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: