What's in Store

making friends and enemies while you buy groceries

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

You know what I just love? Being friendly. 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 chips aisle of my favorite grocery store.

Happens all the time. You’re out shopping for food at Mega Gordy’s Festival Target and KA-BAM! You see an old friend perusing a selection of jalapeño- and cheese-based snacks. Besides the odd Facebook comment on how cute their kids are/tasty their homemade pizza looks/mad you are about last night’s Glee, you haven’t spoken face-to-face in ages. So you exclaim, “Hi there, Friend!”

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!

They reply with a happy, “Well, hi right back atchya, Acquaintance,” and the conversation is off and running! You talk, you laugh, you commiserate. Perhaps you hug. You promise them you’ll talk on Facebook and then you 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 whilst 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 into the next aisle, parting like happy ships sailing happy waters towards a 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 kind of bad for you, and possibly toxic to certain plants and animals, but you’re getting yourself a treat goll dern it. And who do we find? It’s Friend! There they are, eyeballing bags of chicken nuggets.

“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 at your list and then grab some frozen corn. You turn to say goodbye, but Friend is still considering their nugget options, so you decide to not bother them.

Quiet as a fresh loaf of whole wheat bread, you swiftly roll your cart away from the frozen food. For some reason, you decide against grabbing the nuclear cheese-injected soft pretzels.

But wait. 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 know that Friend has seen you, but they haven’t tried to make eye contact. You probably don’t need to say anything, right? Seriously, how many times do you need to say “hello” in one store visit? You just had an amazing chat not 20 minutes ago. Everything’s fine. You get your 2%, head for the ice cream, and then it’s on to the checkout.

Oh dear god. The only short line at the checkout counters is the one that puts you directly behind Friend. It would be dumb to get into a long line – 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. There’s an awkward moment when it turns out that Friend’s coupon for hamburger has expired. When their cart is filled with bagged groceries, you hear them say, “See ya.”

Then ... they are simply gone. You breath a sigh of relief. However, this is not where it ends. New levels of awkwardness await you.

Later, in the middle of the night, you are shaken from your slumber by a desperate whisper from deep within some pocket of your subconscious. You sit bolt upright as a cold sweat erupts from your brow. Like a tidal wave, a single question roars into your mind. What ... was in your shopping cart?

Think fast! Did you have anything embarrassing when you were talking to Friend? What does the stuff you were buying say about you? Sure, it’s not like your cart was overflowing with cheap vodka, cigarettes, and condoms, but it wasn’t filled with organic health food, either. What was Friend buying? Probably something super awesome, because they’re super awesome and totally responsible and totally a grown up and not some ridiculous slob baby-child like you who only wants to eat nacho cheese on everything. Everyone’s probably talking about it on Facebook right now.

Hold up. Exactly what makes Friend so awesome? Weren’t they gonna buy chicken nuggets? Those things are horrible for you! They should get off their stupid high horse. You need to de-friend them on Facebook as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. Why were you even “friends” in the first place?

Yeah. Being friendly. I just love it.