I typically do the grocery shopping in my family. I like it. It’s cathartic. It’s peaceful. It’s because I’m lazy. I don’t like to make lists of what I want because I don’t want to think about what I want. I want to figure it out as I go. I follow the list (more or less) that my wife is kind enough to make for me each week and then I buy food for myself based on my mood. Generally my mood tells me I want mustard. We have approximately, 362 containers of mustard in our cabinets and fridge as I type this. Most of them are different types of mustards but some are the same.
I like mustard.
I also like the bakery section. My gut tells me I like baked goods. The size of my waistline tells everyone else how much I like baked goods. There was a time, in my younger – leaner years, that I survived on bread alone. I would buy loaves of bread and that would be my meal. No cheese. No meat. No sauces (my mustard fascination hadn’t started yet). Just me and a loaf of bread. Though sometimes I would also eat fried rice. I really like fried rice. I was young then, just out of high school, and could eat only bread or fried rice or, on rare occasions, entire boxes of fish sticks in one sitting, without gaining any weight. I miss being young, though I don’t necessarily miss high school.
My 20 year high school reunion is coming up this summer. I was thinking about this as I wandered around the grocery store looking for new mustards to buy. I wondered about how different everyone would be and look after 20 years. I ruminated on this for quite some time. I know I’ve changed. I’m bald. I’m fifty-baked-goods pounds heavier. I have a family. I have responsibilities. There isn’t the pressure or desire to fit in to various…
The case of pastries at this particular store is astounding. I’ve wept on occasion while admiring the vast, tempting, selection.
Fruit tarts. There are rows of fruit tarts, each with a different piece of fruit on it; each with its own style. I like fruit tarts, I could see myself buying a fruit tart. It’s a safe choice. It’s simple but often overlooked due to its lack of pizzazz. Fruit tarts are good pastries, the kind of pastry you aren’t ashamed of buying. They don’t come with a sense of guilt (there is fruit involved after all). Keeping in mind the fruit tarts, I continue to scan the case until my eyes fall upon the eclairs.
Eclairs are a bit more exciting than fruit tarts. Chocolate. Cream. Light-airy pastry dough. Eclairs come with a bit more guilt; they are safe but not too safe – you can overdo it with eclairs. Still, even if you overdo it, people won’t judge you for it – they get it. I really like eclairs.
While I know that I can make a “can’t-really-go-wrong” choice with the tart or the eclair, it is the cake that seizes my attention. Not just any cake, but the rich, decadent quadruple chocolate five-layer cake with other chocolate stuff on it. You want to avoid it. You want to make the right choice. You want to devour it. You want to but you know you can’t. It’s too much. The first few tastes are amazing – you think, “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted!” Then the reality hits you – I can’t eat anymore. It’s too rich. Each bite is a downward spiral into misery and, eventually, leads to you throwing it away. “The waste!”, you think to yourself and, “I won’t buy that cake again! It’s just not what I thought it would be!”. And yet….
As I shift my gaze between the tart, the eclair and the chocolate cake. Back and forth. One and then the other and then the other. I weigh the pros and cons. I start to sweat.
If I buy the tart I’ll be accepted and I’ll generally enjoy myself. I won’t have to deal with the guilt, the questioning, the waste. Sure I’ll hear the snickers from someone watching my buy the tart, the snickers that say that I’m not cool enough to hang with the eclairs or (definitely not!) the chocolate cake. I’ll be made to feel bad about it, but I’ll be safe.
I can buy the eclairs and bring myself up a little bit on the pastry scale. The snickering will be reduced and I’ll feel better about myself because of it. I don’t like snickering. Yet, I hesitate because I know the eclair, while more accepted and appreciated than the tart, comes with some potential consequences. There is no fruit involved so I don’t have that to assuage my guilt. I will enjoy the eclair but I’ll wonder if I truly enjoy it or am I just saying that I enjoy it in order to increase the esteem that I’m held in by others. Still, the risk is most likely worth it, as long as I don’t fall into the trap of looking down on the tarts and remember to stop at just one. There is dignity to be had with the eclairs, though the chocolate cake people will still snicker at me.
The chocolate cake. The upper-echelon of the baked goods selection. Sure the eclair and tart people will laugh and make derogatory remarks about those that buy the chocolate cake, but it’s just because they are jealous. They aren’t bold enough to purchase the chocolate cake. They aren’t the type of people who understand what it’s like to eat the chocolate cake and enjoy the overwhelming richness of it. They are to be snickered at. Sneered at. Made fun of at all expense. For fun, the eclair and tart buyers should be pitted against each other for the chocolate cake buyer’s amusement. This is how life is to be lived! It’s true that, to other chocolate cake purchasers only (of course!), we will admit that the chocolate cake is way too much, way too rich, and that we don’t really like it but word of this must not be uttered to the purchasers of other pastries; reputations must be maintained! Yes, the chocolate cake looks good but do I want to be the one snickering, sneering? Do I want to make others feel bad for not being like me? Do I want to live with the guilt of pitting the other pastry buyers against one anot…?
“Excuse me.” I hear from behind me.
I step away from the pastry case and watch as a mother and her son request and receive a variety of pastries. Why choose just one? Why not enjoy what each has to offer without feeling bad or be made to feel bad for your choice? Why can’t they offer smaller pieces of the rich chocolate cake so that it be enjoyed without overwhelming?
As I walk away from the pastry case with a tart, eclair and a piece of chocolate cake I can’t help but be thankful for the fact that I’m not in high school anymore. The drama. The need to fit in. The cliques.
It’s good to be an adult.
It’s good to focus on the important things in life.
It’s good that I bought two more bottles of mustard.