Sunday, June 17, 2007

Life Lessons in Everyday Places

Supermarkets: A Good Place to Study People
By Carol Bogart

Being a journalist, I am, as you may know, a trained observer. Each week (or every other), my big outing, generally, is going to the grocery store. During these outings I've noticed something: who else is there shopping depends on the day of the week and time of day.

For example, I try to avoid Saturdays unless I'm in a mood to be social.

On Saturdays, harried parents with one to three kids in tow do their grocery shopping. Aisles are often crammed with carts designed to look like cars.

You will also find shoppers who don't understand supermarket etiquette, such as, no, it's not OK to park your cart squarely in the middle of the aisle while you bend over scrutinizing which of seven types of soup to buy.

This is called being an aisle hog.

Other shoppers don't like it.

The correct etiquette is, when you know you need a minute on a busy day, squeeze your cart flush to the shelving and load from the front, not the side.

This is called courtesy.

Anyway, if I'm in an all-the-time-in-the-world sort of mood, occasionally I shop on Saturdays on purpose just because I like people.

Shopping on Friday evenings is a favorite – provided I get to the store by 8:30 or 9. Not too many people shop on Friday night. You're in, you're out, you're done.

I try not to, however, shop on Fridays after 10 p.m.
Friday night, 10 p.m. or later, is when you're most likely to find unsavory characters roaming otherwise deserted aisles.

They may or may not have a cart.

And then there's the parking lot issue.

Studies show parking garages, public restrooms, elevators and parking lots are where you're most likely to encounter your local ax murderer.

One time when I was at the store I noticed a girl, maybe 7 or 8, by herself admiring the roses in the plant section next to produce. Just as I started scanning around looking for her parents, an irate dad came charging up and gave her a swat. She was startled, embarrassed and offended.

I was shocked. He'd slapped her hard on the back of her bare leg before even speaking to her.

As they turned to go, he loudly berated her for all the time he'd spent looking for her. I wondered whether he would tell her the story of Adam Walsh, son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh. Six-year-old Adam wandered away from his mother in a Florida store. His head was found floating in a canal.

I understood the father's worry, but not how he'd expressed it. The child's body language said it would be awhile before she forgave him that public humiliation.

A recent supermarket excursion brought me in contact with a young man who, the first time I noticed him, sort of scared me. I think maybe he has Tourettes. It's not that he spews profanities. He just sort of – barks. Off and on. Once in awhile. Not on purpose.

As I parked my car that Saturday (I was feeling sociable), I heard him barking while he collected carts.

Some time back I'd concluded he was harmless so just ignored him.

As I checked out, he was bagging.

The cashier asked me if I wanted help.

Since I'd loaded up on Purina-on-sale for Pumpkin, the world's fattest cat, and my arthritis was bothering me, I said, "Sure."
The young man followed where I pointed. With nary a bark, he loaded my groceries into my trunk and told me, "Have a nice day."

I looked up to thank him, and in his eyes, saw the sort of guile-free friendliness you often find in those with Down Syndrome.

After that, whenever I saw him, I stopped and talked with him a bit. If he made involuntary sounds, I heard them as reminders to not be so judgmental.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at and her articles at Contact her at

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