Line starts here!

One man’s attempt at dating and purchasing groceries more efficiently

If you’ve ever been to a Trader Joe’s in New York City on a Monday you’ll know that by the time you get in the door and put your hands on a cart, the line for the register has wrapped around almost every aisle. And well, possibly, while you’re still on this line, while you’re still single and on this line, you’ll consider how inefficient the experience of free choice is.

Maybe you are not single. Maybe you are with someone right this very moment, alternately reading every other word to each other, like people who are not-single do. Maybe your partner trusts and treats you lovingly, but you may still agree, that being single in Trader Joe’s is an obvious disadvantage.

Sure you can try and make flirtatious conversation with a stranger hovering over wastefully open freezers while picking out frozen burrito packages, but grocery aisle flattery based on your judgment of what produce she’s put in her cart will only get you odd looks and a shallow — hungry, feeling of rejection.

Couples – also referred to as doubles – have a benefit while shopping. Partnering up can literally duplicate your effort, even if the two of you have mapped out your shopping plan poorly. One double gets the cart, while the other starts shopping. You end up on line, while your equally partnered other collects the bread and the hummus with the unequally proportioned jalapeno cilantro pesto blot in the center. You save her spot in line, or she saves a spot for you, as you collect items and hurry back, so as to confirm to your double, and all other singles in line behind you, how being in a relationship DOES have its perks in the grocery aisle.

I find this process inefficient not only because I do not end up flirting with the young woman standing in line next to me, the jalapeno hummus in her cart an obvious entry into our commonality, but also because I am suddenly on the getting-a-spot-in-line losing end.

I’m thinking, what if everything we needed was on a conveyor belt, and all we had to do was walk along (on our path to the register), selecting the items we needed, not from a bin with a ton of onions, but one onion rolling along the belt, next to a plastic box of organic cherry tomatoes and a Styrofoam — cardboard carton of Baby-Bella Mushrooms – timed (not packaged), perfectly!

The items on the shelf are, for the most part, just the basic necessities, and anyhow if you shop there week after week you’re probably going to select the same few items. So, what difference does the choice in which onion or which exact plastic box of organic cherry tomatoes really make? Just taking the items as they come at you should be enough?

I consider this while not talking to attractive jalapeno hummus gal, and it makes me happy to know that what we think of as freedom is really just a view within another bucket of limited choice.

It’s as if, convinced of our free-will, we walk around picking items from a pre-advertised set of possibilities. Our free choice is just a systematic pick based on all the other systematic picks we’ve made along the conveyor path of life, at the end of which you end up with a little brown cardboard pack of mushrooms that is practically the same as all the other cardboard packs of mushrooms in the bin, except this one pack seems like the really best one for you (everyone else got the sucky mushrooms).

When really it’s just that you think you were the one to choose this particular box, but in fact it more likely chose you, (what about the boxes of mushrooms chosen before you came along? Timing seems as valuable a product here as choice).

There’s something special to having free will and then identifying with your own decisions. I went to college, decided on a major (based on previous choices and who I had already become). I formed myself into the person I wanted to be. Eventually a young woman came along, our legs unintentionally touching on her dorm room bed. I thought I had made a choice, somewhere along that line, as to who I would be. I thought I had made a choice determining that this woman was the kind that would want to share and defend her life with mine. But really she was just in my vicinity, the college, our grocery store, the bed, the conveyor path coming at me.

I am an individual just like everyone else, but my individuality is only experienced by me. Therefore, what I think of as my choice, is just another form of universal experience —

— only experienced by me.

It’s the night before I leave to Paris, a trip we had once planned on taking together. I have a deep pulsing consciousness beating through me, as if I have my whole life ahead of me; as if great change were rushing at me. I am not responsible for the outcome of someone else’s life. I have only myself and my life goals to answer to. And for some reason this pleasure of being me is so overwhelming, that it causes me to reach back to what I used to trust and know, it causes me to question how we could have ever chosen to deny ourselves by breaking up, and then approve of each other by silently staying broken-up – this deeply.

I can remain listening to what my inner core tells me. I can choose at every single moment how to feel. I know how to live selfishly. But does that change the result of the choices we made? Did we not already take that box out of the bin, open it up, eat its fresh young mushroomy flesh, and then return it, silently and single, to the fridge?

I like this idea, knowing something has made an impact. That, that itself will allow me to experience life as only I could. It’s kind of like walking into Trader Joes, trying to get your hands on a cart, knowing others have walked there before you, knowing even your choices are half fate, but choosing your items as they come at you, timed perfectly on a belt, rolling, at you, as you make your way to ‘pay’ at the end of the line.

"Register 31! Sir, to the left. Sir, you’re up, follow the signs to register 31, behind the column." Where when you look up, the young jalapeno hummus gal is being turned the other way.