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What My Supermarket Means to Me

By Lynn Schmeidler

Here I must avow with all truthfulness: Stop & Shop is the commercial correlative of the Homeric Sirens, the slick Dorian Gray of The New World Order, the buxom Playboy bunny of groceries. Every Stop & Shop opened on the Main Street of every Eastern seaboard suburb takes us one step closer to perpetual co-dependence, and every credit card swiped through its check-out line pushes true love three more months away. No, no, no, it’s not a food retailer or network of stores offering selection, quality and value, but a federally regulated rape of the innocent, a multibillion-dollar experiment in bait and switch. With its promise of satisfaction, it is a corporation dedicated to the manipulation of our desire to be understood, a distortion of our truest values shrink-wrapped and sold back to us. The betrayal is so well disguised it is nearly invisible, and yet I feel I must reveal it, for I have bought Charmin and Kraft and Nabisco there.

I can attest to the lure of its automatic doors, swishing eagerly open at the merest hint of my foot approaching. The vows of The Freshest Flowers disingenuously pronounced in factory-formed lettering over refrigerated shelves of potted lilies and thick stemmed tulips and stuffed bunnies reclining uncomfortably in the cold waiting for children to beg them into their arms. I too have been mesmerized by the pyramids of produce, waxed and shining in the overhead florescence, balls of yellow, orange and red calling beneath their pesticide perfection; the impossible choice of pre-packaged, triple washed, ready to serve salads whose differences are imperceptible save for a stray carrot strip or arid radish coin: Spring Mix, Boston Salad, Burgundy Blend, 5 Star Salad, Garden Salad, Baby Arugula Blend. I have stood before these wilting piles of greens in the vain hope of a decadent butter lettuce, or a serendipitous frisson of frissé.

Stop & Shop plays to our desire for something new and different, something to change the deadening drumbeat of the everyday: an unexpected display of French Style Crepe—pale discs of bleached flour and hydrogenated oil Ready to Use, for entrée or dessert, perfect every time in resealable zipper bags. And the strip-tease of the Natural Selections section beckoning with its naked, health-is-wealth, good-for-women, soybean reformulations of pseudo meat substitutes.
Entrée kits waiting to be devoured, if not with love, than with thanksgiving for their isoflavons and phyto-esters, for their light-life, low-cal, high protein, meat-free, smart-choice, low-fat, cholesterol-free, carb-fit simulations of chick’n and bac’n and steak-style cutlets and balls.

And the mothers who fill their carts with Lunchables—those obesity assuring, diabetes-inducing, concoctions of candy and pasteurized, processed cheese food and funny bagels that titillate the young with their free Disney characters—collect them all, and deceive with claims of a complete nutritious meal. Lunchables understand adolescent boys and their need for all-star hot dogs and weight-conscious girls and their weakness for reduced fat potato crisps. And who can resist the free music download, see offer on the back? Because it’s all so available and beautiful in its perfect availability.

Rejection is unheard of here: everything my heart desires resides inside these air-conditioned walls, because Stop & Shop is not just a store, it’s innumerable stores in one, as displayed on the signs hung from the insulation tiles like Don Juan’s tattoos of his lovers: Delicatessen, The Kitchen Shop, The Household Shop, The Pet Shop, The Seafood Shop, The Dairy Shop, The Bake Shop, Frozen Foods. There’s even a Carvel in a case with “Happy Birthday” prewritten in jellied goo on the white midriffs of the cakes. My every need is anticipated and will be gratified: My Little Pony toothpaste, One Drop all-purpose household deodorizer, endurance formula Gatorade in puce or electric blue, egg-shaped sidewalk chalk, paperbacks entitled Savage Lust.

From either side of the aisle the songs begin: the voices of the products on the shelves which know me all too well. The promises, the seductions--we’ll love you always, you’ll never find anything as good as us, we’ll make you happy. All that is American is here—the three-quarters of a ballfield sized aisle devoted to sugared, television-driven breakfast cereals; the family-sized bags of chips in low-sodium, fat-free, nacho and pizza and barbecue; the little red plastic boxes that protrude every few yards from the shelves, their blinking green lights sensing as I pass, producing just for me, a coupon for a product I had no idea I needed so much.


 

Lynn Schmeidler's nonfiction, fiction and poetry have appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies including Mid-American Review, Chelsea, River City, Room of One's Own, Mischief, Caprice and Other Poetic Strategies, and Lonely Planet's Rite of Passage. Lynn founded Westchester's Wild Geese Writers through which she teaches creative writing workshops.

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