Friday, September 4, 2009

Supermarket Sweep

"Please Dad, please. Don't take your money roll out and just sit there and hold it in your hand. When it's time to pay for the groceries, I'll get the money from you then."

My dad will sit on his mobility scooter inside the doors of the supermarket and wait, cash in hand, for me to emerge from an aisle, ready to go to the checkout. This is better than what he used to do, which was fumble with his money outside before we even got into the store. Winter, summer. Wind, drizzle, snow flurries. Always the whole wad. Like Daddy Warbucks. Like we were buying out the store or something.

"Dad, Dad, your money is going to blow away."

"Dad, Dad, please don't do that. Someone will grab your money and run off."

"Dad, Dad, it's OK. I can get the money from you after."

My Dad likes to do the grocery shopping with me. I used to just drive him. I'd park, and he'd go in and do what he needed to do, while I sat out in the van with my book, a precious forty-five minutes to catch up on a little reading. I'd keep an eye peeled to the side, and when I saw him come out, I'd pull the van around, load the stuff up, and we'd be good to go.

When it began to get harder for him, I'd go in too. I'd push the cart, and he'd go along on his walker, and after that, his scooter.

"Let me go shopping for you, Dad. Or, hey! Let's call Fresh Direct and order your groceries to be delivered. Then the time we spend can be 'quality,' not 'quantity.' Wouldn't you rather spend the time we have going somewhere enjoyable, or just coming over and hanging out?"

"No," Dad says. "It's important I get this shopping done right."

Dad has the same shopping list every week. It might vary in minor ways; it might, for example, call for one gallon of orange juice instead of two, four bags of Snickers fun size ("Not the minis!") instead of three, or we might still be "ok" on the Preparation H wipes, and not have to get any of those at all.

When I go shopping for Dad myself, I do tend to screw up in minor ways. It's after work. I'm tired. I rush. Sometimes I just go to pick up a few things for him without a list. Once I got him two tubes of Fixodent instead of two tubes of Polygrip.

"It's not hard to tell the difference..." Dad said, not unkindly but pointedly, after he took the stuff out of the bag. "This Fixodent is in a blue box, while the Polygrip is in a ...."

"Dad, I know how to tell the difference between Fixodent and Polygrip. I didn't screw up the two because I'm color blind or because I can't read. I got the wrong one because I just decided to pick some up, and I forgot which one you preferred. I was just trying to get you a few things."

"Oh I know, I know, Honey. And I appreciate it."

I pick up my dad, sometimes after work on a weekday afternoon, sometimes on a weekend if I don't go up to P'son. We go up to Westchester, outside of the city, because the supermarkets are easier with the wide aisles and the big parking lots. We frequented an A&P in Yonkers for a while. It was ok, and we had the floor plan down pat. We knew where everything was and could get in and out fairly quickly. We knew which cashiers to go to and which to avoid. But the parking lot was sloping. It was tricky for Dad to maneuver, and even trickier for me to maneuver with a shopping cart loaded down with three large bottles of grape juice, five six-packs of Ensure, three bottles of cola (Dad always writes "cola" on the list, and we get Coke OR Pepsi, whichever is on sale that week) and what-all. Dad buys heavy stuff. Once my cart was so heavy that it got the best of me on a forty-five degree angle down a slope, heading for the broadside of a parked Cadillac with me whimpering and sliding behind it, before a good Samaritan rushed over and helped me stop it.

"Let's try the Fresh Direct, Dad. Just once or twice."

"No, it's important I get this shopping done right."

We switched allegiances to the Stop 'n' Shop. A little closer, and a much more user-friendly parking lot. "User-friendly supermarket parking lot" being a strictly relative term, of course. There are still a number of mindless boobs willing to inadvertently, or probably advertently, run you over the first chance they get.

You have to be careful with an elderly person in a mobility scooter in a parking lot. They're low to the ground, so it's not always easy for a harried mom with three screaming kids in a mini SUV backing out of a parking space to see a little old guy with a straw hat puttering by behind her. I try to get my dad to stick close behind me as we pass behind these, or behind any cars with the engine on, loaded with groceries and distracted drivers. They'll probably see me if the stars are on my side. And if they don't, well, I'd rather they back up at me, rather than Dad. I have a better chance of darting out of the way.

"Please hurry, Dad. Stick by me."

There are two speeds on Dad's scooter, designated only by pictures--a rabbit and a tortoise. "Put it on the rabbit please, Dad."

"I don't like to do that, J. If you stop short, I'll run into you."

Or, if I happen to be following behind, "I don't like to do that, J. I want you to be able to keep up with me."

Tortoise, it is. One mile an hour.

We get in, we always do, to the front of the store. And we start our routine by stopping abruptly a few yards in past the automatic doors.

The List.

Like I said, it is the same thing on the list every week, if indeed the quantities fluctuate just a hair from time to time. We bear to the left and start on our way to the bakery aisle.

Wait. Where's the bread?

We were alarmed a few weeks ago. We had it down to a science. An art. I could take that list and zip through the entire store with my dad with my eyes closed in half an hour. And then...

...they changed the floor plan.

Who knows what corporate minds decided this needed to be done. I mean, common supermarket layout logic, which works to their advantage according to all consumer analysis, puts the "basics" around the sides. Your dairy, your produce, they're all at the farthest reaches of the supermarket, which will require you on a large trip (if you don't have an unchanging, anal-retentive list like my dad's) to travel through other, less necessary, impulse-buying aisles, such as snacks, soft drinks, dressings and marinades, candy and cookies, etc.

