Wednesday, November 19, 2014
I wouldn’t say life is unthrilling these days, but when your peak experiences of the week include going to the supermarket it makes you wonder. I used to just go along with Katja while she did the grocery shopping. However, now we’ve developed a division of labor, and I go on my own most of the time. I don’t need to make up a list because I always get the same items: high fiber cereal, a quart of 2% milk, half a dozen bananas, 10 containers of lite yogurt, mozzarella cheese, hard salami, raw carrots, celery hearts, a few bottles of cheap red wine, and canned and dry dog food. If Lean Cuisines are on sale for $2, I get two dozen of those. Also some dental floss if we’ve run out. Katja goes to the elite grocery store near Hyde Park and she buys everything else – about four times as much as I do. This arrangement works efficiently, the refrigerator is always full, and we are never in want of healthy or tasty things to eat.
I was excited when we recently got a mailing which contained a dozen grocery discount coupons. The packet included high fiber cereal, 2% milk, lite yogurt, mozzarella cheese, lean cuisine meals, and the specific brand of canned dog food that I buy. It was astonishing. How could the supermarket know exactly what I wanted to buy that very week? Modern technology has truly made life a consumer paradise.
I set off for the store first thing in the morning. There was a sale at the deli counter on my favorite brand of hard salami so I stopped there first. Several people were already in line, and I took a ticket from the machine at the counter. I got number 91, and I noticed they were currently waiting on customer number 84. That didn’t seem so bad. There were three clerks behind the counter, but only two of them were waiting on customers. One lady had thick glasses, and the other had a large artificial gardenia in her hair. They didn’t seem in much of a hurry. They’d chat with one another or with the customers, wander off to the back room to get some more meats or cheeses, and generally do their jobs in slow motion. I stood there for ten minutes, and they had only gotten up to number 88. Fortunately a couple of patrons got impatient and left, so nobody responded when they called out numbers 89 and 90. When they asked for 91, an older lady who had been waiting behind me called out, “I’m number 91.” I looked again at my ticket. “I’m 91 also,” I said. The employee behind the counter looked puzzled. The other customer repeated, “I’ve got 91.” “You can’t both have 91,” the clerk said. I showed the clerk my ticket. She said, “This man has 91.” The lady behind me frowned. She didn’t bother to look at her ticket. She just said, “I guess I must have 92.”
Relieved that justice had been served, I ordered a pound and a half of salami. The clerk put a large pile of salami on the scale but it was only 0.87 pounds. That was way off the mark. She added another big pile, bringing it up to 1.35 pounds. Then to 1.46, 1.49, and finally 1.50. “Anything else?” she asked. I hadn’t planned to get anything else, but I’d waited so long in the line that I looked at the sale signs on the back wall. I decided to order a pound of Athenero Hummus which was on sale for $1.99. The clerk looked puzzled, then asked her colleague, “Where is that Athenero Hummus?” The other lady said it was at the cheese counter down the aisle. Just then a fortysomething male employee walked by, and he volunteered to escort me to the cheese counter. I gratefully followed along. We got there and neither he nor I could find any Athenero Hummus. We checked the front, the back, and both ends of the cheese counter, but there wasn’t even a price sticker on the shelf for Athenero Hummus. The employee said he would go to the back room to see if he could find it there. I said not to bother. I explained I only ordered it because it was on sale. Actually I’d never bought any kind of hummus before. I didn’t even know what Athenero Hummus was.
The rest of my shopping trip went more smoothly. I walked down the main aisle, coupons in hand, and located one bargain after the next. When I got to the wine aisle I decided to get three bottles of red wine. The supermarket had previously given me a cloth wine holder that held six bottles, but I had forgotten to bring it, so I settled for three bottles. I didn’t really need to buy any wine at all. Several months ago Katja subscribed to an elite connoisseur’s wine club which sends us cases of fine wine for only twenty dollars a bottle. For free, they also sent us a 14-inch high corkscrew machine which works by pushing a lever back and forth to remove the cork. I’m probably not doing it correctly, but so far the machine just shoves the cork down inside the wine bottle. That’s o.k. because if you then stick a shish kabob skewer down inside the bottle to block the cork, the wine pours out perfectly well. We’ve been taking our time drinking the connoisseur wine though. I like to save expensive wine for special occasions, and we were only a third of the way through our first case when a second box of twelve bottles arrived last week. So now we have nineteen bottles of twenty dollar wine on hand. My personal theory is that, if you close your eyes and take a sip from a glass of red wine, you can’t tell if it cost twenty dollars a bottle or $3.50. My favorite red wine costs $4.09 and has a screwtop so you don’t have to rely on a corkscrew machine. Ordinarily the supermarket stocks this brand in Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but this time I could only find the Merlot. That’s the best anyway so I put three bottles in my cart.
The store was pretty busy, and there was only one checkout lane that appeared to have no customers. When I pulled my cart in, however, the conveyor belt was filled up with groceries. The cashier, clearly irked, said that her customer thought she had finished shopping, but then she had decided to go shopping again. The cashier cleared away a foot or two of space near the cash register, saying she’d take me, and I started unpiling my items. She asked if I’d found everything o.k. I explained I hadn’t been able to find the Athenero Hummus. The cashier seemed taken aback. All the chasiers ask first thing if you’ve found everything o.k., and probably no one in history had ever told this particular cashier that they hadn’t. In any case, she seemed rather stunned. Then she said she’d never heard of Athenero Hummus before. She volunteered to call her supervisor. I explained that I didn’t really want the Athenero Hummus anyway. I’d only been interested because it was $1.99 and I’d waited so long in line. I added that these were wonderful coupons they’d sent me in the mail, and the cashier agreed. She said that she was very sad that she couldn’t get any because she worked for the supermarket.
As I started to pay with my credit card, I commented to the cashier that the other customer whose items were on the checkout belt was really taking her time. “Here she comes now,” the clerk said. The other customer was a quite elderly, very obese, poorly dressed, unattractive African American woman in a motorized wheelchair. She’d returned with a tube of Crest toothpaste. When you think about victims of prejudice in our society, this woman had the deck stacked against her on practically every dimension one could think of. She probably felt entitled to a few breaks in life. I agreed. I was glad I‘d finished in time so she wouldn’t have to wait.
The clerk gave me the receipt. She said that I had 84 gasoline fuel points and that I had saved $7.72. The 84 fuel points meant that if I just spend $16 more at the supermarket, I can get a gasoline discount of ten cents per gallon. The $7.72 in savings, which included my special coupons plus the sale price on 1.5 pounds of salami, may not seem like that much, but, if you’re an elderly person who subsists solely on his monthly social security checks, $7.72 is nothing to sneeze at. It will probably be another six months before the supermarket chain sends us our next batch of personalized coupons. I am ready and waiting.
-Gayle C (11-19): Dave, That's a heck of a story :))) It's almost as if you could Not go to the Grocery store!!! That's good marketing for you - The grocery store just happened to know exactly what you liked!! Amazing !! I'm glad you were happy to use your coupons and get what you like! Something to look forward to! I hope all is well. I've been busy w end of year business. Plus I have one very difficult client that's totally torturing me on a property. It can't close soon enough ! Pl give my love to all and hope you have a nice T Giving!! Lots of love. G
-Jennifer M (11-19): "if you then stick a shish kabob skewer down inside the bottle to block the cork, the wine pours out perfectly well." this is why we're such good friends. :-)
-Phyllis S-S (11-19): Dear Dave, Loved it. Remind me to tell you my Christ Hospital stories sometime......black humor. Phyllis