have been rudely awakened to the identities of my fellow shoppers and, after a recent run to Shoprite, I realized that, aside from me (naturally!), everyone else in the supermarket seems to fit perfectly into one of the categories enumerated below.

And thus begins the Supermarket Shopper Nomenclature.

In The Aisles

# 1 The Sightseer

Perhaps the most common of all of the supermarket shopper varieties, the Sightseer is easily recognized by the carefree way in which the shopper meanders through the aisles, like an ancient river slowly eroding its banks. The Sightseer will often swing his or her head from side to side, much like an elephant will allow its trunk to dangle freely. He or she often walks directly in the middle of the aisle, which, as a mystery of engineering, are exactly wide enough for one and a half carts. The Sightseer doesn't appear to be looking for anything in particular...they are just browsing...from the middle of the aisle, presumably to afford them the best view of both sides (this is not to be confused with the Space Cadet outlined further along). The Sightseer is often completely oblivious to the fact that there are other people trying actually to shop and usually do not respond to the first (and usually calm) "Excuse me." When the request is repeated, generally with a bit more bite, they seem genuinely surprised and wonder why you are gritting your teeth at them. The Sightseer is known for muttering to themselves as you walk by, usually something about how plum rude people are these days (again, not to be confused with the Soloist).

*Helpful Hint in Identifying The Sightseer: his or her cart is usually empty or is filled with a bizarre array of unrelated items.

#2 The Soloist

The Soloist is certainly one of the few supermarket shoppers that one would go to great lengths to avoid...if only it were so easy to recognize him!  The Soloist is usually a creepy guy talking to himself and who tends to be alone in any given aisle...often standing in front of an open refrigerator door without really looking for anything in particular; there exists the strong possibility that he is attempting to cool off his genitals or that he seeks to commune with some unholy ice beast via the frozen foods aisle.  The Soloist is difficult to avoid because he is not easily identified at first.  Many aisles have only one or two other shoppers in them depending upon the time of day and day of the week and, usually, you are looking for something in that aisle and not really paying attention to whoever is at the far end.*  As you approach the Soloist, as with other individual shoppers, you will begin to detect audible signals coming from his mouth.  With other normal shoppers, this is generally a brief internal dialogue being voiced, "Did she say to get Rigatoni...or Ragu?"  With the Soloist, however, as you draw nearer and pay closer attention you will notice that he is either talking about "...those damn Commies" or the satellites that are tracking him at that very moment.  If given the chance, he would make a compelling argument that those "Microwave In Use" signs are actually part of a complex and sophisticated secret language decipherable by him and him alone, letting him know that they ARE watching.  It's usually best simply to walk past the Soloist and to feign acknowledgement of his existence.

*It always seems like The Soloist is at the far end of the aisle, as if setting up some zombie-chase scene from a mid-twentieth century horror film.

!Helpful Hint in Avoiding Maiming at the Hands of The Soloist!  When passing by the Soloist, be sure to avoid whistling nervously or jingling your keys as both actions probably have some deeper meaning in the aforementioned secret language...meaning you probably want nothing to do with.  Why give him a reason to try to bite your ear off as you walk by?  Keep two hands on the cart and hold your breath if you have to!

# 3 The Sloth

The Sloth tends to be an elderly person cruising along through the aisles at the Speed of Snail.  With the lethargy and questionable determination of a sloth, they crawl along through the aisles, usually directly in the middle (or at least in the way enough to prevent you from getting by).  Generally there is something about their condition (handicapped, advanced age, resembles one of those wrinkly dogs) that elicits pity from you and prevents you from pushing past them.  Unfortunately, you realize that you cannot ask them to speed up or to move over because it is their inborn nature to move so slowly.  This is a situation familiar to anyone who has ever driven on a highway.  Before long, and no matter how fast your fellow motorists are going, you will encounter someone driving in the middle lane anywhere from ten to thirty miles below the posted speed limit.  You wind up ultimately getting stuck behind them because your brain could not process and comprehend the fact that anyone could really be driving THAT slowly in the middle lane.  Then you find yourself playing that game of looking over your shoulder, hoping to find an opening and then quickly remembering that this person is driving twenty miles an hour and you must avoid rear-ending them, you turn your attention back to the car in front of you, missing numerous chances of escaping.  Of course, any attempt to move into one of the remaining lanes is incredibly dangerous since you, too, are now driving at twenty miles an hour and must merge into a lane of traffic that is moving three or four times as fast as you are.  When you finally DO escape the slow-moving prison behind the car, you tend to notice their handicap (and that they are gripping the wheel with both hands and a determined look on their faces) and, though you want to flip them off (or run them off the road), you ultimately decide to say screw it.  You wind up moving back into the middle lane and accelerate well beyond the posted speed limit, finding solace in the way the Sloth is shrinking to a small point in your rearview mirror.  In the supermarket aisle, though, you must either tailgate them until you reach either the front or the back of the store, or, if you're really running low on patience, find a way to scrape past them (often bumping their cart) on the side.  Unfortunately, this tends to startle and upset the Sloth, which, given their already handicapped state, is just mean.

