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I’ve never been very good at grocery shopping. For one thing, I’m constantly snacking, which means that walking down the chips and cookies aisle is just asking to load up on more munchies. For another, there’s so much variety in products that I can’t tell what’s inexpensive and what’s a ripoff. Music and movie shopping are easy by comparison — anything under fifteen dollars is a bargain (except perhaps Plan 9 From Outer Space), anything under five dollars is a steal — but groceries are a different beast altogether. Even considering that I’d watched Supermarket Sweep as a child, I was much more interested in the “run like a maniac around the supermarket” than the expected retail prices of anything. For instance, the Oreos at Shaw’s are in yellow-tag Purgatory, meaning that it’s always the same price every time I go, and seemingly have been for the past three years. Whether that means they’re actually never on sale or perpetually on sale, I leave to you to decide.

By far, my biggest problem in food purchasing is spoilage, the inexorable creep of time that turns both a human being and a package of sandwich cheese into a wrinkled, useless mess. Buying fresh fruit one piece at a time is endlessly impractical, especially if grapes are on the menu, but it often feels like most of what I buy will spoil otherwise. On the flip side, for a very brief period of time, I started buying the ultra-hyper-super-duper-pasteurized milk with no regard to price. I imagined that the convenience of having milk that would last longer in an active volcano than mere-mortal milk would on the surface of Mars would be worth the added expense. Shortly thereafter, upon more closely examining the price tags, it occurred to me that unless I was throwing away three-quarters of my milk, a near-impossibility given my cereal (and Oreo) consumption, I could invest in a ceiling-height industrial refrigerator and still save money in the long term. It takes up more space than my bed and my desk put together, but it makes for a lovely conversation piece.

One thing I’ve learned in the course of grocery shopping is that the ease with which one locates a particular product is inversely proportional to how mundane it is. Last night, I spent close to an hour trying to find bubble gum and party balloons. I don’t know when this happened, but at some point in the last decade, our halitosis-plagued generation has transitioned from Lego-sized pink bricks of bubble gum to petite litmus strips of “chewing gum” that could fit in a USB port without much trouble. Apparently, the health-conscious among us found soaking our teeth in a sugary putty objectionable and unhygienic, for some reason.

As for the party balloons, I searched left, right, above, below, and behind the candles and cake icing, only to find that, silly me, they were stocked next to the frozen concentrated orange juice. Meanwhile, in the process of searching for them, I found discount flea treatments and two-foot-long wooden cooking skewers in the same bin. Go figure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some shopping to do. Don’t ask why, but I need to get ahold of some waterproof, plain white, off-brand, size 8 tennis shoes, and a fluorescent donut-shaped tape dispenser. Shouldn’t take more than two seconds, if my theory is correct. The cocktail toothpicks, on the other hand, will likely take the better part of a week.