Grocery Store Lurkers

It seems like you can’t get away from the person. Every aisle, every freezer case, every shelf of dog food…there’s that person again, and they need to stand precisely upon the square footage that you currently occupy. Well, until you move. You can’t shake them.

Has it happened to you? I thought it was just me. I figured I was overthinking coincidences, just being grumpy, or imagining it. But it isn’t just me. I’ve talked to other people who have also noticed a very unusual phenomenon. Shopping magnetism, or, something.

When I’m in the grocery store for my weekly shopping, almost every time, there is one person – and it can be male or female, but is usually female – who is like a shadow. A very close, lurking, stalking shadow. Looking at the same items I look at, picking up the same products. ‘Did I drop my grocery list and she picked it up thinking it is hers, and I have hers?’ I check. No.

Today, a gorgeous autumn day, I thought I’d buy some apples. I pushed my cart past the pumpkin pile to the end of the produce display where it was out of the way, unless someone wanted a gigantic bag of caramel apple sticks (but I didn’t need them, so no one did), got a bag, and returned to the beautiful apple display.There were at least seven types to choose from. I was selecting a few locally grown Jon-a-golds when my peripheral space-invader feelers alarmed: shopping cart within range! In my peripheral vision, I could see her. I nonchalantly turned a bit to glance at her. There she hovered. She didn’t meet my gaze, her face a bit drawn, hands white-knuckling her still-empty cart, lips beginning to purse, impatience setting in, cart edging forward, bit by bit, gaining in urgency. She needed locally grown Jon-a-gold apples and she needed them immediately!  The store surely is going to run out and there will be no more, ever. No! Cortland will not do. MacIntosh simply will not suffice.

Now, when you find yourself in this undesirable situation, it helps to strategize your path through the store in an opposing pattern to the Lurker. That is, as long as your Lurker isn’t adept in adapting to changing conditions. Mine was. While we passed each other from opposite directions down the first couple of aisles, she was deftly able to correct course and reappear in my wake by the time I hit the breakfast food aisle with only a fifteen inch margin of error. Well played.

I planned my next maneuver, that of skipping an aisle and doubling back. I’m an amateur compared to her. She outfoxed me and laid in wait until I retraced my steps and lo and behold, there she was, sidling up next to me, reaching across me at face level, nearly brushing my nose with her sleeve, her multiple bracelets jangling in front of my eyes, politely saying “Excuse me” in a desperate attempt to reach the only remaining bottle of Brooks ketchup after the one I had just chosen. I pulled my cart back and zoomed around her. Oh, it’s on now.

I’m glad that I have significant appendage dexterity, because I employed this to snatch items off the shelf without stopping my cart as often as possible. This necessitated an increase in speed for my Lurker as well. As I gained the advantage, she wasn’t able to long ponder the benefits of the various shapes of pasta secondary to my swiftness in plucking a box of rigatoni off the shelf without even slowing down, then frantically careening around the corner to the baking aisle.

This is where it got real. I needed several items: chocolate chips, oil, nonstick spray, AND five pounds of sugar. I was confident about the smaller items, but that bag of sugar was gonna drag my speed down. After checking for bystanders, I nimbly pushed the cart, allowing it to slowly roll unattended while I swooped down and successfully snagged not one, but two bags of sugar, having noted they were on sale, and well, the holidays are coming up.

By the time my grocery store excursion was about half over, I had honed my covert skill of not broadcasting my shopping intentions, although there are times when stopping is just unavoidable. I am marveling that this woman, my food and sundry-purchasing rival, also needs: exactly the same brand of cat food that I need, in the same flavors and the same size cans; to gravely peruse the 48 different types of BBQ sauce, especially those within three inches of my center of gravity; and greeting cards. I kid you not.

One starts to become unhinged from it after a while. Is this a Doppelgänger who doesn’t actually look anything like me but is living a parallel life? Is she incognito store security worried that I will shoplift ferret yum-yums? Do I look like someone who will break the paper seals on salad dressing bottles, crack the eggs, and squeeze the Charmin? Of course not. But, there is something to this strange occurrence. I hope someone, somewhere, someday does a study, for their Master’s or something, on the psychology of grocery store magnetism and how it draws people in and affects their purchases.

And folks, it isn’t confined to markets and groceries. I am now hearing reports of this experience in clothing stores. An item pulled from the rack and discarded or tried on and not chosen is often seized by a garment Lurker. These heretofore little known variants of the grocery Lurker will appear to browse but keep one eye on you, the innocent shopper, scrutinizing and evaluating your interests, biting their nails while craving that one-of-a-kind Thanksgiving sweatshirt you just picked up – not because you are interested in buying it, but to have a little snicker at how amazingly horrific it is. Disturbingly, I also have anecdotal evidence of this very thing happening as far back as forty-five years ago while shopping for school clothes.

Alright, I should calm down and logically assess the situation. Maybe these people are merely indecisive, uncertain about quality, or are just unable or unwilling to make a decision about which toilet paper brand/size to buy and figure it is more reliable to buy what someone else obviously has experience in using. Maybe they have no confidence in their judgement, so they glom on to someone who appears to be suitable. Or, perhaps they suspect there is some magical quality in certain items that they are unaware of and are bound and determined to discover those items by mimicking other shoppers. Whatever the cause, it it is out there, people. They are watching us, and they want us to make their shopping decisions for them. Beware.

Published by

Cynthia Raleigh

A good chunk of my time growing up in southern Indiana was spent reading books; all kinds of books, but especially mysteries. In spite of various earlier occupations in my life, I have worked as a Registered Nurse for a couple of decades. Among my passel of hobbies, one of my favorite is genealogy. I started pestering busy adults with questions about my family history when I was twelve years old. Over the years, I have dug through family papers and photos, scrolled through and squinted at faded and tattered microfilm, traveled to distant places in search of crumbling documents, and spent countless hours in cemeteries searching for stones. I was lucky enough to experience the thrill of discovering and uncovering the markers of some very long lost ancestors. After a recent move, I decided to take a break from Nursing and write. My first two books, Poison Branches and Buried Roots, are part of the Perri Seamore series of mysteries with a genealogical slant.

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