*Helpful Hint in Coping with an Encounter with The Sloth!*  Unlike with highway driving, the safest way to deal with a slow-moving shopping cart pusher is to back out of the aisle if you are fortunate enough to spot them before someone pulls in behind you; at that point you are stuck.  If you find yourself penned in with a Tailgater behind you and The Sloth in front, simply take a deep breath and DO NOT LOOK FORWARD!  Doing so will only make you angry and increase the likelihood that you will run down said Sloth.  Instead, choose one side of the aisle to examine as you slowly traverse the pathway, either reading labels or counting backwards from fifty.  With any luck, the Sloth will stop suddenly in front of you and you will bump into them, giving you the opportunity to say, "Oh!  I'm sorry!  Excuse me!" and make a quick exit around them.  Though they will be annoyed, you'll get a free Karma pass because you didn't intentionally try to ride them off the road.

# 4 The Tailgater

Generally a woman between the ages of twenty and forty, the Tailgater appears out of nowhere behind you and keeps the front of their cart to within a foot of your Achilles tendon as you walk.  It would appear that the woman is in a rush but if you pay close and careful attention you will see that her attention is wandering from one side of the aisle to the other and occasionally down at her list.  She will often have a confused look on her face, as if she is trying to calculate the cube root of a five digit number.  Somehow, though, she can also see directly in front of her as you will find out if you slow down or stop: she will do the same AND will do so without looking at you!  The Tailgater tends to be harmless and will rarely actually make contact with you or your cart but, if you are the type who gets nervous when someone is riding close on your tail, your best bet is to stop and pull over, pretending to examine the extensive McCormick's offerings (including Montreal Steak Seasoning!) thus prompting her to pass by and to continue along.  This is often in direct contrast to most female tailgaters on the roads.  Seriously.  Think about it.  Have you ever been tailgated by a woman before?  You see the car approaching...but it's not like the douchebag in a Maxima who zooms up and gets right on your ass; it's more of a gradual thing.  The difference too is that the guy will flash his brights at you and drive aggressively in an attempt to get you to move over so he can speed by.  The female tailgater will simply stay right behind you, as if she is comforted by the unseen, warm embrace of your exhaust.  It seems almost as if she is oblivious to the fact that she is driving too close behind you and therein lies the problem.  Any attempts to shake her prove futile.  If you slow down, she'll slow down too but then when you accelerate again, she'll speed right back up to where she was.  There is almost never any irritation in her mien (truthfully, she looks quite placid and is content to stay right where she is; again, the embrace thing) and you soon realize that she is not trying to drive you off the road.  She is, however, becoming quite a distraction back there.  "Does she really not realize how close she's driving?"  "Why doesn't she move over?  The middle (left or right) lane is open?  What's her problem?"  She becomes like a gnat in a Grand Caravan: harmless but extremely annoying and distracting.  The only way to get her off of your six is to move to your three, get her to pass by on your nine so that she winds up on your ten-thirty before you move back over and she winds up on your twelve.  This is inadvisable though because you'll find that she's actually driving sorta slow, making you wonder just how fast you were going when this whole thing started!  ...Oh yeah...same thing in the supermarket.

