Everything is complicated nowadays. Figuring out which remote is which for home entertainment. Weeding through junk sites on google before you find the one you actually searched for. Keeping track of internet applications for job searches. Using all the points you’ve racked up for all the different places you are a preferred customer, especially the travel ones. Remembering all your passwords (because you need one for everything) and whose birthday it is on Facebook. Getting customer service, period. And especially figuring out which products to buy because there are just too many choices. I just get tired sometimes.
Like the other night when I went to the grocery store for a few staples but left empty handed and exhausted because of all the decisions put in front of me and the lack of good old reliables.
I had stopped at a store after work to buy good old milk and bread, and was actually caught off guard with how difficult it became. Changes in shopping have been so gradual that I didn’t really notice along the way, but suddenly nothing seems familiar. When did every store require a key fob that gets lost in the middle of the other key fobs to rack up points towards the next visit? When did checking ourselves out become the norm and how come there’s never a manager around when you put something in the bagging area too soon and the computer voice starts nagging you? When did stores with milk and bread start carrying tires and furniture? When did grocery bags become so thin that they break before we even get them to the car? When did we require a sanitizing wipe for our cart before we were willing to touch it? When did we start needing an extra buck for charity whenever and wherever we pay?
Anyway, getting back to the other night. Since I went to the store for good old milk and bread, I started with the dairy aisle. The case, which took up half a wall, had fogged up glass doors so I had to open them to see my choices. I didn’t realize how long I stood there, practically in a trance, searching with the cold air pouring out on me until the hair on my arms stood up from the chill. Suffice it to say, it was awhile.
Almond milk, Light almond milk, Vanilla almond milk, No sugar added vanilla almond milk, Almond milk with protein and fiber, Soy milk, Light soy milk, Vanilla soy milk, Very vanilla soy milk, Chocolate soy milk, Light chocolate soy milk, Lactose free (offered in whole, skim, 2% and 1%), Good ole cows milk (also whole, skim, 2% and 1%), Coconut milk, Almond Coconut milk, Organic regular, Organic soy, Organic vanilla soy and more…
One cold shelf was empty and it must have been the one that held my brand since it’s now minimally stocked to make room for all the choices that have taken over. As I searched the chilly shelves for a sufficient substitute, my head began to spin with way too many “milks” to process after a long day at work and I realized I had to get away. It was just too much.
So I headed to the bread aisle thinking it had to be simpler. But, looking at twist tie loaf after loaf I once again became overwhelmed with options and decided to pass on this purchase too. White bread, White Wheat, Potato bread, Extra Fiber, Multigrain, 12 grain, 8 grain, Whole wheat, Lite, Cinnamon raisin, Thin sliced white, Thin sliced wheat, 40 calorie, Low carbohydrate, gluten free, ciabbata, pita, sourdough, rye, marble rye, bagels, bagel tops, tortillas, brick oven baked, hearth baked… and more…
OK, never mind the milk and bread. How about some orange juice and Cheerios instead? This, a clutch late night combination that works in a pinch. At least I could just grab them and go. Or so I thought, until I got to the OJ case and saw: Orange Juice with Extra pulp, Without pulp, From concentrate, Not from concentrate, Fresh squeezed, Extra vitamin C, Plus calcium, Plus calcium & Vitamin C, Low acid, Low sugar, Lite…
I remember groaning as I walked away, again empty handed, and decided to settle for eating cereal out of the box as my late night fix tonight. Before I even got to the cereal aisle (stores are so big nowadays that just getting from aisle to aisle is tiring in itself) I happened upon a sign near the cereal aisle, “Cheerios – Buy One Get One Free.” OK, I thought. Things are looking up. I would go find comfort after all with the familiar yellow box and head home. Or so I thought. I turned the corner and became dizzy from all the different varieties. Truly dizzy. Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, Yogurt Burst Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, Dulce de Leche, Protein and Frosted Cheerios… But nowhere in sight could I find regular.
Finally, surrendering, I realized that I was just too tired to buy anything. I took a moment to reflect on the days of old, realizing that being able to do so meant that I actually am old. So old that I remember when it was as simple as going to the store for mom to buy milk and bread, grabbing a gallon of whole milk, a loaf of wonder bread, and sometimes a Milky Way bar and being back on my bike in seconds flat. So old that I might just stay too tired to even get milk and bread anymore. So old that I believe it was better before we were given all these choices. So old that I think we are choosing ourselves into insanity. Even so old that I realize that the way it is now will be the good old days later for young people today.
And so, empty handed I headed towards the door. But when I saw the “grab and go” candy shelves and mini fridge by the register I decided to stop, as the marketing experts hoped I would, and grab a bag of M & M’s and a Coke and call it a day. But I swear, I almost started to cry when I saw how many types of M & M’s there were but not a plain bag of chocolate in sight. Peanut, Coconut, Peanut butter, Pretzel, Dark chocolate regular, Dark chocolate peanut, Almond, Mint, Cherry and hell, that’s not even all of them.
Forget it, I’d just get the Coke. But when the first things I saw in the small display were Cherry coke, Diet Coke, Coke zero and Coke caffeine free I simply gave up.
I practically ran out of that store without looking back, feeling somehow betrayed. But betrayed by what? Betrayed by my old reliables, my staples abandoning me. Betrayed because I am afraid that I will be left behind somehow as everything advances away from me. Betrayed by the lack of simplicity of things I counted on. Betrayed by the feeling of too much, too many and yet not enough which seems to me to be everywhere. Maybe tomorrow I will be ready for all of it, but not today.
As I drove out of the parking lot I stopped to allow a car to pass in front of me. On its’ rear bumper was a sticker that read: “Keep it Simple.” I just had to laugh. Keep it simple? But how??