Before we got married, I did my own grocery shopping. I knew enough to check the expiration date of the bread before taking it from the shelf. I also knew that I had to watch the prices as they were rung up by the checkout girl to make sure they matched the price tags. I also watched the bagger. I remember how heartbroken I was once when I got to my apartment, discovered that the package of sweet ham I bought was missing, and the toasted ham and cheese sandwich I was so looking forward to became a cheese and cheese sandwich.
But it’s been a while. At first, the wife and I did the grocerizing together. I would push the cart, occasionally turning it into a kick scooter zipping through empty aisles or alternatively pretending it was a delivery truck navigating through crowded streets using a back horn. Eventually, however, she told me to stay far away from her. I think it was because I was always trying to buy things not on her shopping list. I mean—admit it, guys—we all wanted that trampoline at S&R, right? And that heavy-duty folding hand truck! We need that. Oh, and the 72-pack of AA batteries. We’ll never not need that. Anyway, for years the most that my Master and Commander would allow me to do was pick up some snacks, drop them in the cart, then wait quietly somewhere beyond the checkout lanes.
Until this week. This lockdown has changed so many things. From what we could understand of the latest enhanced community quarantine rules, only one of us was allowed out of the house, only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and only for essential trips like going to the supermarket that can only be open from 9:00-12:00 noon; and it was my turn to run the gauntlet. (As a former person-under-monitoring, I had escaped this chore earlier in the lockdown.)
After an hour of waiting in line outside, I was finally ushered into consumer paradise—a supermarket with nearly fully stocked shelves and only a handful of shoppers all maintaining social distances. I looked at the series of photos the Boss had thoughtfully sent to me via Whatsapp containing lists of products she wanted together with the SKUs, prices and quantities. Of course, the photos were too small to see clearly without reverse-pinching to enlarge them, and even then I needed my reading glasses which naturally I failed to bring. I’m sure if I can make out the brand name I can figure out what to get, I thought to myself. OK . . . Datu Puti . . . mukha-sim! vinegar! . . . Oh, shit, Datu Puti also makes soy sauce and patis and in so many different sizes, packages and bundles . . . Del Monte, hmm, can only be tomato ketchup, not banana catsup . . . Walastek, there’s an original blend and a sweet blend now? When did that happen?
Consumer paradise was Husband Hell. I pushed the cart round and round the supermarket like PacMan without a system or pattern. It’s almost impossible to find particular products that you’ve never seen before. For example, what does a “Magic Sarap” look like? Is it a liquid in a bottle? A powder? A cube? Furthermore, what’s the organizing principle behind the arrangement of the aisles and shelves? Where do I find what I’m looking for? Will kitchen towels be with kitchen things or bathroom items? Or paper products? When I do find the item, what variant will I get? What scent? For what purpose? With what additive?
Then, there’s the question of quantities. It’s pretty simple if the twin pack is not available. You get twice the number of singles. BUT if the 380-gram can is not available, you can’t get two 260-gram cans because that adds up to 520 grams, right? What do you do when you were told to buy a liter of something and it comes in gallons? How do I buy 0.264172 of a gallon? So many stupid questions and so many people waiting outside to get in!
Two friends of mine afterwards suggested that I should have taken photos with my phone, sent them to the Benevolent Dictator, and asked her what she wanted. How unmanly. It’s like stopping on the side of the road to ask for directions. Real Men don’t do it. I prefer the solution of a third friend: When in doubt, buy potato chips, bacon, and beer.
At its core, the problem of macho men like me is performance anxiety. If I do too well, I might have to do the groceries forever. If I fail too badly, I will lose my credibility when I say, “if you don’t buy ice cream, I’ll buy it myself.” It’s enough to give a guy Grocery Shopping Dysfunction.
Seriously, the lockdown has altered our attitude toward many things, including the art and science of supermarketing. I, for one, am not embarrassed to say that, henceforth, I promise never to be grumpy when it takes so long; promise never to complain at home when our mouthwash is purple rather than blue; promise never to sneer at the ordinary lechon sauce when we run out of the spicy version; and promise never again to underestimate or fail to appreciate the difficulty and importance of doing the groceries.
O, Goddess Who Is My Wife, please forgive me.