Sunday, January 4, 2015

But are your vegetables really clean?

     Tofu is white, cool and gelid, and if you need to find it in a grocery store, you would proceed to the ... 
     No, no, wait, hold that thought. I'll answer it shortly. 
     Well, eventually. I'll answer it eventually.
     There's something more incredible I want to tell yo about.
     Did you know they sell a product designed to clean the inside of your washing machine? 
     I didn't.    
     Tide, of course. "Washing Machine Cleaner." I took a photo in case you didn't believe me.  I could hardly believe it myself and the thing was right in front of me.
     Were I been less busy, maybe I'd have stayed and studied the product. As it is, I snapped this and hurried on to my task. I don't know if the cleaner is a sort of liquid or an infused sponge or a kind of hand grenade.
      I would have thought that the drum of a washing machine is already very clean, since it's always being filled with sudsy water, then agitated with wet clothes, and rinsed, thoroughly. 
     But wait, as Ron Popeil would say. There's more.
     They also sell a spray to clean vegetables.
     An expensive spray it is. $5.99 for 16 ounces. You can buy red wine for far less.
     Red wine from France.
     And the vegetable cleaner comes not in one, but in a variety of brands: three types offered for sale at Sunset Foods. Who buys that? You'd have to be insane. 
 If you're wondering where this is coming from, my wife has the flu. I was busy making peppermint tea and pumping ibuprofen into her when she informed me that I would have to do the shopping. Of course dear...
    What was I supposed to say? No...?
     Target. Sunset. Max & Benny's. Sure, I've been to these places. All the time, on small scale errands. But never on a Saturday. With a list. 
     A long list. 
     I'm tempted to post the list, but that strikes me as crossing some sort of line. Spousal cruelty, perhaps. As it is, this is a fraught topic, but my wife is a good sport, or will be, when she's feeling better. 
    I hope.
    The list. A full 8 x 10 sheet of paper, covered —covered—with a small scrawl detailing products and brands, flavors, sizes, prices, beginning with "—Bounty Paper towels [lg amount -select sizes if available]."
    Before I left she stressed the Bounty part. Don't be gulled into getting cheap paper towels that don't work. This was foreshadowing, but I missed the logic at work, and didn't realize it applied to more than paper towels.
    Nowadays a "large amount" is a given. Try buying a small amount somewhere that isn't a 7-11. Stores realized that customers will warehouse their merchandise for them if given a small discount. I bought an enormous slab of paper towels-- 8 rolls--for $9.99 and a second, equal size slab because it was half price. I didn't even try to figure out what "select sizes if available" meant. (A reference to the way the towels are perforated; my wife had actually explained that to me, prior to my leaving, but in the heat of the moment, I forgot).
     Space—or rather, your attention span; space here is unlimited—won't allow me to go into the careful calculations required before each item was slid into the huge red bin on wheels Target calls a shopping cart. My wife had written simply "Ibuprofen." The price range was astounding -- 100 200 mg tablets cost the same as 40 200 mg liquigels. Less than half the cost, per dose. I compared the small reddish pills—they looked like Tylenol, and we had that--with the ovoid blue caplets. I didn't remember any instructions as to one being superior to another. 
     The true difficulty came with "Aquaph0r." I was fairly confident, Aquaphor-wise, as I remembered the squat white jars with the blue lid scattered around the house. So I know what it looks like. But standing in the vastness of Target, I realized I had no idea what Acquaph0r is. A cream? A cleanser? A lotion? My wife and son both use it. Something for the skin. Not knowing its nature, I couldn't figure out where to search for it. Personal hygiene? Office supplies? I approached a lady with a name tag, begged for help, and she guided me to the right expanse of shelf,   which is where the real trouble began.
    A small, 3.5 ounce jar of Aquaphor is $6.99. A monster 14 ounce jar, $14.29. Two small jars would yield 7 ounces of the stuff, whatever it is, for $13.98. You were paying almost twice as much for the convenience of small jars.
