BEWARE Men at Work—In the Grocery

When we men are little, the grocery is often our first excursion into the big and bold world away from home. We learn about colors from food labels, that the price of beef is always too high, and that some mothers make poor fashion choices, repeatedly. 

It is where we learn there is home behavior and public behavior. Fortunately, home behavior comes with private immunity from prosecution. You can even threaten to cut your brother’s head off, leaving nothing but a bloody stump, and all you will get is the standard mothers reply: “You two had better not get on my nerves!”

At home you can scream, and shout, and jump, and play. You can even walk on the furniture, if mom isn’t looking. Pretty much any behavior is acceptable, including talking about gross things at the dinner table.

   “Mom, my friend’s Billy’s eyeball fell out in school, today!”

   “Umm, that’s interesting.”

However, when in public, your other face had better show.

   “Such nice polite, children you have. Is the one on the bottom, turning blue, ever going to breathe, again?”

The grocery is also where boys learn one of the most important lessons of their lives—when a woman talks, a man had better listen.

   “You two boys had better listen to me! You think I talk just to hear my own voice echo across this store? I brought you into this world—”

As it turns out, this early childhood training has very practical applications for the modern husband of today.

   “Put that back! We don’t need it and can’t afford it this week, anyway.”

   “But, honey—”

As grown-ups, and husbands, we men are eligible for a better responses about our grocery choices than the quick, testy replies we got from our mothers. After all, our situation has been upgraded from that of dependent child—which we could do nothing about but be born—to that of full life partner and major financial backer of the relationship.

   “It’s because I said so, and I’m the wife!”

   “Ah.”

I think the problem is women just don’t understand, adult men. They are too used to settling nonsense issues between siblings. “Turn your brother right side up, and put him back under the cart where you got him from. No, no, only one of you can get in there at a time!”

Since Adam’s time, men have been hunters and gatherers. We need a mission. Send us out to find something—anything. Do this, and we will be happy and contented.

My wife and I once lived in Northfield, Minnesota, a small college town in the upper Midwest. Their motto was “Colleges, Cows, and Contentment.” That’s contentment because those Scandinavian and French-Canadian women just naturally knew to send their men out into the aisles in search of supplies; they even made a game of it. All the husbands in town were very happy—their wives told me so. Some took to dressing up as old-time fur trappers and pony express riders. Some even carried muskets. Saturday mornings these burly guys would buy coffee and beans and set up a campsite in aisle 4. They called it a Rendezvous. It was quite popular until the shooting contests got black powder all over the eggs.

If it worked in Minnesota, why couldn’t it work were I live, now? I knew I had to do something. The next Saturday morning I decided to stand for all men, in all grocery stores, everywhere. I stood tall, right in front of the cart. I let out a cry—

   “Please,” I decide the gentle approach might be better. “Give me something to do.” I made a pleading gesture while hanging onto the cart and swaying back and forth. “I can’t just hang around behind you and this cart that always turns left. I’m tired of looking like I know what I’m doing when I’m just squinting at soup labels.” Other guy’s heads turned our way. Nods of approval followed.

   “Ok? We need milk. Wait, not so fast, not just any milk—“

Argh! This is where a lecture followed about the benefits of the selected milk, or milk-like product, followed by instructions on size, quantity, and price (and price variations) allowed. A stern reminder was added to ensure a swift return with said item.

I knew everything was going to be ok when my wife tore off the bottom portion of the grocery list and handed it to me. I couldn’t believe it. My wife had put in me in charge of a portion of the list.

   “Don’t goof around. Are you listening to me? Go straight there, and come straight back. Stay where I can see you.”

   “I am your husband, not your child.” A little smirk appeared on my face.

   “We’ll see. If you do well, I’ll give you more.” A little thrill ran through me.

I know what straight there and back means. It means, if I duck down behind the stand alone meat counter, she can’t see me. I saw Fred coming the other way.

He waved and crawled towards me. “You looking for milk? It’s way over on the other side of the store. If you make a right turn over there, you’ll end up by the food demonstrator. It’s good today—bourbon turkey—on a pretzel stick. Bob and Ed are there, too, behind the cheese counter.”

   “Ok, see ya.”

   “Remember, keep low.”

I duck waddled a few more feet behind the chicken counter and was about to make a run for it when this big guy, in a full buckskin outfit, appeared at the end of an aisle.

   “What are you men doing sneaking around like kids?” His voice seemed to fill the store. “You are grown men, with an important and well respected job to do.” His arms where full of groceries.

All the guys within earshot immediately circled this leather-clad stranger. “Do you know that the cowboys on the prairie, the trappers up north, and the Continental Army all had men in your position—outriders. They protected the troops and their food supply from side attacks. They shot game and brought in needed supplies—right through enemy lines.” Several of the men straightened a little. “You are in the same position with your wife’s cart. You go out and find supplies; you talk to the other men to learn of impending dangers; you ensure only safe food gets to your family. Try bringing her a turkey on a stick, once; see the surprise on her face. Walk tall men. Check all the aisles for purse snatchers and specials. Watch for side attacks on her cart. Carry as many supplies as you can back to her cart. Your strength will build.”

As he spoke, we were mesmerized. His voice was soft but firm. He had the smell of old buffalo about him. Suddenly, there was a crash behind us and we all jerked around to see some mom’s cart go sideways as a speeding college student pushed through. When we turned back, the stranger was gone. Only a few strands of leather fringe were on the floor. We each grabbed one and put it in our shirt pocket. A knowing look passed among us.

As I looked around, I thought I saw the shadow of a fringed cuff on a far wall. In the distance I heard several men explaining what had happened to their wives. They seemed more settled—sure about themselves.

Saturdays are different now at Kroger’s. We men all walk taller and weekly specials are our byword. If anyone asks about the difference in us, we tell them, from the end of an aisle, or from way across the store, “I am not just with my wife—I am—The Outrider.”

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