My Depression, and the Grocery Stores that Cause It

A democracy is only as strong as its people are smart.

And that’s why grocery shopping depresses me.

You see, Staci hands me a big list every Sunday and I go and get the things on the list.  I view it as a scavenger hunt, so that part’s not depressing.

The depressing part is the checkout stand.

I don’t know much about retail, but I know that the area immediately adjacent to the register is the most valuable real estate in the store, because that is where people make their impulse buys.  So stores need to fill it with stuff that is sure to sell.

So each week I stare at that space.

And that’s where I get sad.

Because what people are buying is telling them the following:

Jessica Simpson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown because something ate her poodle.

George W. Bush is suicidal.

Whitney is exploding at Oprah.

And a photographer hid in the bushes to catch a dying Patrick Swayze as he left the hospital for the last time.

And those were just the periodicals.

On the right of me was all the food that has caused our current health care crisis.

So the things that sell best are the things that make us fat and the things that make us stupid.

The day I’ll be optimistic will be the day that there are impulse apples on the left of me, and F. Scott Fitzgerald books on the right of me.

Until then, we’ll get the government we deserve.

45 thoughts on “My Depression, and the Grocery Stores that Cause It

  1. I started getting depressed when the local store stopped the only science magazine they had. At least National Geographic is still going strong.

  2. The point has been made before. But oh, what a spectacular way to make it.

    *Waves pom-poms yelling “Go Stephen Pastis, Go!”

  3. Actually, I think it’s largely the opposite. The thing you’re most likely to buy in a grocery store is probably milk — which in my experience is almost always at the far back of the store, so you’ll have to go through the entire store, seeing all sorts of things that you might not have thought about buying until you saw it. The impulse buy section is the stuff that nobody comes there to buy, so they’re up front where waiting in line creates boredom and the opportunity to talk yourself into buying something you don’t actually need or want. It’s the stuff that needs help to sell (hence the usual placement of clearance items near the checkout), and the stuff that’s so minor that you’d never think about it unless you were forcibly put next to it.

  4. You forgot to mention all the stuff people changed their mind about and they try shoving in the displays to hide it. It’s because they’re too rude and stupid to just give it to the cashier and say “I don’t want this anymore” – instead they would rather shove $40 worth of fish in the battery display so it can get warm and have to be thrown out.

  5. I just think of that section as the place where they put the stuff that can’t go anywhere else. And where you read the titles guiltily while pretending you are not.

  6. I just finished giving a lecture on Diabetes to my Nursing students. One of the stories I interjected in the lecture was about a 14 year old dying from complications of untreated diabetes. Went to buy stuff for a salad at lunch and saw the ginormous display of Halloween candy close to the checkout counter. It really bothers me…

  7. Huzzah, Mr. Pastis, well said! (I would totally groove on a store that had Fitzgerald books by the check stand!)

  8. This is where you bring copies of your Pearls books and leave them there near the checkout. That’ll make you happy.

  9. In that same area at my grocery store there is also an area for the THINGS YOU MUST HAVE…an eye glass repair kit…OK that is something to have but the can of Mace and and the disposable camera, and well it is just a sad commentary on what we NEED to have…that we almost forgot to buy

  10. I always thought they put the candy and chocolate bars close to the register so they would be harder to steal! At least, that’s what I always figured during my teen years. Damn those grocery store security cameras!!

  11. And that is why I much prefer to shop at my local Earth Fare, no trashy magazines at the check out, instead they have stuff like the Utne Reader & Cooking Light, and fairly healthy snacks like power bars and, dare I say it, occasionally fresh fruit. If only Wally World would take a lesson from them things would be so much different in this country.

  12. A simple solution, change which grocery store you shop at. Healthy grocery stores usually have intelligent magazines at the check out and not one high fructose corn syrup based candy in sight. Shopping at your current grocery store is only supporting the things you despise.

  13. As an employee at a grocery store, I always love the tons of processed crap that people buy along with diet pop. The American diet is depressing.

  14. I figured it’s because working at a grocery store isn’t the most glamorous or rewarding job, so the employees (managers included) need some way of making their jobs interesting or maybe even getting back at the annoying customers. So they shove candy by the checkout so they can sit back and watch a bunch of little bastards scream and cry from their shopping cart seat, reaching over the sides for the candy, until their mommies lose it and either throw the candy at the conveyor and yell a lot or slap the brat in public. Either way, the checkout girl chuckles a little and her day just got a tiny bit brighter. Of course, I could be totally off-base.

  15. “A democracy is only as strong as its people are smart.”

    This sentence is correct as it stands. The sentence is making a comparison between a the strength of the democracy and the intelligence of the people served by said gov’t. To say “as strong as it has people are smart” would make no sense.

    I’m a grammar maven as much as the next geek, but can we set aside the linguistic debates and focus on the merits of Stephan’s post? Which is to say, that Staci is a clever woman! How does she get her husband to DO all those things?!

