Sunday, October 30, 2011

Novelty items

On Saturday, Will met me in the parking lot of the big box grocery store, armed with our weekly list. I was coming from one direction and he was coming from another, so it was a relief to see his Honda pull up next to me, to see that I hadn't been stood up.

This was a significant moment. For the third time in our thirteen year history, we were shopping for groceries together.

I remember the first time well, because we were a new couple. Walking the aisles of a grocery store together, pushing a cart together, looking at chips and dip and bottles of beer together -- it all seemed significant. We had entered the Shared Grocery Bill phase of our relationship.

I cannot actually recall a second time, but it's been thirteen years. There must have been a second time.

This time, our third shared grocery experience, Will produced the folded list. Half of it was in my handwriting -- yogurt, cereal bars, ingredients for the pumpkin chocolate chip mini-loaves that have been my staple this season. The bottom half was in Will's handwriting -- burritos, steak, parsley flakes.

"That's it?" I ask.

"I reserve the right to make twenty-seven impulse purchases," Will says, and commandeers the cart.

This explains, to some extent, the reason why I generally do the grocery shopping by myself. I make careful lists, noting the events I'll be baking for, checking the inventory in our pantry. I stick to the list, watch the prices, and approach the register with an estimate of the cost. I am, after all, half German and half Dutch.

Will is the impulse buy king, which, I'll admit, makes life interesting. It's always a pleasure to find boxes of Junior Mints tucked into the freezer door, or a cheese I've never heard of and can't pronounce waiting on the counter. He tends to see my list as a set of gentle suggestions, not imperatives. "Couldn't find these things," he'll report, indicating cream cheese or tomato paste. Once I sent him off with a list of four items and he came home with nine, including one item from my list.

Also, the trip tends to take somewhat longer with Will, due to constant doubling back and rerouting. "Did we miss the cheese aisle?" he asks, baffled, as we wend our way to the frozen food.

"We just came from there," I point out.

"We did?"

At the register, we split up according to our strengths. Will plucks items from the cart and plunks them onto the conveyor belt. I arrange them according to size and shape, thinking of how I'll bag them.

When I look up, I notice the woman behind me rolling her eyes at her husband, and I instantly understand this eyeroll is directed at me. But I forge calmly on. Excuse me for liking things to be in a certain order.

While I bag, Will strikes up a conversation with the cashier, who couldn't seem less interested. But it's obvious that for Will, this is a novelty experience.

"Let me ask you -- what's the biggest order you've ever rung up?" he persists.

The cashier considers. "Eight hundred dollars, and they paid cash."

"Whoa!" Will throws up his hands. While the line waits behind us, he considers. "I bet it was some kind of group, and they were heading out on a camping trip or something."

The cashier shrugs, tears off the receipt, and I notice the couple behind us is openly chuckling now.

I place Will's final impulse buy -- cheddar cheese and sour cream chips -- into our cart, and as we head for the door, I suddenly realize that Will and I are something of a novelty ourselves.

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