*Helpful Hint for Parting Ways with The Tailgater* Occasionally, when you stop and pull over in the aisle, you will find that the Tailgater will stop as well, examining something across the way.  Take advantage of this momentary distraction and take off along the aisle.  You'll probably reach the end before she even realizes what happened and you'll be able once again to maintain your leisurely pace without feeling rushed or pressured to move with purpose!

# 5 The Tuner-Outer
The Tuner-Outer is usually a woman between the ages of thirty and forty and is easily identifiable by her distinct obliviousness towards her screaming kids.  She usually bears a tired, careworn look on her face as she wanders the aisles in a morose stupor, said screaming kids in tow or in relative proximity.  Usually the children are small and are throwing tantrums though, on occasion, an anomaly of age does occur with a slightly older child.  Generally, the children are screaming in such a way that, to the untrained ear, would lead one to think that they were being skinned and then covered in sea salt or boric acid.  This behavior is motivated either by a desire for a toy or a treat, or, in some cases, ironically enough, by the fact that they are being ignored by the Tuner-Outer.  The Tuner-Outer's ennui belies extensive experience with said tantrums as well as an increased tolerance, if not a downright immunity to the raucous screeching of the Banshee child(ren).  Unfortunately, with this obtuse denial of the fingernails-on-chalkboard aria emanating from her children, the Tuner-Outer is also subjecting an entire supermarket's worth of shoppers unnecessarily to the undesired concert.  The hope for all parties involved is that the children will tire themselves out or grow hoarse and yet sadly they have preternatural strength and endurance for both their screaming and tantrums; just when you think it can't get any worse, they reach a new decibel level theretofore unreached by any human being.

*Helpful Hint for Enduring the Tuner-Outer* Realize that if you say anything to her you will likely bear the brunt of her repressed rage and self-loathing.  She is aware of their screaming and either does not have the energy or the faculties necessary for curbing their behavior.  Hold your head high and enjoy a deep breath and exhalation as you realize that you're going home with a four-pack of Guinness draught cans and she's returning to her haggard home life with the kids.

# 6 The One-Hander

Usually a mildly heavyset man, probably with a healthy amount of body hair, a thick Brooklyn or Staten Island accent, and of a Guido orientation. This is the person holding a large, outdated cell phone to their head with one hand while alternating between gesticulating with the other and attempting to push the cart.  He is likely screaming into said phone demonstrating his voice immodulation.  While wearing his track suit (possibly Velour, usually not) he is attempting to push an excessively heavy cart with one hand and succeeds only in pushing it slowly in a zig zagging motion like Mel Gibson during a friendly encounter with the California State Police.  Attempts to pass on either side present a severe health hazard; it makes you wish you had one of those cell phone signal canceling devices on hand.

*Some Friendly Trivia About the One-Hander!*  Don't be fooled by the wild waggling of the One-Hander's free hand--he is not performing sock puppetry sans the sock, nor is he speaking in Sign Language.  He is actually choreographing a graceful and esoteric form of hand-mouth dance, almost acting out his "Batchagaloops" and "Bafanopoli's" with his pudgy, pinkie-ringed hand (NB: the pinkie ring does tend to appear more on the left hand, usually the one holding the cell phone but its presence does add to the performance and is thus perfectly acceptable to be on the free-waving hand).

