When it comes to grocery shopping, there’s absolutely no limit to the things I can forget. Every week, I start with the best of intentions – detailed list in hand, reusable bags at the ready – but as soon as I pass through the automatic doors, all that planning drifts away like steam off a rotisserie chicken. I don’t know if I’m truly absentminded or just prone to distraction, but one thing is certain – my brain checks out long before I reach the register.
Over the years, I’ve forgotten to buy countless grocery items that were clearly written on my list. I’ve also bought plenty of duplicates of things that I forgot I already had at home. I’ve left several umbrellas in the bottom of my shopping cart. I’ve left bagged groceries at the register. Once, I even left my purse in the cart corral in the parking lot. A few weeks ago, I forgot about my deli order until I was halfway through the checkout line and had to sprint all the way across the store to retrieve it.
“It happens all the time, ma’am,” the clerk assured me. I wish I could believe that.
I also wish I could figure out what’s behind these alarming episodes of grocery amnesia. It’s the kind of thing that I would love to blame on Mommy Brain, but since my baby is entering fourth grade, I should probably start looking for another culprit. Could a refrigerant leak in the frozen foods section make me feel woozy enough to forget one item from a grocery list that’s only three items long? Could the intense challenge of navigating around end-aisle displays and stop-and-go shoppers cause me to buy everything I need for my chicken dinner except the chicken? Could the overwhelming array of choices in every product category account for my shocking inability to remember which kind of granola bars/toaster pastries/fruit snacks to buy?
Or is it just that a routine weekly activity, accompanied by a bland, lyric-free soundtrack, practically begs the mind to wander? When I pass right by the Goldfish crackers, chances are I’m thinking about a funny episode of a TV show instead of the nearly empty box in my pantry. When I reach for the watermelon Italian ice, my mind is probably on a new book I’m reading instead of the fact that no one likes that flavor. And when I somehow come home with hot dog buns – but, alas, no hot dogs – I’m undoubtedly focusing on an idea for a writing project instead of lunch.
It’s a special brand of escapism – a store brand, if you will – that seems harmless at first, but can have serious consequences. In the beginning, it’s a minor inconvenience. Then it becomes an increasingly maddening frustration. If left unchecked, it can rise to the level of an actual crime. Trust me – I know the pattern all too well.
On a recent outing at the grocery store near my house, I rolled into the self-checkout area and spotted a friend in the next lane. We started talking about vacation plans as I scanned and bagged my groceries. I loaded everything in my cart, and we continued talking as we walked together out to the parking lot.
That’s when a store employee came running outside, shouting, “Ma’am? MA’AM?!?” Was she talking to me? Apparently she was. My friend and I stopped and turned around. “Were you just in the self-checkout?” the clerk asked breathlessly. “Yes,” I replied, wondering what I had left behind this time.
“I think you forgot to pay,” she announced.
The only reason I’m not in jail right now is that it was obvious that I was way more into running my mouth than running off with my groceries. (Also, I had already scanned my customer loyalty card and positively identified myself.) How humiliating! I had no choice but to sheepishly follow the clerk back into the store and pay for my things.
She did NOT assure me that it happens all the time.
I’d say a radical change in my shopping state of mind is clearly indicated. No longer can I allow mundanity and Muzak to lull my brain into la-la land. I need to focus and concentrate on the task at hand if I have any hope of saving myself from constant aggravation, not to mention a criminal record. I’m going to have to do everything I can to stop forgetting things at the grocery store.
I just wonder how long it will take that clerk to forget about ME.