By Matthew Sherman
Shelbi and I used to live directly across the street from a Safeway. It was at once tremendously convenient and also a disastrous enabler of some of our bad habits. It became a running joke how many times one or both of us would end up at Safeway and we estimated that, in a given week, someone made an appearance at Safeway an average of 5.3 times. It was ridiculous. We had our favorite check-out person (the sardonic Asian woman who gave you a knowing look when someone wanted to split their groceries onto three separate checks), knew what time the south entrance was locked and could judge the changing seasons by how many teenagers were hanging out in the parking lot at midnight. It was just so easy. There was no need for meal planning it was simply “What do you want for dinner? Tacos? Let’s go to the store and get things for tacos!” Of course, this behavioral pattern often led to times when we would clean out our pantry and find five bags of opened brown sugar (all 90% full), four nearly full bottles of vegetable oil or six bags of half-used spaghetti noodles.
We were wildly inefficient shoppers. Now we live on the outskirts of walking distance from a Safeway. Or at least we used to. Once Elliott was born, getting ready to go to Safeway felt like Odysseus trying to make his way home. It always results in multiple calls to spouse lucky enough to have avoided the trip and those conversations always go something like this.
“I didn’t check the butter. Do we have butter?”
“I’m not sure. I think we’re OK on butter.”
“When was the last time you used butter? Did we have enough?”
“I don’t know how much butter we have! I’m at work!”
“Sigh… so help me if I come home and find out we don’t have butter.”
“Then just buy butter!”
It’s like stocking up for an impending blizzard knowing that we have one shot at getting everything we need to hunker down. Needless to say we have started to get better about planning a bit in advance. Instead of simply buying every ingredient repeatedly for every meal, we now look around and say “Huh, we have 30 eggs in 5 different cartons, how about eggs this week?”
Of course, with Elliott, on the occasion that we do forget something at the store, the reaction is a bit different now. It went from:
“Milk! I forgot the milk. What a hilarious oversight. I’ll be back in 45 seconds.”
“#$*%! Milk! How did I forget the milk?! Unbelievable! I’m going to slam my finger in the car door as a punishment for being so stupid. (long pause)… OK, how can we make two weeks without milk work?”
It’s nothing short of a tragedy. In that same vein, when we lived in our apartment, we never had to worry about what time we took out the trash. And even when it was just the two of us in our house, we very rarely filled our bins. If we’d forget to recycle and take out the trash on Thursday I’d barely shrug my shoulders. Now? Thursday night is circled in red ink on our calendars and we remind each other a dozen times about it during the day. One week of forgetting the trash puts you a week behind for the rest of your life. A few weeks ago… I forgot. And when I was awoken at 5:30 by the familiar banging on the street, I freaked out. It was sheer panic.
“Please please please please let that be the yard debris people. Anything but the garbage!” You know how, in a fire, everyone talks about the one thing they would grab? Forgetting to take out the garbage is like that. That truck is moving down the road and you only have time to grab one bag. What’s it going to be? The kitchen with the decaying chicken carcass? The bathroom? The obvious decision is Elliott’s room and his giant bag of diapers. If that bag has to stay in our possession for seven more days, our house is getting condemned in three. Simple as that. So in sandals, athletic shorts and a T-shirt I haven’t worn in 3 years, I run out the door… And it’s the recycling truck. Another bullet dodged. Not just for me but also for the good people at my place of employment because I was assuredly going to cart that bag with me and drop it in their dumpster had I been unlucky.