     If my wife has a Primary Shopping Directive, paper towels notwithstanding, it is this: save money. Drilled into me. For years: I am  a spendthrift idiot for not looking at prices, figuring out amounts. Be be be. Frugal frugal frugal. Why buy brand names when the ShopCo brand costs a fraction of the amount? 
     So I tried to think on my own, using the Primary Directive as a guide. Was this not a huge saving?  Twice as much Aquaphor gloop, whatever it is, for the same price (God, I sure hope it isn't some embarrassing personal hygiene product. I'm utterly buggered then). I took the large jar and put it in my cart. She would admire my ingenuity.
     Or would she? Qualms set in. I had never seen a jar that size in our house. If it was such a bargain, why hadn't she bought it? Maybe I, me, could have some input in the household process. Okay ...  I ... I would swing by the pharmacy, where they had all those travel tubes and empty jars, buy a small jar—it wouldn't cost $7 certainly—and scoop out some of my bargain Aquaph0r. 
     Problem solved.
     The image of myself with a tablespoon transferring white cold cream, or clown make-up, or hemorrhoid ointment, or whatever, from one big jar to a little travel jar spurred me to whip the phone out and bother the sick woman to confirm the wisdom of this. 
     "Honey," I began, explaining my reasoning. 
      "Absolutely not," my wife instructed, explaining that in this case the need to divide the cream trumped the need to save money. My divide-the-larger-jar-ourselves idea was waved away as lunacy.
     I won't go into the internal debate over the dizzying array of brands of toilet paper. I was attracted to a brand with ridges. I had never seen it before. It looked futuristic, like the toilet paper you'd find aboard the Pan Am rocket ship from "2001 A Space Odyssey." But I had to buy 18 rolls of it. I couldn't sample one, as a test. We'd have to live with that ridged toilet paper for a while, and what if it was the Wrong Toilet Paper? What if there were something inherently wrong with ridges that I didn't know about? You can't very well take toilet paper back, can you? "I'm sorry, I'm returning this plastic wrapped palette of toilet paper. It has ridges." 
     That's when I encountered this display, for a product to clean out your clothes washer. To be honest, it further unsettled me, as if I had glanced down an aisle and seen a row of mummified puppy heads, the latest thing. What is this? (My wife later informed me that washer cleaner is not the scam it seems -- mold -- but that she used a rag with some Simply Green). 
      At this point in Target my mind must have shut down, because I simply left, without getting two of the 11 items on my list: milk and cereal. Basic stuff. I'd suppose that the idea of buying food at Target was alien to me, but I managed the Amy's frozen burritos--which my boys consume after they spurn home-cooked meals. I think I simply missed her elaborate explanation of the sort of milk to be gotten, four gallons (my younger boy guzzles it). As for cereal, my wife helpfully listed a few examples: Raisin Bran, Special K, Rice Krispies, in case I wasn't familiar with the term.
     Maybe it was because my cart was full, packed with blocks of paper towels and toilet paper. I'd need to start on a second cart. The bounty set me back $107.50.
      Perhaps rebelling against the Target mega-cart, at Sunset Foods, I chose one of those small, urban grocery carts that look like they're made for dolls. Usually they're fine for what I want, and more maneuverable, around my fellow Northbrookites, their faces masks of pain and the ravages of time, standing in the center of the aisle, blocking it with their carts, whining into their cell phones to Herbert, their husband, apparently. 
      I dragooned a butcher to help me with the Amish split fryers and the pork chops. With the later, he said something like, "I could make a joke about that," and I almost replied, "What? What is it? Tell me the joke! It's because I'm a Jew, isn't it?" I didn't actually say that, but took the thought as evidence my composure was starting to crack. I had been shopping for over and hour at that point. 
