01 October 2007

What you see

What you see is what you get
What the hell did you expect?

The spouse and I were charged with entertaining two visiting Soviet scientists, one of whom was the head of the earth sciences division of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The near international incident that occurred later in the day doesn't figure in this story, but we thought it might be nice to take them to lunch at the Big Famous Movie Studio where I was employed.

I duly made reservations for four in the executive dining room.

Soviets were a funny bunch. They tended to look like they'd just stepped out of a 1960s spy movie, even if they were scientists, what with the bad suits, suspicious squints, and copious quantities of cigarettes.

The nice waiter offered them menus, which were immediately tossed aside.

"Just a little salad and meat," said the junior scientist after a quick consultation in Russian with his superior.

The executive dining room menu was not extensive, and had maybe 6 entrees on it. After a hushed and hurried conversation with the waiter (who, accustomed to the over-the-top Hollywood types, was really bemused by this behavior and the desire for something simple), I turned back to B., the junior scientist, and told him not to worry, the kitchen would find something suitable.

"That's the problem with America," B. growled, with a glint of humor in his squint. "Too many choices."

His words resonate nearly every time I engage in my least favorite chore of the week: grocery shopping.

I just wanted some toilet paper. There is one extremely long row devoted to toilet paper. Generic, branded, store brand. Soft, ultra soft, single-ply, double-ply, single roll, double roll, six rolls with the same amount as 24.

What is the point, other than to waste an extreme amount of my time hunting for whatever it was I bought last time that worked just fine?

Tide. I don't actually like Tide, but they make the high efficiency detergent that my nice water-responsible washing machine guzzles. However, Tide HE comes in 47 different sizes, liquid or powder, and the bottles and formulation undergo a radical redesign about every 3.7 months. In fact, I saw one bottle today that purports to clean 96 loads, but for the life of me, I didn't know how one would get it open. It was roughly the shape of an orange lizard, with two spouts. Is there something I should know?

My method of grocery shopping involves a concept called autopilot. Although I will make a list, I'm usually too time pressed to be very efficient about it, and I tend to menu plan while I'm figuring out what's on sale, and what looks good in the butcher case. My method requires that I start at one end of the store and move through each aisle, knowing unerringly what to grab because I have the whole layout of the store memorized. The grocery stores love to muck this up, though, starting with a months-long strike about 4 years ago. At that point, I abandoned the big local chains for a natural food chain, and was perfectly happy...until the natural food chain moved two months ago. This may be So Cal, but I don't consider driving a 14-mile round trip for groceries a viable option.

So grocery shopping has once again become even more of a prickly misery than it usually is.

And the worst part of returning to a big local chain store is that they may have thousands of choices, but they don't have what I want. I like Stonyfield Farms yogurt because it is nice and healthy without a lot of really icky stuff in it. I like Clover organic milk, not ultra-pasteurized Horizon. Kashi Go Lean waffles, not Lifestream. And no factory-farmed meat!

But in this game, what you see is what you get.

Go listen to some good music: "What You See" from the album Only a Lad by Oingo Boingo.