Commentary: You can find this domesticated American male hiding in aisle 7

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William Carter

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

OK, here it is (sigh). 

I have finally reached and accepted the conclusion that I am truly a domesticated American male. 

There. I said it. 

You’d think I would have caught on well before now, having been married almost 40 years. But like most men my age, I still secretly picture myself as a great adventurer and swashbuckler. With my rapidly declining, doughy dad-bod replaced with one of admirable pecs and six-pack abs, I’m just biding my time until I can hit the high seas to explore uncharted waters, or hack my way through some deep, dark jungle in search of cures for incurable diseases.   

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking all these years that pruning my rose bushes or making the bed every morning or binge-watching “The Great British Baking Show” with Love-Weasel could have prepared me for all of my future humanity-saving escapades, but what can I say? Such is the delusional mind of the domesticated American male. 

It’s not that there haven’t been clues of my inevitable domesticity hitting me full in the face all of this time. I should have figured it out many, many years ago when I found myself fighting five o’clock Friday afternoon traffic, all the way across town, back to the drive-through because my 3-year-old didn’t get a toy in his Happy Meal. Oh, yeah, I was in a minivan. And then came the time when I declared that only I was capable of cleaning the kitchen floor properly. Woe be unto the family member who steps upon my recently shined linoleum.   

But the great reality check came only a few weeks back when I found myself discussing, with great sincerity and intensity, the merits and drawbacks of different grocery stores around town with another old guy like myself.   

We talked about who doubled coupons and who didn’t. We compared bakeries and delis and who had the fastest checkout. For 30 minutes or more, we talked grocery stores and then both of us realized, simultaneously, what was happening.   

His face fell in dismay, and then mine, and then there was a moment of awkward silence. Then he coughed and, in a voice much deeper than just a moment before, asked me what I thought about the Titans’ chances in the playoffs.   

I mumbled a reply I thought made sense even though I had absolutely no idea football season was still going on. He nodded, sagely, as if I were a veteran commentator on ESPN and then left shortly thereafter, our parting stiff and uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure it’ll be awhile before we can look each other in the eye again. 

But there it was, the light of truth glaring down upon me (sigh). I am a domesticated American male and I go grocery shopping and kind of like it. 

It’s not that bad, really, though it is not as effortless for me as it seems to be for my Love-Weasel. She prepares for the grocery store as if going into battle, coupons filed by item, lists, a mental map of where everything is located.   

I, on the other hand, am the guy all marketing experts dream about. I fall prey to the bright and colorful packaging and the false advertising claims of new and improved. Alone in a grocery store with a debit card is not some place I should be.  

Oh, I can follow a list, but, somehow, three or four one-pound bags of M&M’s always seem to find their way into my cart, and, swear to God, as soon as I walk through the door, Little Debbies begin to call out to me from the far side of the store in sad, plaintive voices, eerily akin to the cries of abandoned puppies begging to be rescued from the animal shelter.   

And sometimes I buy weird-looking fruit because, well, it just looks weird. 

And I am still confused about some things. The self-checkout counter is a mystery to me. I always give it a try, but other shoppers seem to always gather around to laugh at me when I do. And just what, exactly, is the protocol concerning the tortuous experience of seeing someone you know in the store several times during one shopping trip? Are there rules? Are you expected to speak to each other again in front of the pasta when you just saw them in dairy?  

In the first aisle, you catch up on current events and the weather and the family’s well-being, and then in aisle 2 maybe a little more of the same. But then, in aisle 3, there’s always that very awkward “ha-ha, we have to stop meeting like this.” By aisle 7, I, at least, am experiencing a bone-deep anxiety of maybe having to see that person again and pretend I’m still interested in what they have to say and am giving serious thought to abandoning my cart; buy one get one Little Debbies be damned.   

At this point, the soundtrack from “Jaws” right before the shark attacks is always playing in my head. And then, inevitably — horribly — the acquaintance appears at the far end of the very same aisle you’re trying to hide. Then, in a moment of panic to avoid another excruciating social moment, you snatch a can of potted meat from the shelf and pretend an intense interest in what secrets the ingredients hold. From the corner of your eye, you see the person trying their best to avoid you, too, and watch them hurriedly veer away. Thank you. Thank you, Jesus. You breathe a sigh of relief. Also, you decide never, ever to eat potted meat. 

Those are only a few of the things I wonder about these days. And now with my new found freedom of acceptance, I can study them openly. I have to know. 

The domesticated American male won’t be denied.

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