People used to warn me never to take the kids along when I go grocery shopping. Forget that, man. The warning I should heed is to never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. When I do, I come home with three bags of Doritos, two Slim Jims, a dozen Krispy Kremes, two pints of Ben & Jerry’s, beef jerky, smokehouse almonds, peanut brittle, and an emergency bag of Cheetos. And I’ve forgotten the gallon of milk I went there to buy.
I like taking my two kids shopping. It’s a huge opportunity for some undiluted education. When their mom’s not with us, I am the authority and font of all knowledge. In the produce aisle, I hold up a bag of baby carrots, which they love. “See these?” I say, “There’s a little guy in Argentina who takes regular carrots and sits at a grinding wheel all day, rounding off the ends so you spoiled American brats will feel like you’re eating candy.”
“Is it a union gig?” asks Rusty.
“No, smartass, you’ll make more money in prison.”
Moving along, we come to the rutabagas, turnips and parsnips. “See these?” I ask, pointing to the horrid, fleshy lumps. “They give them different names, but they’re all the same plant. And they grow ‘em in DIRT, you know.” The kids make appropriately disgusted faces.
As we approach the fruit, there’s the sound of thunder, and the misters come on, dousing all the green veggies. This is amazing to the kids, so they run over and put their hands in the spray.
“Pretty cool, huh?” I say. “When we get to the milk case, you hear cows mooing.”
“Coooooool!” they say in unison.
“And when you get to the eggs, you hear chickens clucking,” I continue. “But I’m kind of afraid to go down the toilet paper aisle.”
We move through the store, and I’m showered with a constant barrage of requests and observations from the kids: “Let’s get that wedding cake!” “Little Debbie!” “Mountain Dew! It’s on sale, dad!” “Look! That man only has one leg!” “Hey, there’s Kylie! Hi, Kylie! We got Mountain Dew!” “Dad, how come fat people buy so much ice cream?” “Can we have a donut?” “They have live lobsters, dad! How come they don’t have live chickens?” “What’s head cheese, dad?”
Now we’re on the soup aisle. Top Ramen is on sale, ten for a buck. “See this?” I point to all the different flavors of Top Ramen: Shrimp, Chicken, Beef, Oriental, Vegetable, and so on. “Guess what—it’s all the same flavor, kids. That’s right! They just put different color packages on ‘em to make you think you’re getting some variety.”
They’re starting to lose interest in my attempts at grocery store edification. While the kids methodically pull all the Campbell’s tomato soup cans out of the dispenser, I reminisce about my ramen days…
I wrote a cookbook once, “101 Ways to Cook Top Ramen.” Not exactly a best-seller, but there were some delicious recipes in there. Top Ramen Parmesan (ramen with parmesan cheese sprinkled on it); Top Ramen Mexicana (ramen with half a can of Rotel dumped in it); Top Ramen Southern Style (ramen with corn and lima beans dumped in it). You get the idea. I ate so much of that crap in college that, to this day, I can put exactly two cups of water in a saucepan without even using a measuring cup. A lot of the guys went the mac ‘n cheese route, but I found it rather pedestrian, and not nearly as flexible. Pacific Rim Top Ramen (ramen with a can of shrimp dumped in it). One time my roommate bought me a hamburger, and I paid him back with a case of Top Ramen. It fed him for a month. Cost three bucks.
I’m snapped out of my reverie by the sound of cans hitting the linoleum. Looks like we’re having tomato soup for lunch.
On to the cereal aisle. This is where the kids have authority, and they know it. “Hey, what about this Honeycomb?” I ask, holding up a large box. “It’s on sale.”
“We hate Honeycomb,” says my daughter, Speaker. She still has flecks of Honeycomb on her face from that morning’s breakfast. What she’s saying is code for “we already have the prize in that box.” I try to steer them toward something vaguely nutritional, but they invariably choose the movie tie-in cereal of the moment. This time it’s “Cars” cereal. It’s little car-shaped gumdrops, with marshmallow tires and checkered flags made of licorice.
Whatever. They’ll have a nutritious lunch to counteract this stuff. Top Ramen Southwestern (ramen with half a can of chili dumped in it).