Thursday, June 5, 2008

Day one hundred and fifty seven ... Game on.

My aunt just sent me for some ice cream.

Yeah, I know. It sounds like a bad idea, and I would normally agree with you on that one.

I mean, she knows I've started this new challenge of losing weight, and for all intents and purposes it's like sending me out for a pint of vodka.

But, it's okay, because she sent me for mint chocolate chip ice cream--one of my most hated foods.

I also don't like peanut butter baked in with my cookies (the heat ruins the integrity of the pb).

I'm kind of weird that way.

I just don't think they go together. Mint is fine for gum and spring rolls, just keep it away from my sweet, creamy ice cream if you don't mind. Ever wonder why you never see mint-chocolate milk? Because it's an awful idea.

So, going to the store to buy it wasn't a problem.

What was a problem wouldn't make itself known until after I had the ice cream safely in the little carry-basket, which brings up a minor detail.

I have been trying to take my new perspective on life without vices, and apply it to other facets that need work.

I deny myself the weirdest things.

I almost always deny the idea that I will, by the end of my shopping, have a need for a carry basket. I don't know where this stubbornness originates. It's not vanity. I don't think I look any less fly with a little convertible picnic basket hanging off my wrist. Girls like guys that like to shop, right?

I don't think I'm saving myself time. It doesn't take long to stop and grab one, as they keep them right near the door. 

But, last week, as I was tip-toeing ever so carefully towards the Wal Mart checkout counter, securing with my chin the batteries I had come in for which were perched on top of the roll of paper towels that was keeping the windex spray-bottle from springing free from off of the bag of pretzels which was on sale that I had found next to the peanut butter which was mercilessly pinned between my jackknifed elbow and my side, and the greeter, who had just put the Poland Spring gallon of water's plastic handle back under the straining curled fingers of my left hand looked at me with big, bovine eyes and said ...

"... you know Mr. ... we have little baskets near the door for you could use for all your stuff ..."

It was then that I realized I may have a problem.

So, as I was saying, I had my aunt's mint chocolate chip ice cream safely in the little Stop and Shop carry-basket when it happened.

Now, I like to shop as I've pointed out. But one of the perks of shopping at a certain time is, of course, free samples.

There is a whole ritual and etiquette system when it comes to samples.

There are two kind of samples: easy-give, and tough-give.

Easy-give samples usually entail not too much in the way of responsibilities on either end: sampler or provider. The provider cuts some food up, puts it on a plate, and includes a cup of toothpicks if necessary. If you're lucky, there will be a trash can for the used toothpicks. I say, if you're lucky, because I suspect it to be a common tactic for supermarket workers to purposely neglect providing a receptacle for trash. It is in this way that they can stand behind the two-way mirrors and laugh, and slap their knees, while watching a poor slob like me looking around for a waste basket, and, after not finding one, slipping the used toothpick in his pocket and reluctantly moving on to do the rest of his shopping.

The kicker is when, at the checkout counter, the hapless sampler thrusts his hand into his pocket to find the thirty five cents needed to complete the order, subsequently jamming one of his fingers with a formerly food-covered toothpick.


And, in the pocket it stays, as that moment is not a good time to explain how it all happened in the first place. You just want out.

Tough-give samples, on the other hand, almost always involve a dance of deceit. One rarely, if ever, ends up buying the product that is clearly available for free, right in front of them. This is one of the oldest forms of benevolent duplicity. Thus, the dance of deceit. This dance is most often performed with a store worker, although sometimes it involves a costumed employee of the sample's company of origin.

And, while tough-give samples often involve more in the way of social graces and strategy, the pay off can be well worth the work. Our target may be hot, or it may be cold, but if you need a clerk to stand there and provide care for it, you know it's going to be something special.

This is my technique:

The approach is key. After spying the opportunity for free victuals, step no closer than ten feet away. Then, survey the area and assess what risks are involved: how many people are at the table; is it a standard supermarket worker or a uniformed third party vendor, etc. If there is nobody holding the purveyor's attention, and s/he attempts to make eye contact, immediately disconnect and look away, feigning indifference by staring at, picking up, and scrutinizing whatever item is closest to you.