# 7 The Venus Fly Trap

The Venus Fly Trap most often appears as an elderly or vertically challenged woman, generally of or beyond the AARP age of membership eligibility.  As you pass by her she will ask you, quite innocently, if you can reach something for her, almost always on a shelf beyond her reach or too far back on a shelf at or above chest level.  Their disarming smile and/or aw-shucks good-natured-old personness will render you incapable of declining, acting almost as a numbing agent for your Spider Sense glands, which, under ordinary circumstances, would be blaring like the sirens at a five-alarm fire.  After successfully retrieving the item and either handing it to her or placing it in her cart, you will find that she smiles and thanks you for your goodwill.  Sadly, at this point, you will find that you are trapped in her sticky trap as she moves smoothly and imperceptibly from her expression of gratitude into a diatribe about how she doesn't see her grandkids enough and the fact that her good-for-nothing children never call or visit.  Unless you take extreme measures to escape (nothing short of cutting off your own leg to extricate yourself from the situation...speaking figuratively of course), you will find that she will then transition into more graphic descriptions of her incontinence, her misplacing of common items (e.g. her teeth), and other disturbing bodily maladies associated with her advanced age (Note: should this be a vertically challenged, younger Venus Fly Trap, she will complain about being so short and all of the advantages of being tall, none of which she has).  Simply walking away will not do as the Venus Fly Trap will follow you, albeit slowly, continuing her Homeric description of her ailments.  With her numbing old person agent still coursing through your system, you fill find a sudden pang of guilt that will often result in the cessation of your motion and your standing and listening until said anaesthetic wears off.  It should be noted that at this point you will feel like you are having an out-of-body experience as your mind becomes aware of the fact that your body is unable to move and thus you are unable to escape.  This sensation is fleeting, though, and soon you will be free of the trap and bolting down the aisle.  Fortunately for you, you are able-bodied and can easily outrun them, relying either on your youth (to counterbalance their advanced age) or the renowned Fourth Law of Physics (as created by yours truly): The One Step-Two Step rule, which states that, "Should a difference in height of ten inches or greater exist between the shorter female and taller male, at speeds in excess of three miles an hour, the former will be forced to take two steps for every step taken by the latter if she is to maintain the same pace.  At speeds in excess of four-miles an hour, the number of steps necessitated by the height difference increases nearly exponentially, resulting in a situation of almost assured abandonment for the vertically challenged female."  Relying on the final part of the rule, you are sure to be free and clear of the Venus Fly Trap if only you will increase your walking speed beyond the necessary threshold for abandonment.

*Helpful Tip for Avoiding a Second Run-In with the Venus Fly Trap*  Should the Venus Fly Trap be of the younger variety, your best bet for avoiding a second run-in with her is simply to pretend like you don't see her.  Just look directly ahead of you and, if she speaks to you, look up and away, as if the voice is emanating from a loudspeaker a la the Wizard of Oz.  If the Venus Fly Trap is of the elderly ilk, you can simply rely on her senility and walk past her confident that she has no recollection of your meeting or of how she wound up in the supermarket in the first place.

# 8 The Sampler

The Sampler presents more of a moral annoyance than a corporeal threat. Though difficult to pinpoint in terms of a physical description, they are generally of any age between the early twenties and late fifties, and are of either gender. The are most easily identified by the open container of food that they are carrying around with them. Usually traversing the aisles at a leisurely pace, munching on whatever foodstuff they elected to open, they seem to be confused as to their whereabouts: Shoprite (or Key Food, Stop & Shop, etc.) is NOT BJ's or Costco! There are no free samples! The Samplers, sadly, are aware of this and, though they often convince their consciences that they will pay for the item when they eventually reach the register, many of them, sadly, fail to do so. Some genuinely forget but far too many remember as they reach the line and force themselves to forget, choosing instead to lose themselves in their fantasy world as in Shutter Island. Once finished with their snacks, the Samplers seem to have a moment of awareness that their benign snacking has led to an egregious error and, with clandestine effort, they place the empty carton atop a display of impulse items placed strategically in the aisle. Unfortunately, they often leave a trail of crumbs or otherwise leave evidence on their person incriminating them. Rarely are they confronted about their theft though chronic offenders will often be penalized; the larger the store, the more likely they are to succeed in their crime.

*Two Fun Facts about The Sampler!*  They tend to prefer grapes (of the green variety), Oreo cookies, and Wheat Thins/Ritz Crackers, and they occasionally ascribe to the misguided belief that, "If I finish it before I'm done shopping then it will be free!"

# 9 The Obfuscator

The Obfuscators are the people who use their bodies to prevent you from browsing through the meat in the meat department. They take their sweet ass time, looking over every single friggin roast or package of cutlets, calculating the length of the food's term of freshness.  Most often, after selecting their meat, they will offer you a sly and smug glance, reminding you of the dominance they have established over you; Cesar Milan would be proud.  Finding a way around of or in front of an Obfuscator is next to impossible, like catching a burp in a mason jar for future enjoyment.  They are quite adept at utilizing their girth (often hidden unsuccessfully beneath a stretched out pair of soiled pink or grey sweat pants) to their advantage, blocking you with each attempt you might make to grab some ground chuck.  There is no known way of conquering The Obfuscator; the only success is knowing that you are way better looking than they are and, more than likely, they will die friendless with a prodigious body odor caked all over them (you, presumably, will not, thus the "GRATE SUKSASS" as Borat would say).

