THANKSGIVING SHOPPING

It was the day before Thanksgiving, and we were readying our house for guests.  We unpacked and washed new dishes, put away the deck furniture, vacuumed the carpets and swept the floors.  When we appeared to be nearing an end, I fatefully asked:

“Is there anything else we need?”

“Well,” said my wife.  “Let me think.”

Since I was determined to be agreeable, I waited more patiently than usual.  After all, there is a lot of togetherness in a four-day weekend, and it helps to start off positively.

“I’ll go to Shoprite,” I offered, naming the disfavored local store where I was confident I would be among the few, bedraggled customers.

“No,” she insisted.  “We need flowers, and the good ones are at Harris Teeter.”

This change of plans was critical, since Harris Teeter is a local juggernaut and would resemble the Beach at Normandy on D-Day.  Still, I did not complain, since that would have ruined the effect of offering to go in the first place.  She wrote me a modest list of other needs, including:  fruit, a birthday cake for our nephew, and a roaster bag.

“What’s a roaster bag?” I asked.

“It’s for the turkey,” she replied.  “It makes it juicier and prevents the oven from being splattered.  It’s really important.  Make sure you don’t forget it.”

 

Duly charged, I drove to Harris Teeter.  I noticed the streets were hectic.  People were driving to and fro, on missions like my own, as though they were squirrels gathering acorns before the winter.  I blew my horn twice in the parking lot to avoid accidents, as much as I had used it in the previous six months. Finally, relieved, I found an open space, parked, and retrieved an abandoned cart that was looking for a car to dent.  I pushed it past a throng of employees taking a smoking break and entered.

The scene inside evoked a Dante-like nightmare.   Carts pushed by crazed shoppers careened in all directions.  Lines snaked from the check-out counters requiring a newly-arrived customer to perform like a football running back; I found an opening and squeezed through.  I turned my attention to the list.

My first target, the flower section, was easy to locate but difficult to enter.  Adjacent to the entrance, it was ringed, like the check-out lines, by a line of customers, all of whom were ordering custom-made arrangements.  With the benefit of long arms, I was able to reach a pretty, pre-cut bouquet.  With the flowers obtained, I moved confidently to the bakery section.  I picked up a birthday cake and, as a reward for my efficiency, a still-warm donut sample that required immediate consumption.

Next, I navigated to the fruit section.  At Shoprite, I am confident about selecting fruit.  I am often the only customer and can take as long as I need.  Plus, there is not much of a selection, so choosing is simplified.  At Harris Teeter, however, on the day before Thanksgiving, it was necessary to lean over and around other customers just to reach the fruit.  I was jostled at the grapefruits by a woman in a pink Minnie Mouse sweatshirt who glared at me as though I were taking food off her dinner plate.  She seemed determined to make me, a rare, male shopper, feel out-of-place and incompetent.  She may have been correct in her assessment, but that did not make it right.  Losing confidence, I despaired at distinguishing good apples from mealy ones.  And how did one determine if the grapes are good if there were too many people around to allow for stealthy sampling?

I added the routine items to my cart like milk, juice, yogurt and bread by following the traditional nutrition-neutral shopping plan, namely:  choose whatever is on sale.  I dodged several head-on crashes in the cereal aisle and realized the list was down to one item, the “Holy Grail of Shopping,” the roaster bag.

It is common knowledge men are loath to ask for directions.  Although a roaster bag could be a challenge, I deduced they would be in the vicinity of the aluminum and cooking products.  If I could locate that aisle, I could rouse a roaster bag.  Alas, I was in aisle three and cooking products were in aisle twenty-four, seemingly half-a-mile away.  No problem, I was nearly finished.  I arrived at the appointed aisle and began to look, up and down, left and right.  Alas, no roaster bags.  I looked around to make sure no one I knew was watching as I sought an employee’s assistance.

First, I found a teenager stacking merchandise and asked where I would find a roaster bag.  He stared blankly and did not even feign comprehension.  He gestured towards a female employee at the other end of the aisle.  I wended towards a short woman pasting price tags onto cans.

“Do you know where I could find a roaster bag?” I asked.

“You want a toaster?” she asked, in a thick accent.

“No, a roaster bag,” I replied, enunciating as clearly as I could.

“Oh,” she said, “Do you mean a trash bag?  Try aisle ten.”

I sensed this encounter was not going well.  “Thanks,” I mumbled.   I contemplated going home and telling my wife that Harris Teeter was out of roaster bags and choosing among lame explanations, such as:  “They had a run on them,” or “I read that it is better to cook the turkey without a bag,” or “they don’t make them anymore.”   I felt hopeless, when I looked up one last time and saw an acquaintance I knew slightly from the kids’ soccer.   I vaguely recalled her name was Debbie.  From the extent of her girth, I suspected she might be an accomplished cook.  I greeted her like my dearest friend and then broached my dilemma.

“Of course they have roaster bags,” she said.  “They are in the miscellaneous aisle.  Follow me.”

It was as though Moses was leading me personally to the Promised Land.  Debbie navigated expertly among the carts.  Once amidst the miscellany, she scanned the peculiar offerings there, such as:  sifters, cheese graters and spice racks, and, finally pointed to a section with several boxes labeled “roaster bags.”

“You’ll want this one,” she said, and handed me a blue box.  I hadn’t even considered that there might be a choice of sizes and thicknesses.  “It’s for a turkey,” she stated confidently.

Vastly relieved, I refrained from asking why roaster bags were not with their culinary cousins in aluminum and plastics.  I refrained from questioning the system that would prevent a logical, amateur from locating a roaster bag without expert assistance.  I declined the opportunity to consider the entire roaster bag industry.  I thanked Debbie profusely, checked out, and returned home in triumph.  When the turkey turned out to be the most succulent ever, I felt a thankful glow of satisfaction.

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