... wow ... I had no idea that kalamata olives were so low in sugar ... 

This is sample foreplay. Do not discount this part of the hunt. The foreplay is sometimes as important as the catch.

Then, as one or more sample-conscious seagulls land in front of the makeshift counter, the approach is made for real. You step up and stand to the side or behind the person in front of you (never directly in the center as you may be sandwiched and caught in the sample-purveyor-sampler vortex). 

As you pick up the largest, most evenly prepared tough-give sample, you must admire it for no less than five seconds, essentially seducing it off of the table with your intent. I cannot stress enough that you must never allow your glance to drift away from said sample. Then, holding it in your hand, if it is in a plastic cup, twirl a half-turn. If it is between pieces of bread, hold it at a forty degree angle to the light and smile.

Then, and only then, should you pop it in your mouth and close your eyes.

Now, smile and raise your eyebrows--not too high to exude desperation, but not too low to connote ungraciousness.

The catch is snared but the deal is not complete.

As you open your eyes, you will notice the purveyor staring at you. This is not the time to make eye contact. Make absolutely certain to refrain from locking paths of vision.

Now is the time we reassure. In this way we lay a foundation. For if our tactic works, we may be lucky enough to enjoy a second sample, free from scrutiny.

Either pick up, or admire the packaging from the aforementioned sample. It is usually next to, or in front of the tray of items. This is expected as it implies you might actually be interested in buying more of the product than what you have just experienced. As we all know, this is rarely the case.

As you fake-finish reading a passage on either the cooking instructions, or list of ingredients, slowly let your eyes drift up and finally, decidedly lock with the purveyor. As you finish chewing and swallow the sample (assuming it isn't awful) it is now time to smile, and with eyebrows raised, and in a lilting tone, say simply ...

" ... that was really good. Thank you."

Finally, put the bag or box of potential product back on the counter and walk on.

The dance is done, both parties are satisfied, and it is time to let others begin the beguine.

And after all that, it ended up being a plate of easy-give samples with which I met my first new challenge.

Cherry turnovers: public enemy #1.

There must have been fifteen of them cut up, stuck with a toothpick each, and sitting on a plate at one end of the bakery section. They looked good. They looked fresh. And I felt my cautious stride turn into a gallop as I approached.

I stepped up to the plate, reflexively extended my hand, and stopped.

I looked at my belly, then at the helpless, eager turnovers. I thrummed my fingers on the counter, made a tight fist and stepped slowly, begrudgingly away.

As I looked back I made sure to check to see if my theory was right. To see if the act of supermarket/customer subversion that I encounter so often extended to this South-coast market.

And sure enough, as predicted, there wasn't a waste basket in sight.

I brought my aunt's ice cream home and put it in the freezer.

I fired up the treadmill and put on the news.

This game is definitely on.

Thanks for reading.


PS: Some may think this a frivolous and whimsical post. However, this is how I conceptualize my food problems. I elevate the rituals of gathering and consumption to mythical proportions, much like I did with controlled substances. But, as I dealt with (and continue to deal with) those problems using humor, honesty, and humility, I plan also to do so with food, in hopes to maintain a healthy and productive life. 

Thanks in advance for sticking with me.


Anonymous said...

You are a fabulous writer! I am consistently moved, both to laughter and tears, when I read your Blog. I choose today to post my comment because of your P.S.; I wanted to let you know that you don't have to offer any apologies or explanations-- unless you want to of course... although with all that you are doing to improve yourself, It would suck if anticipating peoples reactions got in the way.....

F. Alex Johnson said...

Dear Anonymous,

I vow to you and to myself to never let my perception of people's reactions interfere with my process. I merely was adding that so my readers may understand that, while I sometimes use ostensibly farcical analogies, the intent remains sincere. As some of us know, weight loss is a heavy subject indeed.

Thanks for your comment,