  16. Grammar geeks HATE when they find typos in their posts about grammar. The phrase “between a the strength” should not have an “a” in it. *sigh*

  17. There are impulse bananas at the checkout of my usual grocery store, and the true about Michael Jackson’s death.

    It’s not like you could find British Medical Journal or the Economist at healthy groceries store. They offer other kinds of stupid. (Like anti-vaccination with Jenny McCarthy, lose weight with chiropractor, downward-dog pose can get rid of toxins, ear candling…)

  18. I’m depressed that as simple a grammatical structure as it’s vs. its can be considered sticky. Bring on the impulse-buy novels to help restore our collective grammar.

  19. But mint gum and tic tacs are my saviors from bad breathe. What would they be doing in such a horrible place?

  20. The Walgreens is even weirder. Energy drinks and appetite reducing sprays and other strange stuff.

  21. It’s not always so depressing.

    If you look at the numbers for heart attacks and strokes, I always take comfort in the fact that the people eating all the junk food are the ones taking up my share of the statistics…

    And we should be thanking them, really – when they kill themselves off early, the state doesn’t have to spend lots of money looking after them in their old age.

  22. You know I never thought of the checkout line as depressing but then agan I never saw the displays the way you do. I rarely look at them cause I don’t care for magazines and I’m not big on sweets (except gum but I go for Stride and Trident). I don’t know whether to thank for the eye opener or to cry at the tragedy. I guess we’re not such an advanced race after all.

  23. that’s why i like self-checkout. no junk mags/food and no surly cashiers sneering at my cloth grocery bags.

  24. >>>I started getting depressed when the local store stopped
    >>>the only science magazine they had.

    I was in a Border’s last month, and noticed the “Science” section and the “Vampire Novels” section were the same size.

  25. RE:RE: “It’s” vs. “its”
    Mr. Pastis was correct.

    Actually, Mr. Pastis was correct on his second attempt. He edited out the error without leaving a note.

  26. My Ralph’s has a policy of covering the racier copies of Cosmopolitan with a sheet of cardboard, but felt no responsibility to do the same for Patrick Swayze. Guess protecting cleavage is one tier higher than preserving the dignity of the dying.
    Look around a little. Some of the smaller, healthier chains have no tabloids in their magazine racks and no Big Grab Cheetos bags, either.
    I come from the era when there were ash trays in the aisles of Safeway, so I know things can change.

  27. I guess this should be no surprise. We feel more outrage at certain entertainment figures than our own elected representatives. If you think the grocery store is depressing, try working at a fast food outfit. Some people can’t even be bothered to read the menu board and request the correct soda that is carried by the outfit. Not to mention the self absorbed patrons that are chatting away on their cell phones while waiting at the speaker. It’s a country in decline for sure. No matter how much we want it to change, it’s a natural part of any country that has stood at the peak of the mountain.

  28. I haven’t shopped at a regular grocery store in ages. I get my vegetables from a CSA (Tierra Vegetabels), my meat from a butcher (Willowside Meats), and the incidentals from the local market (Community Market, Olivers, or Pacifica) or Trader Joe’s.

    The rare times I go into Safeway, I want to stab myself in the head.

  29. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

    Thank you, Mr. Pastis.

  30. We live in a small, rural farming town. So our choices in food included a Super Walmart in the next city (very depressing), a small town grocery store which I usually shop at or our grain/corn/vegetable fields or our gardens (my favorite). But our small grocery store does have a section with books and magazines. Most of the books are bodice busters, westerans, or Tom Clancy. And the magazines are either sports, cars or about horses/westeran living. Or old lady magazines (knitting, Dolie Monthly, Red Book, etc). Or inspirtational (which I find not very inspirtational). Very depressing indeed.
    Farmers Markets are the best places here to get food without a bare-chested man staring at me from the magazine rack with the title “Rocking the Ship”. Or learning Jessica is depressed because a coyote ate her dog. Or she wore those unfortunate jeans one time.

  31. Life would be so much easier with out all of them there people wouldn’t it?

  32. Don’t really want to live in a world where the government tells me what to buy in the checkout line.

    It’s the beauty of personal liberty, we get to make our own choices, even the “stupid” ones.

  33. with all your blog has, musing about grocery store lines, check out girls, etc- I wonder why this stuff doesn’t show up in Pearls more often?

    ‘Cuz you think of some funny shit my friend.

    Charlie brown has that thinking wall- we (more you then me really) can make the grocery checkout strictly Pearl’s.

  34. Which is why you have to explain the Guard Duck Nixon reference in your treasury. That’s sad… I agree with you.

  35. That may be depressing, but worse still is the checkout TVs that tell you all the things you should have bought while you’re standing in line to pay for the stuff you actually needed. More noise competing with all the others. I never go back to stores that install them.

  36. I once saw a People magazine with the headline article “Stars Without Their Make-Up.” Their headline article. And a lot of people were buying it. Sad, isn’t it? I wanted to cry.

  37. I’m a little confused by someone who feels we should have F. Scott Fitzgerald by the checkout, but derives his living and entertainment from little else except the interplay between his self created and/or labeld boors and morons.

    We shall get the society we ourselves create Mr. Pastis, what road are you leading us down?

  38. Pingback: Dragged to Walmart « The Mighty Squeaker

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