To Market, to Market


LISL AUF DER HEIDEwas born in Vienna, came to San Francisco at age sixteen, and now lives with her husband and three children in Altadena, California.

I LOVE supermarkets, honest I do. How I used to enjoy the leisurely stroll through inviting aisles as I gradually filled my cart! But then the market acquired more and more gadgets to make customers happy, and my shopping trips began to go like this: —

Before I am allowed out of the car I have to shell out pennies, nickels, and dimes and the children head for the horses, rocket ships, and merrygo-rounds. Since the rides last all of forty seconds, they are inside before the door has closed behind me. Invitingly near the entrance are rows of candy and gum dispensers. For one penny they spill one handful (infant size) all over the floor, and that does keep the little ones occupied a few moments.

We then go through the turnstile (one argument, one bumped head) and select our cart. These carts are cunningly designed to contain your child as well as the groceries, and I do see children quietly riding in their little seats. But my children either skipped that stage or (I don’t want to believe that) they never reached it. There was a period, it is true (I think it was the seventeen days between the time he crawled and walked), when Mark consented to ride the cart. But he persistently tasted every single item I bought, from soap to nuts. After that he insisted on wheeling the wagon by himself, and since he couldn’t see over or through the groceries, he found the shoppers he ran into highly intolerant. So then he settled down to just helping me.

Whereas all innocuous objects, such as canned and boxed dog-food, paper napkins, soaps, and so forth, are on the top shelves, cookies, candy, dye, ketchup, ink, and liquid fertilizer are within easy reach of small, helpful hands. One can’t blame a four-yearold for reaching toward the red, shiny, slippery jar of beets — one can only jump aside. Made it!

And I had never realized how cleverly balanced those gleaming mountains of fruit are, till Mark pulled an apple out of the bottom row. This principle works on stacks of cans, boxes, jars, and bottles, too, and we can prove it.

But we are only half through. Near the meat counter is the drinking fountain, the sight of which invariably moves the parched lips of all children under three feet tall to whisper “I wanna drinkowater!”

No satisfactory method has been found to dale for lifting the child, holding him steady, and putting even pressure on the control button simultaneously. Sometimes the child insists on doing the pressing “by myself" and then we all go home and change.

And right there while we are so handy, they have stationed one of several ingenious lures: —

1. A man who will give away one of something if you will buy two of same, and of course you already have three at home.

2. A lady who is pouring very synthetic punch into thimblesized cups. On closer acquaintance the punch proves to be very sticky and to stain better than dye.

3. A girl who is handing out liny pieces of cheese speared on toothpicks. (Mark hates cheese, and I tried to tell him he wouldn’t like it. The look on his face as he returned the halfchewed portion lost every sale in the vicinity.)

4. An automatic pig with red, glowing eyes and an electronic voice in its belly that gives speeches about the beauties of pork products. It takes amazingly little electronic knowledge to put him on the blink. Any fouryear-old can do it.

The expansion of supermarkets to include such items as boxes of pins (oh thousands and thousands of pins), packages of bird seed, tubes of toothpaste (do you know how many feet of paste each tube contains?), cages full of birds (their wings are not clipped), canisters full of golf balls, and other rolling, flying, breaking, and elusive objects, has opened vistas of hitherto unforeseen hazards.

But at last I have seen the light. Lately our shopping trips go like this: With bribes clutched in their eager fists I line up the small fry and instruct them to disband. Under no circumstances, short of matters of life or death, are they to be seen with or near me, or to let it be known that they are even slightly acquainted with me or related to me or in any way associated with any part of me.

So now, when I leisurely stroll through the aisles, choosing and rejecting, and hear the distant rumble of cans, the thumping of stampeding apples, or the crash of glass, Mrs. Brown and I look at each other other two are somewhere around), say “Tsk, tsk,”and march peacefully on. And sure enough, there goes the manager shaking water out of his hair, Guess (Mark got his drink all right!