      Done? I've hardly bgun. There was the wait at the deli counter, the Banana Choice: yellow or green? Squinting at what seemed to be "comic pears" in my wife's handwriting. Looking at all the variety of pears—who knew. Anjou pears and Bartlet pears. Ah, comice pears, only 99 cents a pound. I wouldn't eat a pear if you put a gun to my head: mealy. I bought four.
     Near the end of my shopping trip at Sunset, I realized I had forgotten the milk and cereal at Target. Go back? Never. It's milk. And cereal. It's the same everywhere. Right? Raisin Bran was on sale -- that would do. By the time I got to the milk aisle, my little cart was tottering with merchandise piled upon it. I'd have to get another cart. Maybe two gallons will serve. Two gallons ought to last a while, right? He's just one teenager. 
      A quick swipe of a red card, $121.50 vanished from my life and I was on my way to the third stop, Max & Benny's, where my list was simple: chicken soup, to nurse the sick girl. No matzo ball, which I had a hard time understanding, intellectually. Chicken soup with no matzo ball? Some kasha varnishkas on the side. My people's comfort food. Think bow tie noodles with some kind of grain tossed in. Cookies for my college student to bring to a party.  Three items. 
     The soup was in a blizzard of sizes and varieties. I called home again. Do you want noodles and chicken in it? Or just broth? No noodles.
     I picked out a pound of cookies, added six ruggeleh—little square pastries, for the sick girl. My wife loves 'em. Total bill for my soup, cookies, kasha, half dozen ruggeleh and pint of broth: $31.97. They get you at Max & Benny's.
     And so home, having been gone about two hours on a cold, slushy, sleeting day. I would have been more relieved, had I not known what was coming.
     They took turns reacting in goggled horror. Two gallons of milk! My younger son was aghast. I was supposed to get four. Two would be gone in a moment.  And where was the Special K? "You didn't get Special K?" he said in a tone normally associated with "Lassie's dead!" 
    "The pills don't work," my wife informed me, of the ibuprofen. "Only the gel-caps work."
     "You could have told me that," I replied.
     "I can't think of every possibility," she replied.
     "You told me which flavors of Greek yogurt to get..."
     Then the soup. Why no chicken? 
     "I called," I said weakly. "I asked you. No chicken."
     "No noodles."
     "They were paired, on the sign. 'Chicken and noodles.'"
     She was sick, so I let the matter slide and slunk upstairs, happy to ... well, write this post assuming I don't delete the whole thing, which is probably prudent. 
     In the past, I vaguely resented my wife doing all the shopping -- obviously done to keep control on finances, to prevent spendthrift me from buying expensive stuff. From now on, I will only be humbled and grateful. Thank you honey for sparing me this. I thought my mind would crack. In the parking lot of Sunset, for one crazed moment I considered going home, grabbing the gasoline from the garage, spreading it around the ground floor and burning the house down, then starting life afresh as a hobo. But that would be bad. I decided it might be better just to let you do the shopping. 
     Tofu, by the way, though it is white and chilled and gelid, was not to be found among the cheeses and the yogurt and the kefirs and the eggs where I expected it to be, and where I searched for it, for quite some time, until I began to look for an employee, finding one on the other side of the store. It was in the "Organic produce" section, next to the lettuce, I learned this after asking a clerk, who obviously had never heard the word "tofu" before, and then accompanying him while he consulted with another clerk who had. Of course, tofu. Made from soybeans. Grown from the ground. Practically an apple. 
    This is what the philosophers would call a "Category error." I had lumped it with other white, cool, gelid materials, like cream cheese, when it really is a plant. Like lettuce—next to the lettuce, in fact. So learning was accomplished, though I fervently hope never to have to put my newfound shopping skills, at least not after this flu passes. Which, I'm told, should be another eight days. By evening, I was coming down with it too, and as I sniffled and hacked and ached, I thought, happily, "One of the boys can do the shopping..."  


