Basic Impulse

Autumn Sprinkles: I never stood a chance

I’m standing in line at the supermarket in Langhorne and I am wondering exactly how it is that my cart is filled with the items it’s filled with. I am already marveling at the array of goods. The line is relatively long and some genius has made it so that we stand in a tunnel of goods that A. I do not need and B. I am slowly rationalizing a need for.

The Impulse Buy Trait has long run in my family. My mom goes shopping sixteen times a week and has a talent for the most random of gifts, with a particular fondness for things which illuminate, golf shirts, and tech gadgets. And so I have an abundance of flashlights and dehumidifiers. On a trip to Naples, my dad bought roughly thirty items of clothing. We’d be walking on the street and we’d turn to address him only to find that he was no longer with us. Moments later he’d come out of a tailor with a shirt, a pair of pants. Once he bought a suit and a hat. Haberdashers all over Naples must have hung his picture up for the others to prey upon. He could have clothed Hobbiton with his purchases over those three days. For sixty years, he has made the fatal mistake of only shopping when he’s hungry, so when he returns from a supermarket the strata of baked sweets and bags of candy resemble what would happen if a stoned fifteen year old found $100 in a supermarket.

My sister and I both got the gene. My sister Amanda’s impulse G-spot is Amazon and she will often order something on her phone seconds after it’s brought up in conversation. During my month at home the front porch resembled Stonehenge with the daily delivery of boxes and packages. Books, DVDs, knickknacks, appliances, workout equipment. Her bedroom looks like the aftermath of an explosion at a mail order catalog distributor.

Stonehenge by Amazon (delivery in 2-3 business days)

I have the gene as well. I can’t be trusted to go into a store by myself. This is primarily concerning supermarkets, but I have been known to walk into a clothing shop and walk out with a shirt and some shoes. I walk into a supermarket for avocados and walk out with a nonstick pan and four lightbulbs (and no avocados). The Czech genius who started putting individual shots of booze in the checkout line is my Lex Luther.

My impulse tendency is magnified when I visit the states, mostly because I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the supermarkets. Yes, we can shake our heads and groan at wasteful, mindless American consumerism, but to step into an American supermarket is to walk into a gastronomical heaven. The cracker aisle alone makes a Czech shop look like a homeless man’s garage sale.

The truth is that while the Czechs absolutely kick the shit out of America in some areas – pubs, parks, and public transport come to mind – they don’t hold a candle to the U.S. in the area of shops and supermarkets. Czech shops emit a distinct feeling of incompleteness, or of some task forgotten by a person suffering ADHD. The aisles are rife with half-loaded boxes of shoes and other out-of-place tidbits that look as though there were incorrectly sent to a supermarket (tennis rackets and flippers), and were merely thrown in a box and tagged with a price by a quasi-opportunistic owner. Otherwise, one might walk through the aisles dodging half full crates of goods that were to be stocked, but never quite made it before the employee’s lunch break. You might be forced to push a crate of milk out-of-the-way to actually reach the milk on the shelves. Items are laid out in a way that suggests that the proprietor’s primary interest is in the development of your self-reliance and navigational skills. Goods and products are tucked into shelves among things that don’t match – whipped cream is housed next to hot sauce and bouillon cubes, beans are in the international section. The entire experience suggests that nobody really cares if the shoppers buy anything.

By contrast, an American supermarket is so extraordinarily well put together that it appears as though they were laid out by a person who studied “how to organize supermarkets so that people buy way more than they need” at university. And it wouldn’t surprise me a lick if that’s pretty much the case. Everything makes sense and is readily available. The vegetable platters are in close proximity to hummus and dressings, its potential mates. The candy aisle (a whole aisle!) is nearby the medicine aisle. The seasonal baked goods are within reach of the seasonal coffee flavors. The bakery is teeming with freshly baked bread and rolls, and they lure shoppers with a wafting scent from across the store. While you’re there you might as well order your meat needs just next door at the deli and then come back to retrieve them later. The whole experience is a thing of beauty.

It’s when stalking the impossibly long aisles of an American supermarket today, however, that I had the distinct feeling that the desires and wills of my id were being exploited. And my inner reasonable shopper was beaten and overtaken by my inner stoned fifteen year old. While a trip to the cereal aisle would normally result in healthy Grape Nuts or Cornflakes, I was earlier dazzled by the hundreds of colorful boxes of edible sugar cubes. Why yes, I could go for a bowl of Sugareenos, thank you! While bagging a few Kaiser buns for lunch, I easily rationalized a six-pack of cupcakes. The freezer aisle’s sojourn to grab frozen veggies took a side trip into four packs of Eggo’s waffles and three frozen pizzas. Before I even had a chance to remember that I was in the coffee aisle to get sensible Folger’s coffee, I was already carting a box of Fall Bourbon Roasted lattes and a pack of pumpkin spice doughnut muffins. I never stood a chance. I couldn’t even be angry, I was just impressed.

And now I stand in line, meditating in a way in order to not impulse buy something else. I wish to leave the store with a little remaining dignity. As it is, I’m going to have to explain a lot to my mom, who ninety minutes ago sent me to the store to get mixed vegetables and a box of coffee. I keep my gaze intent ahead of me, avoiding the candy and other bits and bots they’ve put here. I load my items on the conveyor belt and the girl smiles. She has seen this before, probably all the time. I am almost free. It’s then that I see it. A beautiful little bottle, something that would stand on a shelf at an archaic apothecary.

Autumn Sprinkles

They’re the colors associated with fall, brown and yellow and I can’t help but imagine how good they’ll be on ice cream in September. I think about how incomplete my chocolate chip cookies will be throughout the autumn without Autumn Sprinkles peppered on top. I can’t imagine my life without them. I resign myself to my fate, sigh, and flip them onto the conveyor belt. The girl smiles a sad smile, one that says, man, you almost made it. I smile a sad smile back, one that responds, lady, at least you don’t have individual shots, I have to drive.

  1. #1 by PJ on September 3, 2018 - 7:28 pm

    I can’t believe that you would buy frozen pizza when you are so close to Brother’s and Peppi’s. Tragic. The sprinkles are a no-brainer. Your ice cream would be ashamed to be seen without them.

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