*Fun Fact about the Obfuscators!*  They could also be called "The Magellan" due to their, "I found this land [the meat area] and claim it in the name of Spain."

#10 The Reacher

Despite the seemingly obvious lewdness of this one, the Reacher does not refer to someone who is open to the idea of "returning the favor" but instead applies to one who is often thoroughly dissatisfied with the sell-by date on milk, eggs, or other dairy products.  Consequently, they will insert half of their bodies into the metal dairy racks in an attempt to reach that one lone gallon of milk or dozen eggs (presumably with a date that goes beyond the Day of Reckoning) sitting in the back. Sadly, they do not realize that this is a mirage and they will expend great effort and energy in an attempt to retrieve said ethereal milk or eggs, thus preventing anyone else from accessing the dairy products until they realize that their work is for naught and they leave, crestfallen, with chin held firmly to chest and lower lip jutting out like a diving board for three-limbed kids at a camp for three-limbed kids.

*Fun Way to Interact with The Reacher!*  Clear out a space in the milk or eggs directly next to them and climb halfway in as well.  Then, turn to them and make small talk!  You will surprise and amuse them as well as your fellow shoppers.  Hey--everyone deserves a little levity, even in a place as serious as a supermarket!

# 11 The Cold Cut Novelist
Nearly impossible to detect until it is too late, the Cold Cut Novelist is the person directly in front of you on an insanely long line at the cold cut department of the supermarket.  Having already been on the line long enough to rewrite the script for Empire Strikes Back (I'm looking at YOU, Hugo!) you have likely already scouted out the people in front of you, noting how long their lists are, and calculating your potential wait time.  Fighting the claustrophobia that you feel at being trapped in line, you assuage yourself by analyzing your proximity to the front of the line with each successful cold cut purchase.  You watch keenly with owl-like precision as the person with seven things on her list has five baggies piled up atop the counter--only two more to go!  The Cold Cut Novelist uses subterfuge to fly beneath your radar until you are incapable of escaping the inevitable catastrophe of their order.  Having already ascertained the number of items on each person's list, you've surely noted that the person directly in front of you (The Cold Cut Novelist incarnate!) does not have a list.  Having already applied logic and reason that would have made Socrates blush with pride, you have concluded that they must be asking for only one or two things because, really, who could remember a dozen different cold cut requests and their respective quantities?  The short answer, sadly, is that few people if any can.  This conclusion only bolsters your confidence that you will soon be at the head of the line and then off to live the rest of your life with Boar's Head Ovengold Turkey in hand.  You watch eagerly as the person two places in front of you collects his or her order and salivate as you envision the processed bounty that you will soon be procuring for yourself...all the while taking for granted that the person in front of you will place a brief order and be done with it.  Then, in a flash that is both lightning quick and painfully slow (truly moving at half the speed of real time), you see the Cold Cut Novelist approach the counter and simultaneously reach into his or her pocket...removing a list...that would put Tolstoy to shame.  The Cold Cut Novelist proceeds to rattle off a blinding assortment of items, many of which either do not exist or have never been heard of by the deli workers ("What do you mean you don't have Boar's Head Filipino Pheasant?")  Worse than the array of meats and salads requested is the quantity of each.  "I'll take a pound and a half of liverwurst, two pounds of the homemade roast beef, a pound of yellow American, three quarters of a pound of Swiss.  Oh, and three pounds of potato salad.  And cole slaw.  And macaroni salad.  And I want the cold cuts sliced thin.  No not that thin--I'll never be able to separate the slices then.  At this point, you have already invested as much time in waiting to place your order as you did in completing high school; to leave now would be to have wasted a significant portion of your brief and precious tenure as a living being.  Sadly, you have no choice and must wait it out.  Even when the Cold Cut Novelist conducts the ancient ritual of, "Oh!  One More Thing!"  Too bad you're not a least you could munch your way through the ordeal!

