Saturday, May 22, 2010

Grocery Shopping for the Chronically Paranoid

I like to get all of my embarrassing grocery shopping done at once.

This is because I believe that the checker is judging me, and I’d rather get it all in one concentrated dose than spread out over all my visits to the grocery store. By adhering to this method, I’m usually safe when I buy my chocolate Cheerios, aerosol cheese, and other staples.

But sometimes I’m getting dressed and realize, “Ooh, I’m almost out of extra-strength deodorant. I might as well stock up on tampons and acne cream!”

“Hey, I’m going shopping,” I tell my roommates. “Can I pick up anything? Preparation H? Pregnancy test? The Best of N*Sync?”

When I get to the store, my first order of business is to pick out a large decoy item that can be used to shield everything else in my cart. This is why I have so many decorative gift bags and $1 dishtowels. Also acceptable are giant bags of bargain breakfast cereal or, in a pinch, a whole lot of produce.

Next I begin collecting my items. I tend to stride purposefully from place to place, as if to say, “Naturally, I am merely walking down the Odor Control aisle on my way to another destination.”

To preserve this illusion, I usually avoid aisles containing others, unless they look equally uncomfortable. For instance, if you are only picking out shampoo, I will circle around and come back when you have left. If, however, you are deciding between liquid and paste fungal control, I am willing to stand next to you and compare the merits of Xtra Thin with Wings vs. Contour Leak Guard.

Finally, it’s time to pick a check-out lane. The ideal register is staffed by a woman in her mid-forties who was not the same person to ring up another jumbo-pack of toilet paper for me just last week. I arrange my items on the conveyor belt with the decoy at the end to distract the next person in line from my other purchases. As the checker rings everything up, I make a detailed study of the credit card PIN pad, punctuated by furtive glances to see if she has realized yet that I’m the most repulsive freak ever to shop there.

Of course, through all my paranoid shopping trips, no checker or bagger or fellow patron has ever commented—or even smirked—about my humiliating groceries. Retail employee training probably includes a session on not making crazy people self-conscious, lest we suddenly snap and tear through the aisles, squirting facial-hair remover and shouting Hanson lyrics.

I only hear smalltalk about my most innocuous purchases:


  1. i tend to go to the self-check-out counters when I buy my embarrassing stuff. Either that or I have to prove to myself that I can buy whatever I want and "I don't care what they think" so I go to a speedy food-scanning specialist.

  2. I love self-check-out at the grocery store almost as much as I love it at the library. Now I don't have to feel the librarian's condemning glare every time I want to read "Ramona Quimby, Age 8" again.

  3. OMG - I feel so much better knowing some else uses some of these same strategies. I definitely tend to buy a million decoy items. I laughed all the way through this post.

  4. Reina (and anybody else), you should check out for more grocery fun. How do I make a link in the comments? That's something a blogger should learn to do...

  5. Oh, Clara. You are going to the wrong library if you are getting condemning stares from librarians (most of whom aren't actually librarians, by the way) for reading Ramona! I happen to love Ramona. I also happen to love *NSync, and at one point in time, I also loved Hanson (although that was a long time ago, and my love affair with them did not last, considering the Backstreet Boys are by far the superior boy band out of all the boy bands).

  6. Kelly--I went to elementary school outside of Portland, Oregon, where Beverly Cleary lives, so my school library practically had a shrine to her. On the other hand, I managed to miss the boy bands of the '90s by being almost fatally uncool. The bonus is that I also avoided traumatic memories of Spice Girls fever.