But it used to be bread we approached, as we made our way to that first aisle along the left. And now it was frozen foods. And not even all frozen foods, just some frozen foods--the vegetarian-entree frozen foods.

"Where's the bread?" Dad demanded in a slightly agitated fashion when we arrived to this...transgression.

"Oh, they must have changed a few things around," I tossed off airily, so as not to alarm him further. Though I knew supermarkets didn't make these changes lightly. They made them only after a lot of customer survey-taking (though I, as a customer, have never been asked), consumer analysis, and official-type stuff like that. I knew we were going to have trouble finding more than the bread.

Not only was some frozen food where the bread used to be, but naturally, the waffles, one of Dad's staples, weren't in that particular frozen food section. No, the waffles were two aisles down, in the frozen food section where they had always been, though somehow it just confused matters further. And they changed where they kept the syrup. In my simple mind, it would make sense to keep the syrup near the waffles, or perhaps in the cereal aisle (thinking 'breakfast' here) but it was kept in the "baking goods" aisle. We had managed to get used to that.

But they moved the entire baking goods aisle one past the pickles--pickles, which used to be part of the baking goods aisle (believe it or not) when it was much closer overall to the frozen foods. I mean the waffles-and-other-breakfast-foods-frozen foods, not the other frozen stuff where the bread used to be.

"Where's my ham?"

Only Oscar Meyer will do. I was searching along the deli aisle, near the counter where they cut cold cuts for you fresh. Dad was never interested in the fresh-cut cold cuts. He was always happy with the Oscar Meyer smoked ham. When we switched to the Stop 'n' Shop, we found that for some reason they didn't regularly carry the smoked ham. So it was with some prodding that I got Dad to agree to try the Oscar Meyer chopped ham, and much to everyone's delight, it seemed satisfactory.

But where was the Oscar Meyer ham now? It wasn't to the side of the deli aisle where it always had been. There were other prepackaged cold cuts where the Oscar Meyer stuff used to be, but the Oscar Meyer stuff was nowhere to be found.

"Oh Goddamit! Don't tell me these corporate idiots stopped carrying my Oscar Meyer ham!"

"I'm sure they didn't, Dad, I'm sure they didn't. I'm just going to leave my cart here to the side, stay with it, will you? I'll go back up the meat aisle and have a look. I'll find it."

I'm very considerate with my shopping cart. It's a pet peeve of my dad's, and mine too, actually--the people who leave their carts square in the middle of the aisle as they mull over the canned soup selection. Or at a right angle in an intersection, preventing people from getting through from any direction. If you are a little old lady, and you have lived your life, and you are doing your best to just get through the day, then all right. But otherwise, move your goddamn cart out of the way. Or my dad, or I, am going to yell at you. More likely my dad.

OK, I'm back. I found the Oscar Meyer chopped ham. They have a whole special Oscar Meyer section now. I knew it had to be somewhere. So we wended our way through the produce aisle back toward the front, toward the registers. I get some produce for myself. I get some fruit for the kids, a couple of cucumbers, tomatoes...some broccoli, and maybe a bag of Yukon gold potatoes. I can't shop for all my stuff at the same time I shop for Dad's stuff, it's just too confusing. But I can pick up a couple of things, and he always insists on paying for it.

He gives me the cash, off of the Daddy Warbucks bankroll. I stopped asking years ago why he felt it necessary to bring fifteen hundred dollars to the grocery store. I just rely on the goodness of strangers to not knock him off his scooter and take it, and failing that, my ability to scare any no-good-niks away.

I know. I'm not that scary. But it's all I can do.

Half the time, if it's particularly frenetic in the store, Dad will go, at my request, to the exit area. It's just not worth all the maneuvering through the check-out line. Sometimes he will go through the line with me if it's not too hectic. Sometimes he'll come with me through the line even if it is hectic.

This is usually when the scooter battery acts up.

We've never been able to put a finger on what actually causes the battery to act up. Sometimes we'll get through a whole shopping expedition without it happening. Sometimes it will happen ten times. Occasionally, as I proceed down an aisle, usually a crowded and hard-to-navigate aisle as Murphy's Law would dictate, I will hear the familiar, high-pitched and constant "beep-beep-beep." Some days, Dad can't stop and restart the scooter, without having to fiddle with the ignition, turning it on and off when the cart refuses to go forward and only chimes the beep, instead of getting Dad through and moving on with the rest of the shoppers.

He hates the beep-beep-beep, Dad does. It draws attention to him, and keeps him from keeping the flow of shopping cart traffic going. It makes him one of....them.

He gets flustered, Dad does. He doesn't want to gum up the works. I try to explain to him, as I jiggle the battery and try to get it working again, that people can see we're trying to get on our way. We're not absent-mindedly blocking the way of other shoppers, and if anyone is going to be that rude and impatient to have a problem with us when we're trying to solve our dilemma, then I will deal with them. I am not particularly assertive, but I can deal with assholes in a supermarket for sure.

I can do it for Dad. Dad spent his life giving assholes "what-for," whether they deserved it or not, and if I can't tell an impatient geezer to cool his heels, then I'm not my father's daughter.

We wheel the groceries out into the flat Stop 'n' Shop parking lot and I get Dad's walker out of the van. I hand it to him, and he rises and makes his way into the passenger seat as I fold up and put away the scooter, and all the groceries. I'm careful to put the heavy stuff, which constitutes 85% of the purchases, on the bottom. I try my best to be mindful of the delicate items.

Dad hates it when I mush up the bread. Though he doesn't usually say anything about it.

Unless I ask.

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