Wednesday, June 6, 2012

To all the stores we go

The day may not have been nearing its end when I wrote this, but still it felt like more days had passed in the few hours before this afternoon than in the last few days put together.

I always give my dad a hard time for not wanting to do anything on a weekend afternoon. While I realize he's often busy and overworked every week day, I can't understand the need to just sit around and do nothing. Surely going out to Disneyland or the mall is a welcome relaxation technique?

All I've done today is go to three stores: Target followed by Trader Joe's followed by a grocery store. But I feel like I've had more life experiences and reminders of my own weirdness than I get in a full day of class at university.

Why has this been such a rude awakening, you might ask.

Well aside from the fact that I had to drive to all these places after being three months absent from the wheel, I was running all my errands under a relatively foreign circumstances. The different was that I was alone.

Yesterday I actively avoided going anywhere. It's my day off and I deserve to just sit around and watch television mindlessly like I do every summer. And I was right. I did deserve it.

Most summers, I get months off to just hang out at home and do nothing. Eventually it becomes tiresome to just sleep and lounge in my room, sitting in darkness and flipping through cable channels - which accounts for the painful bother I am for my dad on the weekends of the summer months.

But this summer, I'll be going to work at an internship after a couple of weeks. And not only will I be involved in actual work for the first time, but it will be a full-time position with a commute and pay and everything that goes along with that.

And thank goodness.

Because this morning when I woke up at 8 am and realized that I'd spent my whole yesterday doing absolutely nothing, I reasoned it was time to pick myself up out of the summer funk and get ready to actually be a functioning human being. I may not have the opportunity to hang out with all my friends yet, but that sure as heck doesn't mean I'm going to sit in my room by myself for a week.

So I went outside. And I was on my own.

Usually I let my dad do all the shopping - which has essentially made my life a purgatory for the past several years. If the grocery list was completely up to him, he'd only buy fake meat products and cat food. Our house has come to look like a nuclear fallout shelter with boxes of the same cereals and a fridge stocked with ten of each microwavable food type that will last until next summer. We have jugs and jugs of purified water and a mountain of cat food sitting in a cabinet. Something had to be done.

I'm not cut out for this responsibility, though. I've never been much of a talker or a friendly shopper - when employees come up to me and try to make conversation, or even try to help me, I usually shoo them away even if I might benefit from their aid. In the process, their jobs are made perhaps more difficult in trying to get at why I've been standing in the same aisle for 15 minutes, and our interactions are made even more awkward by the fact that I won't tell them why. But today was the day to conquer those obstacles.

The first stop of my day was Target.

I walked into the store with relative normalcy, heading to the back so I could make a big circle around everything and not make the mistake of stopping only in one section then retreating to the exit and forgetting what I needed to get most.

Then when I'd made it to the corner of the store diagonally opposite from the entrance, I saw a boy I liked in my junior year of high school. His back was turned and I shuddered for a second, wondering if I should run or try and be friendly to him so as to avoid looking like the Road Runner sprinting away from Wile E. Coyote. Then I realized that I needed a cart to pick up what I had come to Target for in the first place.

So I walked all the way back, feeling like the worst noob in the world but also relieved to have made my decision to stay away from the guy who had expressed disinterest in me four years ago.

When I had the cart, I proceeded to walk in the opposite direction, circling the store by way of that which I hadn't seen already. I stopped in the bathroom cleaning supplies aisle. I stood there for a good few minutes staring at a wall of cleaning tools that I could barely differentiate between.

An employee looked at me and smiled. "Can I help you with anything?" he asked. "No," I answered quickly, "I'm fine."

He went back to his work and I still stood there for a few minutes. "Do you need a recommendation?" he said. "No, it's okay. I just don't usually do the shopping and I'm taking a shot in the dark here," I said as I grabbed a toilet wand and ran away from him.

Our dynamic was friendly and I realized that despite my weirdness, the employees weren't intentionally treating me with disdain or cruel jocularity.

After I'd done the rest of my staring and pondering and putting back and then finally choosing, I checked out and went onto Trader Joe's.

More in my element here since I was no longer searching through the cleaning supply aisles where I never tread, I went immediately to the prepared raviolis where they have my most favorite easily boiled-and-consumed products.

From there I mumbled my way through the next few aisles - did I mention I can't go into a store without mumbling to myself? I say things like "good going" and "okay, that was awkward," forgetting that I probably appear to have multiple personalities - and landed at the snack foods.

Another male employee walked up to me, smiling. "Can I help you find anything?" (It's always the same script with these guys, isn't it? Whatever, I'll take it.) "Do you have any kettle corn?" I asked.

He pointed to a bag that was literally right in front of my eyes and I laughed at my own stupidity. "I'm sorry, I've spent the past few months only shopping at Whole Foods." He looked at me with mocking pain, but then apologized and said, "That's okay, I shop at Albertsons a lot myself."

The banter went on as I reasoned with him that shopping at Whole Foods is a much more traitorous move against Trader Joe's than shopping at Albertsons. The mild flirtation made the encounter more comfortable and I walked away feeling even more pleased by the customer service at these stores.

In my final experience, I was met with a boy who was restocking the produce at my local grocery store. He offered me a look in his cart filled with newly stocked fruit when he noticed how very nit-picky I was about my strawberries. And rightly so, considering the entire lot consisted of bruised and spoiling fruits.

And with that, my nerdy self was met with consistent pleasantness by the employees of the local stores in my suburban city.

So after a day of boredom and hanging out at home as per my usual routine, I broke out of my comfort zone to shop on my own. In the process, I not only had to keep a working shopping list that didn't have me running back and forth to different sections of the stores, but I also had to interact with people (and not interact in the case of the guy I liked in junior year of high school) who I originally didn't feel comfortable making eye contact with much less bantering with.

Oh, the things you learn when you drive your car a few miles to pick up bathroom cleaning supplies and artisanal popcorn. The end.

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