  1. Oh my, this gave me flashbacks to grocery shopping and my ex-wife. "Get the right stuff,or I'll belittle you into oblivion!" Whew, glad to be past those horrific episodes of life :)

    1. Ed then tell your wife to do it herself.

    2. Your son 's skin is too young to use aquaphor, it will cause acne in people that age.

    3. Yes, always get the select a size paper towels, not as wasteful and true the generic ones are sometimes too thin. A wise one is Mrs.S. I agree.

  2. I believe it's "Comice pears", not Cornice.
    And you have multiple spellings of "Aquafor"

    1. Thanks Clark St., I've made the changes. I truly was worn down last night when I wrote this. And while I appreciate the corrections, I'd appreciate it more if you emailed them to me, because once they're fixed, it's odd to have the subject brought up in the comments. Typos are easy —for instance, you misspelled "Aquaphor" in telling me I had misspelled it. People could unfairly assume that your pointing typos out in such a public fashion is passive-aggressive asshattery, and you wouldn't want that.

    2. Hilarious, as noted by many. So many questions, but I'll settle for one. Did you ferry home 16 rolls of full-size paper towels, to plague the family for months, rather than the desired "select-a-size," or did you luck into the right ones?

      Also, I'm not ruling out the possibility that I'm a passive-agressive asshat, but the reason that I've posted corrections here in the comments rather than e-mailing you is because it's easier for ME, while I'm reading the post and don't have my e-mail open. The "public fashion" has nothing to do with it. It's taken a few of your replies, such as this one to Clark St., to get it to even occur to me that you find corrections posted here to be annoying, which I have to say I find odd. We're just trying to help out, not humiliate you, for crying out loud. Also, as with the ShopCo thing downstream, it's sometimes interesting to see what gets changed and what doesn't and, in that instance, why.

      So, asshat alert: Ibuprofen is Advil, Motrin, etc. "what we used to call Tylenol" is acetaminophen. : )

      BTW, my wife (a lot of reading this post across the table going on today, evidently) says that at Whole Foods (boo, hiss) and Trader Joe's, the tofu IS with the milk, yogurt and cheese, not the produce.

    3. Hi Jakash -- Just one comment regarding mentioning typos and other picayune "mistakes" on someone's blog: ---> remember on EZ's CoS blog, one of his rules was not to nitpick about such things, or people would be pointing out mistakes constantly, made by either the blog's author or the commenters. It really does take away from the flow and content of the blog itself. Just sayin'

    4. Hi, Sandy. Fair enough. I hope you didn't think that I, as a nit-picking asshat, wasn't gonna respond, though I won't be surprised if Neil deletes these little asides. : ) From EZ's former "Rules for Commenting": "Mistakes are no big deal. We all make them and so don't call attention to the grammatical or spelling mistakes of others as a way of discrediting their points of view." For the record, I've never done that, unlike some of the rabid partisans on CoS. Nor do I care about commenter typos. I used to be under the impression that Neil (and EZ) might like to correct typos in the actual posts, but I've backed way off on that, given Neil's preference that they not be raised here. Above, I addressed what I perceived to be a factual error. If Neil prefers that I not do even that, I can certainly stop. (Well, clearly he'd prefer an e-mail, but I'd prefer not to bother with that.) (Sheesh, this may be my most Jerry-esque comment yet -- apologies to all for ruining the flow!) ; )

    5. No complaints. To be honest, I think my issue has more to do with context. If the first comment is, "I believe the traditional spelling is 'the,' not 'hte'" then I don't like to just have that sit there, as the first comment, as if that's the only thing to say. If it's the 15th, isn't so much of a concern. Jakash's observation about the acetaminophen is the sort of thing that's appreciated -- I'm behind my depth with all that stuff, being an aspirin man myself (when I was drinking, I avoided Tylenol, for fear of it damaging what was left of my liver). Believe it or not, I'm actually evolving in this area. Also, as the blog does better, and has higher numbers, and more advertisers, I feel less marginal, and more confident, and better able to shrug off implicit criticism. Or so I hope. I will try to leave the corrections up, for those who enjoy the process. The idea of it being easier for YOU never crossed my mind—I guess I assumed that the regular commentators lived online anyway so what did it matter, whether a comment is made here on in email? Anyway, my bottom line is a minimum comity, and we certainly have that going here.

