She just wanted a little something. Forty feet by six feet of lit, colorful options faced her, which would be? Her mind didn’t want to address something so trivial as an area problem.
A couple entered the aisle, apparently solving the same problem. They seemed to be approximately her age, that is, mid-fifties to mid-sixties and of similar economic status. They probably were enduring the same paradigm shift as her. It used to be that if you wanted ice cream, limited selections were available. Her mother bought Neapolitan because the three flavor choices satisfied almost everyone, although they would always end up with a carton of strawberry left. Later, they would buy vanilla ice cream and add toppings of nuts, cherries, syrups and whipped cream. Then they learned to make banana splits. All the while, her father would reminiscence about making ice cream with his grandparents, and his favorite, root beer floats. They made their own root beer, too.
She could follow such a simple route and buy vanilla. Even were she to make that choice of flavor, decisions remained about sugar-free, slow-churned, size, price and brand. Gluten-free and dairy-free ice cream was available. Ten variations of vanilla ice cream competed. America, land of the free and home of the ice cream.
This was not just ice cream. She walked down the aisle. The couple shadowed her. All of them stared at the choices like they were fine art in a museum. Frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbets and sherbets were offered. Rice Dream. Soy ice cream. Prices for them were ridiculous. Specials were available – two one-gallon containers were available for six dollars for club members – she was a club member – but she didn’t want a gallon, just a pint.
Her father would have had fits. “Gelato? Sorbet?” Yes, she was channeling her father. He would admonish, “What do you want? Decide what you want, Helena.” She’d thought she’d known what she’d wanted. She’d wanted to be an accountant when she was a young girl and had become a data scientist, even though she had a literature degree. She didn’t know data scientists existed when she was a child.
Straying into frozen fruit and yogurt bars, she smiled at the man — the closest shadow — and swapped places with him, to go the other way. Actually, she knew what she wanted. She either wanted a Stonyfield Merlot Blackberry sorbet or a Haagen Dazs sorbet, flavor to be determined. Neither were present.
Drat. That was the problem. She knew what she wanted but couldn’t attain it, the shortcoming of living in a small town. Safeway was one of three grocery stores. They generally had the same choices, as if they were in collusion.
An imagined scene arose. The three store managers sat in a small, windowless room, making agreements about what ice creams to offer and setting the prices. “Listen,” one said in her scene, “I’m putting the Blue Bunny on sale this week.” He put his pricing gun on the table. “Anyone have a problem with that?”
Did they still utilize pricing guns in this digital age?
She sighed. This was taking too long. Impulse streamed through her. The hell with fat, calories and health. Take one and go. It’s just ice cream.
Marching to one section, she found mint chocolate chip. The flavor almost always satisfied her. It was a gallon. She didn’t want a gallon but she would buy it for three dollars with her club card. She would eat some tonight and keep the rest or throw it out. The price was such a bargain, she could afford to bin it.
Selection in hand, she passed the couple. Holding a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, he complained about the price. The woman was staring at a wall of Breyer’s. There was one advantage to being single: no compromise or consensus was required.
The choice was hers, alone.