“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal
March 13, 2014
Myriad Choices send dad home empty-handed
Given the choice of grocery shopping or working, I’m lying on the couch right now with a legal pad and pencil, coffee by my side, and writing this column.
In the meantime, my wife is being faced with choices — paste or gel toothpaste, shampoo for body or curls or dryness, the small, medium or large jar of peanut butter, and round-top vs. whatever that other kind of bread is.
All of the choices make me crazy and indecisive, which is why I’m on the couch. It’s also why I’m given only limited access to Kroger. I can stand in front of 20 linear feet of lunch meat for a half-hour and leave empty-handed.
America is the land of choice. In this country, you can choose to be a surgeon or a house painter, a musician or CPA, Muslim or Catholic, live on the West Coast or East, write in cursive or print. The grocery store is like a tiny democracy with its myriad options and possibilities from the land of milk and butter, to the shores of poultry and pasta.
It is overwhelming. And more than our founding fathers, such choice is a testament to those who have chosen marketing as a profession. Ever since hometown hero Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly at 79 Jefferson in Downtown, putting the product at the fingertips of the customers, marketing geniuses have scrambled to help us choose which bottle of ketchup is better than the next (hint: They’re exactly the same inside; the only difference is which end you rest the bottle on — top or bottom).
When my kids were babies and up all night afflicted with mucous and fever, I would invariably be sent on a midnight errand to Walgreens for something liquid and pink and age-appropriate. I would invariably forget exactly what it was I’d been sent to retrieve. Those were long evenings spent reading the backs of bottles and boxes for anything that would trigger my memory.
I would return home with something purple and highly narcotic. Inundated with options, I’d chosen poorly. My wife and baby displeased with my choice, I spent the rest of those nights in a hazy fog of sleep brought on by whatever pediatric elixir I’d bought.
Could there be that much difference between this toothpaste and that? This bottle of shampoo with guava and that one with avocado? Probably not.
I have a brother-in-law who once refused to shop at a certain store because they carried only three types of grits. That’s not so far-fetched, though. One of the reasons we choose to live in the South is for its variety of grits.
It isn’t even limited to what goes into or on our bodies. Bathroom cleaners offer the same array of variances. Scrubbing bubbles or foam? Blue or clear? Pine scent or no scent at all? It makes no sense to me.
Packaging, pennies and peer pressure are what drives us at the store. I find the options silly most times, frustrating at others, yet it beats the alternative.
In Memphis these days, on any given weekend, we have a choice of sporting events, outdoor festivals, music shows and places to gather. These are options unavailable decades ago. Even if those choices confuse and confound, and I end up lying on this couch all weekend because I just can’t make up my mind, it’s nice that those choices exist.
And you really can’t go wrong with a Grizzlies or Tigers game, with dinner at Local Gastropub or Tsunami, a stroll around the Memphis Zoo or the Memphis Botanic Garden. The wrong choice there doesn’t carry the same weight as, say, a gel toothpaste when your wife specifically said paste.