I did say “grocery store” didn’t I? We have two nearby and they do sell groceries, along with medical prescriptions and supplies, garden plants and flowers, greeting cards and gift cards, with most other things they think you might buy—all stacked on shelves or in the middle of isles so you won’t miss them. There is now even “curbside parking” for the order you didn’t want to personally (manually is a sexist word) shop for, so you can call it in instead. There is a special room containing the “groceries” if you are a curbside shopper.

I needed a tube of toothpaste, which I didn’t think would be that much of a big deal. I don’t have as many teeth as I did earlier in my life, but they still need to be brushed and they cannot be brushed without a “toothbrush” (for one tooth only?) and some “paste” (not a bad description for the contents) I found three definitions on the web: 1) a mixture of flour and water, often with starch that makes something like paper adhere to something else; 2) any soft, smooth or plastic material; and 3) dough, as in a pie crust. Mix them together and add some flavoring and, presto, there is your toothpaste.

I didn’t know all that when I was shopping for my toothpaste. I figured it would be in the medical supplies section and not with the bananas, oranges, or corn—the other items that I occasionally buy—so I went to the “drugs” section of the store. I was in for a surprise.

There—layer upon layer, shelf upon shelf, coupon upon coupon, was toothpaste. I started shopping: Crest was on the first six shelves and Colgate on the bottom six. Now if all the toothpaste in the grocery store was laid end to end, it would be a good thing, but there would not be any room for bananas, oranges, beer, ice cream, bird food, cereal and other popular items. I walked back and forth for 5 minutes looking at the rows of toothpaste. There were more choices than in the cereal and bread section. I stopped smiling.

Crest seemed to be the winner: the “3d White” was $3.92, although I could buy the same tube at the Dollar Tree for—you guessed it—one dollar, plus tax of course. Nevertheless, I needed the paste and I didn’t want to go to the Dollar Tree and buy things I didn’t need, like dog food and batteries, so the grocery store would have to do. The next row was “Gleaming White,” and it was “only” $2.49, or I could get a “Value 2-Pak” for $6.92.

Sometimes I have gotten “Aquafresh” Crest at the Dollar Tree, so I’ll wait because it is over two dollars here. Two rows later and a shelf down I spotted the Crest “Complete,” making me think that something must be missing and a Crest “Incomplete” should be around there somewhere. I walked along the shelf for another 5 minutes, quite crestfallen. But, of course, no luck. I did spot the rows of “Sensi Relief” “Pro-Namel” and “Sensodyne” tubes. These are for the old folk with few teeth and what are left zing like mad with a hot cup of coffee or a cold dish of ice cream. Younger folk use them too if they drink too much coffee at Starbucks, leaving nasty stains on the teeth and gums. I read that Crest has a new “whitening policy” that will make your teeth shine brighter than the sun and that a person cannot smile when in heavy traffic because the reflection off the middle front teeth has been known to cause serious road accidents.

I picked up a tube of the Crest “Pro-Health” and noticed a coupon with it. If I were to buy six double packs, I would get a dollar off and my name entered in the Texas lottery. It seemed like a good bet so I filled up part of my cart and was about to leave.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I had not shopped at all: I had only examined the Crest. What about Colgate? Was it fair to buy only one product? We have been warned regularly about too much product loyalty and the risk of gum bleeding by sticking to just one paste.

The Colgate shelves were just as long and a bit lower. Right at the bottom were the “Deep Clean” brands, next to Ivory soap and Tide. Colgate seemed to have my potential cavities in mind and for 97c I could get a tube of Colgate “Cavity”—three cents less than at the Dollar Tree. I loaded another 12 tubes in my shopping cart and was about to call it a morning.

What about Colgate’s sensi-something brands? Surely, there must be some brand of Sensodyne on one of the shelves. There was, but it was on the very bottom shelf, behind the Orthopix and Bettabuster brands. And it had a coupon: for purchasing 10 tubes of Deep Clean Whitening Sensodyne Plus I would get 69c off and a free Frostie at Wendy’s. I couldn’t pass up the bargain.

My cart was now full of toothpaste and my wife was not happy. She had been waiting an hour at the quick check-out lane with bananas and corn. But I couldn’t check out there because I had more than 15 items and quick check out clerks are not trained to count to more than 15.

So I wheeled, or rather pushed with some effort, my cart to isle 29. There were 13 people ahead of me—all with full carts—so it took me another hour to check out and the woman at the check-out counter was not happy. “What’s with all the toothpaste?” she said. I made a motion towards my teeth and gave her the coupons. “You can only use one coupon, mister. What will it be—your basket of Crest Pro-Health or the Colgate Deep Clean?”

I couldn’t make up my mind. “Listen mister, there are lots of people in line behind you. Make up your mind.” “I’ve decided not to get any of them,” I said lamely. My wife is diabetic, may be feeling faint, so I have to get her home quickly. I left the full cart with her and exited.

We stopped at the Dollar Tree and I bought a tube of toothpaste—Aquafresh was on sale for a dollar, but no coupon. I picked up some dog food and batteries too.

Waco, Texas
October 2017