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how to win friends and influence pretzel nuggets

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Janae Breunig

You know what I just love? Being all friendly like. I love running into friends and neighbors and chatting it up. I love catching up and reconnecting and staying in touch and sharing precious moments. Especially in places like the potato chip aisle of my favorite grocery store.

You head to the frozen food aisle so you can buy those soft pretzels filled with nacho cheese that you know are pretty bad for you, and probably toxic to certain plants, but you’re gonna treat yourself, darn it. And who do we find? It’s Friend! There they are, eyeballing bags of tater tots.

Happens all the time. You’re out shopping for food at Gordy-Fest-Targetmans and KA-BAM! You see an old friend perusing a selection of jalapeño and cheese-based snacks. Besides the odd Instagram like on their cute kids/homemade pizza/”I Voted” sticker, you haven’t spoken face-to-face in ages. So you say unto them, “Hi there, Friend!”

They reply with a hearty, “Well, ‘hi’ right back atchya, Acquaintance!” and the conversation is off and running! You talk, you laugh, you commiserate. Perhaps you hug. You promise you’ll talk again soon and part ways, turning back to your grocery list, your lips curled into a smile of delight. Your soul has been fed and a sigh of contentment escapes your healthy lungs. Good times.

But this is not where it ends.

As you leave the potato chip aisle and turn into the canned soup aisle, WHAM-KA-BAM!It’s your friend again! Hello again, friend! You joke about “long time, no see” and look back to your grocery list, bemused. Perhaps you mention something you forgot to say whist reconnecting by the Cheetos. Maybe you help each other find the cream of mushroom soup, because that’s what friends do. You say goodbye “For real this time!”, chuckle, and push your cart to the next aisle, parting like happy ships sailing happy waters into the happy horizon.

But this is not where it ends.

You head to the frozen food aisle so you can buy those soft pretzels filled with nacho cheese that you know are pretty bad for you, and probably toxic to certain plants, but you’re gonna treat yourself, darn it. And who do we find? It’s Friend! There they are, eyeballing bags of tater tots.

“Hi again!” you say to each other. You’re still smiling, but an awkward silence has settled over the entire aisle. You feel a tad uneasy, so you stare and your list. Then you grab some frozen green peas and toss them onto your embarrassing nuclear cheese-injected pretzel nuggets. You turn to say goodbye, but Friend is still engrossed by their tot options, so you decide to not bother them. Quiet as a fresh loaf of sprouted grain bread, you swiftly roll your cart away from the frozen food.

But oh ho. This is not where it ends.

Over by the milk, you see each other yet again, but this time you don’t even look at each other. You’re sure that Friend has seen you, but they haven’t made eye contact. You probably don’t need to say anything, right? Seriously, how many times do you need to say “Hello” in one grocery store visit? You just had an amazing chat session not 15 minutes ago. Everything’s fine. You’re not even all that close. You get your 2%, head for the Popsicles, and then it’s on to the checkout.

Oh sweet Beelzebub. The only short checkout line is one that puts you directly behind Friend. It would be dumb to get into a long line because Friend would think you are avoiding them. Wait. Are you avoiding them? Maybe you are. That’s silly. You get in line behind them. As Friend checks out, you don’t even look at each other. You stare at your phone. There’s an awkward moment when Cashier announces that Friend’s yogurt coupon has expired, but soon enough, the groceries are bagged. (Apparently, Friend uses plastic.)

And then, Friend is simply gone. You breath a sigh of relief, settling back into your grocery store anonymity.

Yeah. Being friendly. I just love it.

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