How to impress people in stores

I had just selected a package of lemon Oreos at the grocery store the other day when a stocker remarked in passing, “Those are really popular. We can’t keep them on the shelves.”

At first I didn’t say anything because I didn’t have a response, but, not wanting to be perceived as an aloof and taciturn loner – characteristics of which I have at times been accused – I retorted, “They’re for my husband.”

Afterward, I started thinking, I hope he didn’t think that I thought that he was flirting with me because I did not think that. I am not so vain or feeble-minded that I need to bring up my husband as a defense mechanism when someone wants to make small talk about cookies. No, if anything, I wanted to make it known that the cookies were not for me because I didn’t want to be the Cookie Monster Mom in Aisle 5.

And they really were for my husband, who likes things that are lemon-flavored.

This is a story about overthinking.

It occurred to me that quite often when I purchase things for my husband I want to hand the cashier a secret note that explains they are not for me. There are certain products which he likes that I would rather not be seen buying – basically anything you might see on a show like “Duck Dynasty.”

You see, I spent a portion of my childhood in West Virginia and I come from a family of modest means, so I have an insecurity about coming across as being, well, unsophisticated. I once told one of my favorite colleagues to leave my office immediately and never speak to me again when he insinuated that I had friends in low places. I forgave him, of course. My privileged friends have their good points just like the ones in low places do.

My husband, who was born on an Air Force base in Mississippi but claims West Virginia as his home state, has no such insecurity and will gladly cover his food in molasses just like Walter Cunningham did in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

But because I have to overthink everything including how to impress cashiers at drug stores and the supermarket, I have come to the conclusion that there should be secret stores where those with role model jobs and elected officials can buy things that are legal, but embarrassing, such as stool softeners. No one under 18, nor any members of the media, would be allowed into these stores. Cameras would not be permitted.

Aside from the employees of grocery stores and drug stores, I also feel particularly accountable to book store employees. A few months ago I was browsing the sale rack at a large book store and came across a Sarah Palin book for $3. Why not, I thought. I have always wanted to read a Sarah Palin book because I like to listen to arguments that I am inclined to disagree with. I think it helps a person be more open-minded. But when I got to the register, the bearded guy with all the buttons kept acting aloof and taciturn, almost kind of dismissive, and I was thoroughly convinced that he was judging me on my choice of reading material. For what it’s worth, I also got book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, and it is a really good one.


To be present, but not tense

Do you ever wonder how much happier you would be if you knew you could not control anything? Because you really can’t. Maybe you can have an influence, but you don’t get to make the final decision.

I almost lost my mind the other morning all because I was trying to control too much. Isn’t that ironic?

It was after an accidental homicide that one of Toni Morrison’s characters realized she could not count on herself any more than she could count on anyone else. My crimes, thankfully, were smaller. I misspelled a name. Forgot to pay a bill. Let the cat drink from the toilet. Let my daughter paint her fingernails when I was not looking.

But she sucks her thumb.

I have told her that she must not paint the nails on her thumbs if she is going to insist on sucking them. She is ingesting poison. It is all my fault.

What could I have done differently to prevent these ordinary tragedies that besieged me on a day when the computer wasn’t working and all the toilets were dirty and everyone in my family had just one clean pair of pants left for the week?

I could close the toilet lids. I could throw away all of the nail polish, mine and hers. I could pay all the bills the minute they come in the mail, or at least open them instead of stashing them in a pile.

I should sit down and light a candle and say a prayer that I am not in charge. I hope I am not in charge. Please, God, don’t let me be in charge. The dirt in the toilets is not all mine. The clothes on the floor are not about me.

But what I do matters, right? It does. I have to stay on the right side of apathy and ambivalence. It’s like walking a straight line.

When will the day come that a child falls down the stairs and it isn’t my fault? That he forgets to zip his jacket and it’s OK?

Eckhart Tolle writes about transcending the ego, and I don’t get it. I’m human, right? If I don’t have an ego, then I don’t care for right or wrong because I’ve been both and I am both all at once. Then I don’t care about the size of my footprint because it’s not mine. It’s everyone’s.

Your children are not your children, says the philosopher. No, but when my children cross a man on his way into the drugstore, it’s my gaze he searches for.