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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, October 27, 2000

Shopping these days
is tons of fun

I'M saving so much money at my local supermarket, I may soon be bankrupt. Bankrupt, but well stocked in the pantry department.

The other day I bought 20 cans of beef broth, 20 cans of tomato sauce, 10 cans of stewed tomatoes, gallons of orange juice, a quantity of wine measured in metric tons and enough eggs to make an omelet the size of a small truck. And that just filled the first two carts.

With the determination of an Egyptian pyramid builder, I ferried the booty into the house in only four or five hours.

"Why?" was all my wife could manage to whimper.

Poor thing. She doesn't understand economics.

"Do you know how much money we saved?" I said kindly, as one would address an inhabitant of a hospital for the feeble-minded.

"This is what happens when you send a monkey to the store for bananas," she said to the toaster. "And I'm not putting it away."

I had to give her that point. Putting it away was problematic because our cupboards were full. The cabinets were crammed with goods from previous savings campaigns and the upright freezer stuffed with turkeys, hams, sides of beef and enough Lean Cuisine to starve a Third World country. I'm considering buying one of those small metal Sears sheds to store my stash of canned creamed corn.

But this is the state of modern shopping. In the old days, you planned a menu at home and made a shopping list. You went to the store and bought those items. Now, you go to the store and see what marvelous bargains are being offered. It appeals to the ancient hunter-gatherer in us. You stalk the cereal aisle, ignoring the over-priced brand name stuff and suddenly spy the 20-pound sack of generic shredded wheat lurking on a lower shelf. Buy one, get one free. Beautiful.

There is a war going on among the major supermarkets for customers. Making you feel like you are part of a secret society is a psychological element of the battle. If you have the magic plastic savings club card, you can buy the vat of Cheez Whiz for $14.95 while the rest of the pathetic horde get pinched for $15.72.

At my store -- because you do feel it is yours -- the help are instructed to make eye contact, address you by name and ask often if you are finding everything you need. It's an unnatural task for many introverted bag persons. Yet they force the smile, mangle your name and even offer to take your mother lode of stuff to the car. ("I can get it to the car, pal, how about you come Sherpa it up the stairway into the house?")

When you pass these same sincere souls outside the store where they sit smoking cigarettes during their break, they are suddenly struck with amnesia. No smile. No name. Off duty.

Which is fine. There's nothing more awkward than forcing someone to play against type. People who are generally surly and withdrawn don't do chipper and outgoing very well.

There are, however, some supermarket employees who really enjoy the personal chitchat. Not only are they gracious and helpful inside the store, but they will shout your name across the parking lot in greeting as soon as you're out of your car. This makes the non-club card members green with envy.

These are perks usually reserved for Las Vegas high rollers. So, my poor wife, is it surprising that I fulfill my side of the bargain? What's several hundred cans of beef broth among friends?

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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