I find shopping painful.

My wife would rephrase that. To her, I’m just a painful shopper. But confusticate it how you will, people spend years of their lives in crowded malls and checkout lines.  My wife and daughters call this fun. It isn’t fun, it’s a game of snakes and shadows, and to survive you must walk softly and carry a big debit card. A lobotomy would also ease the pain.

Shopping is a mission. To enter a mall is to declare war. Toilet paper and shampoo are hills to be conquered by direct frontal assault, but here I am stymied. Merchandisers cheat, using WMDs (weapons of mass diversion), more commonly known as “flyers.”

Driving home from the theatre, my better half announces we need milk. I pull into the corner gas station. “Not here,” she says. “It’s cheaper at the grocery store.”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw it in the flyer.”

On that shadowy evidence alone we spend $1.50 more in fuel to save $0.35 on four litres of cow juice.

With my blood pressure hitting 150 over 96, I go to the drugstore for meds. The clerk reads the label while I mash my pin number into the machine. “Blood pressure pills, eh? My 85-year-old mom takes these.” Oh, how the serpent strikes.

At the big box store I dutifully steer the shopping cart, maintaining the correct two-step distance behind my wife. Yes, there are rules for this.

We stop in front of the laundry detergent and the calculations begin. Box A is 15 per cent cheaper than Box B, but Box B is 10 per cent more concentrated. However, B is also five per cent smaller that A, and so…By now my head hurts.

To me it’s a wash; four chug-a-lugs work fine whenever I do the laundry (which happens less and less).

Suddenly a guy in a muscle shirt ripples past, pushing his cart with one hand while he grabs a random box of detergent with the other. He doesn’t even slow down. In less than two seconds his shopping is done and I’m in shock and awe.

Her mental math completed, my wife goes for Box C (there’s a mail-in rebate coupon inside). At the checkout I load the conveyer belt while she asks for a price check on pantyhose. Mr. Laundry Soap strides by and I race after him with an urgent request.

“Autograph? Sure, but why?”

“Your shopping technique,” I babble. “It’s amazing, it’s awesome…it’s…”

He leans closer and lowers his voice. “It’s called survival, buddy. My blood pressure was sky-high until I decided to shop on my terms.”

I gasped. “You mean…!”

“Yep.” He flexed a bronzed Gold Card. “Tore up my prescriptions, upped my limit and I haven’t looked back since.”

It was time to reclaim my turf and the hardware store was my ticket back. Sure, tools are an easy victory, but next week I’m hitting the flower shop.

Unfortunately they’ve hidden the weed killer and I’m forced to ask for assistance. Three gossiping staff members dare me to interrupt them, but I do. Suddenly the sweet thrill of victory floods my veins as I get what I want.

But when I search for two-inch nails, there’s only double-sided tape and glue. The hardware section has become craft central. Three pairs of eyes follow my frantic search, just daring me to interrupt them again. I realize my mistake; I’m the only customer in the store. A floundering fish surrounded by seagulls would get more sympathy.

There ought to be a rule: No (male) shopper gets left behind. Where’s Mr. Laundry Soap when you need him?

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