Yes, I know, it’s not just people in the suburbs who have to go grocery shopping. But the difference for suburbanites is that going grocery shopping is one of the few times that we get out the house. Ironically, we spend a lot of time pining to leave the house for a change of scenery, but the only time it happens is to do something we hate. Or, as I regularly express it when I’m on the way out the door: "I’m just off to the fucking shop."
That’s a sort of cry from the heart hoping that someone else might take the chore off my hands. But as my daughters are nine and 11, they’re no more likely to volunteer for the task than in future years when they’re 17 and 19 and in possession of drivers’ licences. As for Mrs. Stay-At-Home-Indie-Pop, she’s not home mostly (that’s why, alert readers will have noted, I’ve got the SAHIP gig), and at weekends she sensibly follows her daughters’ lead of ignoring my desperate appeal. If I’m lucky, a response may echo from some distant corner of the house, such as, "Bye, see you later" or "Don’t forget my hibiscus and broccoli tea-bags."
SAHIP. I’m a SAHIP. I’m saaaaaaa hip.
On weekdays, supermarkets are full of horny housewives who ‘accidentally’ bump into you, spill their shopping, and then after you’ve helped them pick it up, thank you by inviting you back to their place for no-holds-barred, no-emotional-strings-attached sex. I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened to me. Probably on average at least never in my eleven years as a SAHIP. Not that I’ve been looking for it, you understand.
It’s different at weekends, when you can see Clueless Saturday Dad wandering around the supermarket aisles with a crumpled list in his hand, accompanied by an irascible kid (usually a boy) trying to kick him in the nuts from his prime vantage seat in the front of the trolley every time Dad turns down his demand for something unhealthy to eat. Saturday Dad’s too pre-occupied working out why he’s now going down the same aisle for the eighth time and still hasn’t found shortening ("What the fuck is shortening?" he’s now finally asking myself) to listen to the increasingly shrill demands for the tropical fruits bubblegum maxi-pack. Eventually he caves in and thrusts the Superbowl-Sized Cheetos Jumbo Bucket into junior’s hand before breaking down in tears when he sees the length of the queue at the deli and realizes he’s going to miss the Tampa Bay Fratheads’ midday kick-off against the Chunkneck College Beefboys.
Anyway, as if going to the shops wasn’t already an unadventurous enough experience, there’s Morton.
I’ve changed Morton’s name in case he’s one of the three people that read this Blog. He’s a cashier at one of my regular local supermarkets. He’s a very big, morose lad in his late 20s, and he never smiles. When I say never, I mean never, as in ‘sex-with-horny-housewives-I’ve-met-in-the-supermarket’ never. It’s his life policy. I’ve been passing through Morton’s till for years, and not once has he hinted at any kind of internal or external happiness.
It’s now got to the point where I’d rather go to a cashier with a longer line than watch Morton dolefully scan my groceries. You may think I’m exaggerating, but the moment I see Morton, I feel profoundly depressed. It’s not empathy. It’s resentment at his failure to escape a job and a life he clearly despises (why can’t he find work as a SAHIP?), and the imposition of his misery every time I go shopping. When you catch a glimpse of Morton it’s like being physically struck around the head by an embodiment of all that’s hopeless in the human condition. Like the dementors in Harry Potter, Morton will suck your soul out, make your shoulders slump, and force you to feel, "Jesus Christ, what is the point of going on for another single fucking minute?"
If there’s no avoiding Morton’s queue – say, for example, there are 16 people in line at the checkout next to him, and he’s completely free – then I’ll always be polite and friendly to him, though I won’t bother trying to waste an attempted joke, which would be like pissing on a Californian forest fire. Not because I want to be nice to the sad fuck, but because the day he comes to work with a plastic carrier bag full of heavy weapons and goes on the rampage, aisle by aisle, he might just notice the bloke who politely answered his drawled and automated query of "howyadoin" with a chirpy, "I’m fine thanks, how are you?" and finish me off cleanly with at least ten bullets to the head rather than letting me bleed slowly to death through a single, careless shot.
It’s the kind of exciting outcome grocery shoppers secretly yearn for.
Great Suburban Traditions: Number 1 – The Piano Recital
Great Suburban Traditions: Number 2 – Neighbourhood Watch
Great Suburban Traditions: Number 3 – Dog Crap
Great Suburban Traditions No. 4 – Asexuality
Great Suburban Traditions No. 5 – Limited Guilt