*Tip for Dealing With the Cold Cut Novelist*  Don't be shy and take nothing for granted.  If you suspect that the person in front of you is actually a CCN in disguise, strike up a casual conversation.  Use your disarming charm and your dashing good looks to serve as an icebreaker...then pop the question.  " things you're gonna order?"  If you're lucky, they will be forthright with you and might reward your friendly, curious nature by allowing you to move ahead.  NB: This move works best when there is no one else behind you--the CCN will almost certainly look to see how many people they might be pissing off by allowing you to skip them.  Not wanting to cause a riot, they will rarely make such a move if they suspect that people will complain.  Hey--even Cold Cut Novelists have feelings too!

# 12 The Fondler

Another awesomely unerotic shopper is The Fondler:  We've all seen him or her before: the one who must touch each and every piece of fruit or vegetable before either deciding on one or simply walking away.  The Fondlers generally tend to have questionable hygienic practices, evidenced by their sneezing, wiping of their noses, and subsequent fondling of said fruits or vegetables.  A few rare but documented sightings of a Fondler picking his or her nose, wiping it on his or her shirt, and then molesting the fruits and veggies have occurred.  Most often, once a Fondler has been spotted, it becomes a race against time (Macgruber style baby!) as you must select and rescue your fruit or vegetable before it is contaminated with the Fondler's grubby germs.  Sadly, all too often, that one, perfect apple or sweet potato will have been fondled before you can save it.  At this point, the only two options you have are either to suck it up and accept a lesser apple or yam, or leave the supermarket entirely and continue your search for the perfect piece elsewhere.  The tragedy is that the Fondler is often unaware of their behavior, which, depending upon the supermarket you find yourself in, could be rectified easily.  At certain supermarkets, one can find little placards above the respective fruits and vegetables that offer suggestions for how best to use them, what other foodstuffs pair nicely with them, and, most important of all, how to pick the right one.  Sadly, due either to illiteracy or obliviousness, the Fondler never sees these helpful instructions, and are left to use his or her own unique system of selection (i.e. TOUCHING THEM ALL) to determine which one is the right one.  So the next time you see a poor Fondler bumbling his or her way through the fruits and vegetables, take a second to point out the placards (if available) or provide them with some suggestions for easier selection, and save them the embarrassment of future instances of public molestation (as well as protecting everyone from their rhinovirus-laden mitts).

*Trivia Factoid About The Fondler!*  A variant of the Fondler indigenous to the cantaloupe section is the "Yankee Candle Fondler."  This poor soul has been informed that sniffing cantaloupes is the best way to determine if they are fresh.  Unfortunately, these folks have not been properly trained in the art and subsequently place their noses directly onto the fruit, much like people seem to do with the large jar candles at Yankee Candle.

# 13 The Roadblock

One of the rudest shopper types encountered in the aisles is The Roadblock.  Easily identified as the one blocking the aisle with their cart right at the entrance, they are usually bending over with their asses sticking out in an unintentionally inviting way inciting an intense desire to kick them squarely on them so that they smash face-first into whatever crap they are reading (because, truly, they are usually reading labels in their akimbo position).  The Roadblocks are generally annoyed when you ask them to move, shaking their heads because of your impatience.  They also tend to have little social awareness, thus revealing that they have not traveled all that far up Maslow's pyramid; self-actualization is but a tantalizing mirage dancing in the wavy heat of a desert highway at the peak of summer.  Though I have nothing to base this on, I would assume that Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's, Misery is a Roadblock because I can envision her calling someone a "cockadoodie brat" for asking her to move despite her obvious obstructing of the aisle entrance.  Be careful when muttering to yourself after you are chided by The just might wind up strapped to a bed in his or her house with two sledgehammered feet dangling at awkward angles.

*Did You Know?*  Roadblock was one of the toughest and most beloved G.I. Joes of all time and has been remade numerous times in the action figure line!  (This basically means that if I ever come out with a line of Supermarket Shopper action figures, I'll need to change the name of the one with the ass sticking out and the whipcrack attitude.  Maybe I'll call him or her the ass sticker?  Who knows!)