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Al Batt: I’m a stay-by-the-cart kind of guy when we’re shopping

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

My wife asked me to put ketchup on the shopping list.

Her wish was my command. Now I can’t read anything on the list.

I’m a stay-by-the-cart guy. That’s my job when I go shopping with my wife. My wife goes this way and that way driven by a shopping list. I stay by the cart.

I’ve gone years without once saying, “I’m going shopping,” but sometimes I need to purchase victuals without adult supervision. Grocery stores are where I go to overestimate what I can carry. A basket or a shopping cart is always a good idea for me. If a frog had pockets, it’d still need a basket. I grew up when burlap bags were considered handy and I’d like to see someone lugging one down a grocery aisle. I’m going to put that on a store’s comment card.

Back when everyone told my bride she wasn’t old enough to have a grown husband, she headed off to do something with the distaff portion of her family. We needed groceries and she asked if I was up to getting them. We had coupons.

We hadn’t been married that long, but I was practically housebroken. I accepted the challenge as no hill for a high-stepper like me. After all, my bachelor kitchen cupboard hadn’t been as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s. It had items left in it by the previous occupant.

I asked my wife’s aunt if she needed anything from the grocery store. She said she did, so I gave her one of the store’s plastic bags. She was speechless with the realization of how lucky she was her niece had married a fine man like me.

My wife, The Queen B, made sure I had spending money in my pocket and enough gas in my pickup. I listened to motivational tapes as I drove to the store. The emporium was a vast room filled with bright displays, countless shoppers and many dangerous, high-speed shopping carts. Intercoms blared as people rushed by helter-skelter. I tried not to show fear, but the flop sweat gathered on my upper lip gave me away. I sighed a lot.

My wife had given me a shopping list, but I’d lost it. There were no cellphones then. I could have used the store phone to call her, but I’d have had to admit I messed up. That wasn’t going to happen. I pushed my cart to the cereal aisle to give me time to think. Too many cereal choices. I saw a kid crying. I joined him. 

My wife put a lot of thought into that list, making sure we ate just the right amount of the proper foods. A shopping list is more important to a shopping-impaired husband than a treasure map is to a pirate. Yogi Berra said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” While grumbling to myself about the need for stop signs to be placed at the uncontrolled intersections in the store, I stumbled upon a solution. I followed a guy pushing a shopping cart around. He had a list. A tidy resolution. I put the same things he put in his cart into mine. It was a simple plan, but it worked. I passed on the doughnut holes, realizing they’re nothing more than breakfast chads.

I survived my big shopping experience as a better, but more nervous man. I came home a conquering hero.

My wife inspected my purchases later that day. I’d gotten butter, peanut butter, two loaves of bread (I’m a big fan of toast), potatoes, hamburger, ketchup, crackers, milk and orange juice, but she discovered that while I’d failed to get the other things on the list, I’d come home with 10 packages of beef jerky, a pound of cinnamon bears, two dozen cream-filled long john rolls, an industrial-sized box of Cap’n Crunch, six cans of Spam, four cans of chili, eight cans of vegetable beef soup, 2 pounds of yogurt-covered almonds, and 49 cups of blueberry yogurt. That last one was a mistake. I meant to get 48. I should have followed a married guy around the store. My wife insisted none of those were on the list, but she couldn’t prove it as she didn’t have the list. She tells friends, “Al has his ways. No one else wanted them.”

“I can’t believe you bought all this,” she said.

“I know,” I replied. “But you should have seen all the stuff I didn’t buy.”

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.