Russian roulette is a very dangerous game. Very dangerous. Especially when it is played with shopping carts.
Let me just say that I do not advocate the use of hand carts. I have never owned one, but I have used one. And under the right circumstances . . . well, like I said, they can be very dangerous.
My aversion is easy to understand: If I have a cart in my possession it means that I am in a large supermarket shopping for a lot of stuff.
I don't think I am alone in my distaste for big shopping. It is a time consuming experience made unnecessarily dismal by crowded aisles, confusing displays, voluminous product categories, and limited service. Those times I find myself in a large store pushing a shopping cart I feel as though I am suffering through an eternal winter in Siberia. Like I have been rounded up and placed in the Grocery Gulag.
I hope that someone notifies my family, I think as I march across the Ural Mountains into the meat section.
I think every shopping cart should have a GPS locater. And maybe a black box.
Here is how I prefer to shop: two or three items at a time; late at night; with the engine running; a focused grab and dash to the ten-and-under line; pay cash; return to the car before the song on the radio is over. I feel like I have gotten away with something.
But that is not how Russian roulette is played.
I have the car keys in my hand. I call upstairs to my wife, "Honey, I am going to the store real quick to grab some chips and a six pack."
"We need to get a few things," she calls back to me, "the list on the counter."
I should know better. They pick up poets for less.
The Grocery Gulag where I live is full of shoppers taken against their will. They shuffle down dozens of narrow aisles chained to over-sized shopping carts. Hope is drained from their faces. I am one of them.
I have a long list in my hand because my wife believes it is important that we stock up for the decade ahead. I stare bleakly at a high wall of cereal boxes that winds its way through the Gulag and down across northern China. I am looking for Kellog's Needle-in-a-Haystack Crunch with raisins.
Trudging behind my cart I sing to myself. Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree. I can't get the song out of my head. Perhaps because it is playing in the background.
Time passes. Days perhaps. There is no natural sunlight in the Gulag, only the wash of high intensity lights that hum. Near the bananas, there are shadows. I hold my cart steady.
I think shopping carts should come with headlights and air horns. And maybe some binoculars.
I am nearing the end of my list. On the reverse side I notice something I would never buy for myself. I don't know where to find it. There is no information desk in the Gulag. No one to help.
I start at the back of the store and methodically cross aisle by aisle looking at placards suspended high from the ceiling. Aisle 5B: motor oil, rice, canned vegetables, stationary. Aisle 17: bait and tackle, olive oil, cat food, detergent. Area 54: flying saucers, freeze-dried aliens. Arctic air from whirring refrigeration units chills my legs as I pass. I shiver. I don't know what is behind the frosted glass doors.
On a whim I head down an aisle that contains bread, spices, and shaving cream. I need to shave. I have been in the Gulag now for 43 years.
And there, looming before me, is what I am searching for. It is a wall of small, brightly colored boxes. It takes up three quarters of an aisle. A sign tells me I am in the right location. It says Feminine Products.
I look at my list again. The item is so . . . specific! I look up at the massive assortment of products in front of me and start to cry. Sometime in the Gulag, everyone cracks.
By chance an old woman shuffles by. She is dressed in a drab gray winter coat with a dark kerchief draped over her head. She offers to help. I am so grateful, I wrap my arms around her ankles and sob.
I show her the item on my list. She squints down the aisle with a knowing eye; then points upward, to the top shelf, to some small boxes well beyond our reach. "Just there." she says, and then shuffles away, disappearing from view past the beach towels and tuna fish.
I think shopping carts should come with step stools. Or maybe a forklift.
Here is something I know about the bottom shelf at a large, well-known supermarket chain: it is not very strong. Neither is the top shelf when it is used as, say, a handhold. Here is something else I know: it is easy to get service when you are lying on frozen tundra in aisle 97 under a mountain of tampons. Especially when it is announced over the public address system.
Ironically, I grab some ice cream last so it will not melt. My shopping cart is full, my list exhausted. Now is my chance to escape the Gulag. This is where Russian roulette comes in.
It works like this. There are six checkout lines. At any given time one chamber will be short. At the same moment, several additional shoppers will be ready to checkout.
I believe freedom is something worth fighting for. I look at the length of the lines, the number of items in the shopping carts already in queue, and how fast the checkout clerks' hands move. This is all done in a split second. Then I race to the chamber that will shoot me out of the Gulag the fastest.
There are others desperate to escape the Gulag too. Many others. And they play the game well; but not better.
How much do you think a fully loaded shopping cart weighs? You would be surprised. They can be pretty hard to stop. But they can be stopped. A large cash register resting behind a heavy steel endcap loaded with magazines will do it.
I think that shopping carts should be padded on the outside with old tires. And air bags should be standard.
I was surprised to learn that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are adopting a baby born in Siberia.
"You want I should use paper bag or plastic?" It is Olga with the frown and the fast hands. She hates the Gulag more than I do. There are windows at the checkout counter. It must be torture for her. Like seeing San Francisco from Alcatraz.
Olga is holding a box in her hand. It won't scan. "What this product?" She wants to know. I don't answer. I am a little embarrassed. She picks up a microphone and her voice echoes throughout the store. "Price check . . . Preparation H . . . counter 3". She is holding the box high in the air so that the price checkers who are busy rebuilding the magazine rack and tending to the head wounds suffered by the bitter runner up behind me can see.
"You have coupon?" asks Olga. "Can get two for one." The microphone is still on.
I am sweating now. I can smell freedom. As I am bagging someone calls my name. I try to hide my face, but it is too late. It is a parent I know from school. She waves to me. I wave back. I am holding a brightly colored box of feminine products in my hand.
"Debit or credit." says Olga, handing me a worn pen as a printer methodically spews out the long list of my crimes against the state. To leave the Gulag I must sign a confession.
Outside the sun is shining.
I think that shopping carts should come stocked with chips and beer. Just in case you forget to pick them up.
Dad In The Box is published every Tuesday on TheAlternativePress.com.