  3. I've been in a similar situation myself. That's why there ought to be a concierge service for husbands at grocery stores. They would sit you down in a nice recliner with some snacks and a hd tv with cable to keep you occupied and out of the way. Then, they would take your list and review it for both completeness and accuracy using their records of your wife's purchases in the past. Those records tell them exactly which brands, sizes and amounts to pick up and package for you. The only thing they need you to do besides exiting the recliner is to pay for it with your credit card including a premium added for their services. After all, isn't a markup worth it for saving you all that time and trouble and psychic trauma? :-)

    1. Reminiscent of, but not nearly as good as, your idea is when I visited a gift shop in Israel with my wife. I hated to be there (the shop, not Israel). he store manager immediately recognized this and guided me to a corner chair, where she said "here's our husband seat -- relax."

  4. I use Peapod, have not been in an actual grocery store in a decade.

  5. Yeah ... so what else is new! I'm on my phone to clarify rather than suffer the wrath of Goldberg

  6. "I thought my mind would crack. In the parking lot of Sunset, for one crazed moment I considered going home, grabbing the gasoline from the garage, spreading it around the ground floor and burning the house down, then starting life afresh as a hobo. But that would be bad." Yup. That would be bad. Crackin' me up over here...

  7. I like David's idea! And as long as we're catching spelling errors, it's ShopKo, not ShopCo. A funny column, well written, but it does make you seem like a very old, or at least old-fashioned, man.

    1. There's a ShopKo? I just made up "ShopCo" as a generic sounding name. I'll leave it as is.

  8. Doug D.

    What a great way to start the morning. My wife and I sitting across the table from one another drinking coffee while I read the column to her. I tried to time it so I could get her to do a spit-take but she almost choked instead. Hope you and your bride have an easy bout the the bug.

    As of Sunday, January 4th at 9:40 A.M. CST there's a letter missing from a word in the column. No need to thank me.

  9. I laughed until the tears came! Then I invited my husband to read the column. Since we are retired he always accompanies me shopping for groceries, and has been privy to my process of selecting the best buy for the buck. He is a very patient man. But he knows what the right item looks like in its package and where in the store to find it, in case he ever needs to go it alone! And he won't hesitate to use his phone to check with me in case the store has rearranged its shelves, which has been known to throw him into a panic!

  10. Very funny indeed. I've learned, from experience, not to expect too much when my husband runs to the grocery store for a few items I've requested. Usually it's no more than 4-5 items, carefully explained beforehand. I'd say, on average, about half of them are either the wrong brand, size, flavor or quantity.

  11. Here's hoping your wife and you recover from the flu quickly. However, I know that you'll find something funny in your suffering. We used to "offer it up" when I was a kid, but that was more than a bit sanctimonious and definitely not entertaining.


  12. I'm still laughing! Hope you and Edie feel better soon!

    Susan D

  13. Edie is a saint. The boys are just martyrs.

  14. May I suggest that while you convalesce you watch an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond called " Tissues". It is a comic masterpiece and so fitting you won't believe it.

  15. I must be unusual, because I love grocery shopping. Comparing prices, looking for's fun! When I've had a bad day at work it makes me feel better. I detest all other kinds of shopping, but food is different. Buying it, cooking it, eating it. Good times.

    Re: the lotion conundrum, I would definitely buy the big jar and scoop some out. Takes no time and you're saving money! But then I also cut lotion bottles in half to get the rest after it won't come out of the pump anymore. There's still a lot left in the bottle! My planned path to riches is based entirely on lotion frugality.

  16. I love grocery shopping too -- left to my own devices. It's the satisfying-someone-else aspect that makes it a challenge.

  17. Neil: the Tide Washing Machine cleaner really does work. The mold firms between the inner and outer drums of the machine and in the hoses. I was shocked when I saw the gunk that came out when the machine drained afterwards. It was gross.

    Dave M

  18. Smartphones help with this. If there's something on the list I'm not sure of or, more often, there's 37 different possible kinds of, I snap a pic of the most likely, send it to the wife, and ask for confirmation before I actually buy it. Works well enough, easier than texting descriptions, less annoying (to others as well) than calling.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.