Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Night Shopping - Primal Peace, Good Soundtrack

My mental powers are at their peak when I am pushing a shopping cart.

There's something primally satisfying about getting food. After all, for many years getting food was the prime objective of most humans. For some it still is. For those of us living in the post hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we don't know what to do with ourselves, so when we are getting food, regardless of how contrived our way of getting it is, it feels right.

I usually go shopping every week, and going to the grocery store for me gives a concentrated and euphoric dose of security and accomplishment, all without any of the actual struggle involved in getting the food. I know, I know, we all work hard to get money to buy the food, but we do stuff that doesn't have anything directly related to making food-getting happen. That's why the grocery store is so weird, because it gives us a feeling that we maybe aren't physiologically deserving of. Like crying over a TV show, or feeling safe because someone lied to you and told you that the tent that you just bought is bear-proof. It's B.S., but hey, whatever works.


Lately I have found myself being really attracted to the music they play at grocery stores. I know that you are probably thinking about how grocery stores are classic examples of social engineering, and how they are refined down to the smallest detail to monetize on the customers who visit. And yes, that is true, certainly. But let's just for a moment assume that this is not a bad thing. What other experience in your life is examined so scientifically, with your own sense of peace in mind? What other institutions so calculatedly play on attending to the unfulfilled primal desires of the human spirit? Besides football, TV, and video games?

When I walk through the store, my mind is filled with incredible, deep, powerful thoughts. Irony coexists with sincerity, confusion begets true understanding.

I always enjoyed the character Murray in Don DeLillo's White Noise because he is depicted as being really fascinated by grocery stores. I read this book for the second time two summers ago, and although I don't remember exactly what Murray liked so much about grocery stores, I feel that I strongly relate to his fascination with grocery stores. It's a good book. I like it. Whenever I sign up for the new social networking sites or whatever, I put that one down, because I really remember liking more than other fiction books.

Whenever I go to a new country, the first thing I want to check out is their grocery stores. I want to see how these people really live. I want to see what products they choose to buy, to see what they choose to define themselves, and how the manufacturers and consumers participate in a symbiotic cycle of consumption and production. One is dead without the other, but have they always really existed?

You know that cliché about how the alien from outer space goes "take me to your leader"? When I am an alien in another country, I just want to say "take me to your grocery stores." In a way it's kind of the same thing. Our grocery stores are public officials that have been elected by our dollars. They represent us, whether we like it or not. They were rightfully elected, and without us they could not exist.

Is it a surprise that Wal-Mart acts so much like the American government? The only people we can to blame for the success of this creation is ourselves.

But still, there is something so strangely weightless about being in a grocery store at night. There is something reassuring about knowing that you can get that feeling any time of the day. Whenever you want. Tonight is the first night of the year in my mind when the evening has brought a coolness to an otherwise warm day. There is no other feeling quite like walking into an American grocery store on a summer evening. To walk into that air conditioning, to feel the condensation on your skin go cold so suddenly, to smell the fresh peels on the bananas, and the smell of melon rind, everything is properly lit, it is so surreal, it's like walking on a cloud.

At night quiet people restock the shelves. They realize they are in your way, and move their stuff willingly.

The quest of the caveman was for so long to get food. We have transformed the act of getting food (what was once the very quest of human existence) into a streamlined sensory cush ride, and honestly, it feels pretty good. Perhaps that is why it is there that my thoughts take abstract turns to subjects usually suited for those who have the privilege of dreaming. And I don't mean dreaming like what happens when you sleep, but dreaming as in thinking of things that are on a higher plane that where you currently reside. Let me explain.

If you're reading this, you probably have some free time on your hands. No diss, it just means that you are afforded the luxury of being able to do exactly what you want. Not that reading this is exactly what you wish you could be doing at this moment, but you have the freedom to kick around the internet, check up on friends, find stuff that's interesting, whatever. Taken to the extreme, this can mean that you have the potential to dream, and to do something about that dream. I generally like to hang around creative people who do creative things, and so these people are in a sense dream-chasers. I would hope to include myself in this category. I think that I take the process of getting ideas, loving those ideas until they are lovable, and making them happen pretty seriously.

For me this sense of freedom to dream comes from having both the free time to devote to fostering ambition and the ability (and it is a privilege, I know) to not worry about my basic needs of food, shelter, emotional health, etc. I think this is why what happens at the grocery store is so strangely powerful - Although I rarely actually worry about my ability to get food, I think that going through the motions of procuring delicious products still does something powerful to me.

Freed of a completely unsubstantiated (yet biologically still present) primal fear of starvation, I feel like I am on top of the world, finally able to kick the mysteries of life around in my head. That freedom (combined with some REO Speedwagon on the speakers) makes for an incredible feeling.

P.S. I just realized that the blog entry before this was also about going to the store. Coincidence? Hardly!


sarah k. said...

Hola Miguel. Tienes que comprar algunas vegetales.

M. H. D. said...

Man, I knew someone would comment about that. I sprout my own greens now though! I promise.

Davor said...

Dude! Yes to everything! A++

Davor said...

Also, "Night Shopping" sounds like a Trans Am title.

Shannon said...

Thank you. Because for a while there, I was afraid that I was the only person on the planet who really enjoys going to the grocery store. Now, my fiance has Asperger's, and the store sends him into a blind panic that takes him several hours to recuperate from. But me -- I love the sense of accomplishment I get from, like you said, taking my hard earned money and bringing home some nourishing food for the family.

pieofthemonth said...

on my way to the 24 hour tesco's extra right now.
hoping to bring home some soured cream to eat with the plantains I found in London (nothing as ethnic as a plantain would ever be found in st andrews).

also. I am going to buy a broom. a broom for my new cottage.

pieofthemonth said...

ps. #1 best thing about grocery shopping in the UK is that 70's punk bands are like easy-listening retro-pop here, so while you shop you can listen to the classics like the clash, x-ray spex or the jam.
except last night at the 24-hour ASDA (part of the wal-mart family) they were playing fugazi.