Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lost in Wal-Mart

8:00 AM Saturday morning and I'm standing in the cake mix aisle at Wal-Mart, staring at Bisquick. Bisquick is Betty Crocker's recipe for pancakes and what we used to call "drop biscuits." I've been instructed to buy pancake mix that only requires water to be added. Bisquick ain't it. Bisquick needs eggs to make pancakes. I look around the aisle, and not seeing any other pancake mix, begin to feel inner tension gather.

I almost feel dizzy. I wonder what the hell is wrong with me. Did I not drink any water this morning and am dehydrated? No, what I sense is that low level panic that comes from realizing that you are lost. I'm lost. But I know exactly where I am. The problem is that I don't know where I'm supposed to go. I realize that this is also a new kind of lost sensation for me. My usual problem is that I know where I'm supposed to be, but I'm someplace else. Where I want to be right now is back in bed.
Right about now I realize that I'm just confusing myself with these thoughts and so I reach into my pocket to call my wife and ask her what exactly I'm supposed to be looking for. No cell phone. This is what happens when you get up too early on Saturday. You forget your stuff and get lost and don't know where you're supposed to go.

I know that I'll catch hell if I bring home the Bisquick even if I get the eggs, too. That will be a failed assignment. "You idiot," I imagine she'll be thinking as she tells me it's just fine, "You can't find pancake mix in the supermarket?"

So, spinning around one more time, I decide to "walk the aisles." This is how I usually shop in the supermarket. I walk through the entire store and buy whatever I think I might want to eat in the near future. I'm not a shopping list person. Impulse is my game. I'm a supermarketer's dream consumer. I look at everything. Too bad for them I usually have a good idea of what to buy, I'm kind of cheap, and I have this quirk where I hate to waste food. It's like a thing with me. A pet peeve, a turn-off, etc. You know.

Wandering aimlessly through the bountiful aisles of low priced food, I'm nevertheless in an emotionally empty desert, thirsting for relief from the stress of impending failure and embarrassment. Turning a blind corner I am irrationally heartened by the sight of . . . grits. Instant grits. It's not pancake mix, but I sense that I have stumbled into the right neighborhood.
Then, next to the grits, oatmeal. Quaker Oats oatmeal. Next to that I see the instant oatmeal, which should indicate that I'm getting even warmer. But the surge of hope I felt from seeing the grits has soothed my emotional unease, relaxing my mind which now begins to wander. I'm not "staying on task" as my wife would say. I wonder about the actual Quakers and how you never hear about the Quakers complaining about how their image being used on the oatmeal is disrespectful. If there's a more boring food than oatmeal, I can't think of it, and this is what the Quakers get associated with. I wonder if there are even any Quakers around anymore. I once heard that Richard Nixon was a Quaker so he could have gotten out of serving in the military in WW II, but he volunteered anyway. And he never seemed to wear the Quaker hat. I realize that I have never met a live Quaker.
Then suddenly there it is. Pancake mix. Aisles and aisles away from the Betty Crocker's egg-requiring Bisquick sits Aunt Jemima's "just add water" instant pancake mix. Jemima seems to have lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw her. Ditto the head scarf. And while Betty can bake a mean cake, Jemima's my gal today. She's going home with me.
I am found. All I needed was to know what to do and where to go and my mind was at ease.