Attention, there’s a cart joust in aisle 9

07/29/2010 12:00 AM |

Do you remember how pleasant year-round residents and summer people were to each other in the grocery store in June? June is sort of our honeymoon period, when we have those annual reunions in the aisles of the IGA after a long cold winter and everything is all hug hug, kiss kiss. Isn’t it nice the way we spend our first month together going out of our way to make nice.

If you stop to listen you hear:

“You go first.”

“Please, you first, I insist. You’ve been stuck here all winter.”

“Yes, I have, but you’ve been away for too long.”

“Well, aren’t you sweet.”

“Oh, you’re the one who’s sweet,” and blah, blah, blahdy blah — you’ve been there, you know how it goes.

But did you notice something different this year? Instead of enjoying two months of delightful encounters before we started to get ugly with each other, as is our long-standing tradition, by July 4 the honeymoon was over. And by mid-July we were going after each other like cranky snapping turtles, snarling and bashing each other with our carts. That is so not like us. Some think it’s all this hot weather, but one of the local old-timers thinks it’s the result of stress from too much helicopter noise. “Those !@#$#@! helicopters are making us crazy!” he said.

Could be. Something weird is going on.

You ask anyone who’s shopped here past summers and they’ll tell you that in June no one cares if the cereal aisle is blocked. People just smile and wait for the blockage to clear. In July if two people were blocking the aisle to chat, or if a shopper hadn’t allowed room for passing while he or she hunted for dwarf goat cheese, they were oh-so-gently nudged out of the way. In past summers, bashing never started until around the third week of August.

Not this year. This year by mid-July both locals and visitors used their carts as weapons, not just nudging aside aisle blockers, but engaging in full-force butt bashing to clear a path to the Lean Cuisine.

It does make one wonder if there might actually be some connection between the recent increase in overhead chopper noise and the rapid decline of grocery store etiquette. I say that because I was involved in an incident on a day when the store was jam-packed and I had, at the most, a dozen items. It took me longer to decide which line was moving the fastest than to do my shopping. I carefully picked a line and had waited a few moments when a young woman pushed her cart ahead of mine. “Excuse me! I’m with her,” she said as she pointed to the woman in line ahead of me.

I guess I was too stunned to react and I sort of froze behind my cart, making her think I was a hard-of-hearing, non-English-speaking person having a senior moment because she repeated — more slowly, much louder and with the help of broad hand gestures — “I’m with her. I need to get ahead of you.”

This is where being a humor writer pays off. At least that’s what you’d think, right? It never does. All I came up with was “how nice.” I tried to say it in a Bette Davis kind of way, clipped and icy, totally facetious, but I didn’t pull it off because the young woman thought I really meant “how nice” and proceeded to push her heaping cart ahead of mine.

I was just about to give her a good, hard “accidental” butt bash when the shopper ahead of me said to her young shopping companion, “You can’t do that,” pulled her own cart out of the line and invited me to go ahead of her.

Bette and I thanked her and moved ahead.

Behind me I could hear that the younger woman was upset. “What was so unreasonable? We’re paying for everything together, right? I don’t understand why you let her go ahead of us,” she said.

Obviously she didn’t grocery shop much or she’d have known that it’s not a tag-team activity and that saving line space for the person still filling a cart is never tolerated (except maybe in June).

While I was paying for my items a third member of their group showed up (with more groceries!) and the young woman, still upset, told the late arrival what had happened.

As I left, I turned to again thank the woman who let me ahead of her in the line.

She rolled her eyes at the two young women behind her and mumbled, “These girls. They’re makin’ me crazy!”

We gave her our best sympathetic smile, but Bette and I know the truth. It wasn’t the girls making her crazy. It wasn’t the heat, either. It’s those helicopters!