Active Adult Living Retirement Retirement Age Stories

Shopping- A Mixed Bag

Shopping- A Mixed Bag           by Octo G. Enario


Back in our courtship days I asked my wife-to-be, Septa, about a mole I had on my face, “What do you make of this? Should I think about having it removed?” My concern was vanity, not health.

Septa answered, “You’d best ask your dermatologist about it on your next regular check-up.”

Like most unmarried men, I thought, “Who has a dermatologist? Why would you even visit one unless you had a problem?” This was my first exposure to the differences in attitude about health care between men and women.

My macho attitude about health care has been much modified now with many years of marriage under my belt. My wife has induced me to develop a team of medical specialists for regular consulting and check-ups not dissimilar to what she has and not without my kicking and screaming all the way—funny how women outlive our macho gender.   

The Present

With my continued advance into late stage living, something new has popped up in my anatomy. Isn’t it always something? It is dry cracked skin, for the first time unbearably painful, on my very high-mileage feet, no doubt exacerbated by the recent cold snap. Naturally, my dear wife had a solution for this ailment, namely, a balm, which when applied regularly, eased the pain and reversed the drying and cracking. She had been using the emollient to attend to her dry feet for years. Women sure are smart.

After living with me for years, my wife was well aware of my attitude about new ideas or solutions: I am not overly fond of change or new ideas that are not my own. She has found it better to not storm the macho castle directly but to try to be invited in or at least come in through the more accessible back door.  She thought, “How do I get Mr. Tough Guy to use the ointment that will solve his chaffing problem?”

Septa had always kept her tin of ointment out of sight to avoid any snide remarks from her husband. The odd name of the product added a special challenge for her plan to get Hubby to use it.

Mindful of Octo’s keen interest in history, manly winter sports like skiing, and the very hip and historic State of Vermont, she shaped an ingenious approach to Octo’s fortress, which she was sure would gain her smooth access. She was determined he was going to use the ointment!

The next time Octo complained about his cracked, sore feet, she pounced. She said, “Dear, I’m so sorry about your tootsies, but I was reading about an emollient developed back in 1899. It was devised by a scientist for an important industry in Vermont.”

Octo, a little wary about the word emollient grunted, “Way back in 1899 by a scientist in Vermont. I do love that Cabot cheese and that tasty Ben and Jerry’s produced up there in the Green Mountain State. ‘Solved a commercial problem for an important industry up there,’ ya say?”

Septa smiled to herself, knowing the castle would be conquered soon. She took the next step and continued, “Interestingly, no one has been able to improve on the formula for over a century.”

“Over a century?” Octo mumbled, “must be good stuff.”

Nodding her head, she responded, “Must be. You know, usage has spread to all 50 states, and its user base has diversified. Even skiers throughout the world use it.”

“Skiers, you say.”

Septa went about her business in the house, seeming to move on to other interests and was soon followed by a sheepish Octo, dying of curiosity. He said, “Er, Dear, this emollient you talked about, you use it and it works?”

“Oh yes,” she replied as she continued her household tasks, her body language reflecting disinterest. She knew the big fish was securely snagged on her line.

Octo said, “You know, my feet really hurt. Maybe I should try some of your stuff. It seems to work for you.”

“Are you sure? Well okay, I’ll get it and show you how to apply it.” She made a show of being slightly annoyed from having to interrupt her household tasks and went to get the tin of salve.

She had pulled it off. She was well aware that if she had mentioned the odd name of the salve too soon, her spouse would laugh it off and not use it. But now he was putty in her hands. Without her ingenious approach, he would have said, “Bag Balm, yuck, what a strange name. Made for soothing cow udders, really. Well I don’t have an udder. It’s another one of your many darn “lady” products. I ain’t using it. What would I tell the fellas if it ever got out?” Her plan had worked—he was asking for it.

She returned with the attractive green tin of emollient appropriately named Bag Balm. He looked at the tin and said, “Very Vermont looking, and it has a clear functional name.”

This had been one of the most satisfying moments of the year. Chalk another one up for the distaff side!

Restocking Quest

With two users of the Bag Balm, it didn’t take long to need more. Septa had forgotten where she had bought this exotic product and so searched for it at each store during her weekly shopping excursion. She found no satisfaction at some likely candidates: Kroger, Publix, and CVS.  At her last stop, Target, where she felt it unlikely she would find this little known, expensive niche product, she gave it a shot. Why not? She was already there.

She scoured the shelves of the large in-store pharmacy but with no luck. She would need sales assistance. She spotted two young employees talking to each other far down the main aisle in another department. Both were holding a company hand-held computer in one hand and their personal cell phone in the other. Both exhibited the usual brief attention span of the perpetually connected youth of today as they multitasked, spending 10 seconds talking to their fellow human, 10 seconds on the store device, and 10 on their own cell phone reading and sending texts.

Septa called a time-out in her mind. It was a long walk over to the chatting duo, and she knew she would get the usual blank stare from young employees when she as a senior citizen would try to communicate with them—two different wavelengths. Her past experiences with such interactions rarely resulted in satisfaction and usually left her blood pressure elevated. She mused, “Imagine if I ask them about a product that has the somewhat dated word “balm” in its name? I could be stuck in confusing conversation with them for an hour.” She could hear the question, “Why is it in a bag?” Just then a solution wearing a Target uniform apron presented itself as it turned into Septa’s aisle.

This was no distracted youth with an extreme hairdo and a tattoo or two. She carried her company hand-held in her pocket, and her hands were free of any cell phone. This was a mature woman closer to Septa’s age, coifed and attired to feel comfortable attending a Junior League meeting in a small rural town, a scenario Septa could envision from her small-town roots. Salvation seemed to be at hand. 

Septa smiled at the prim woman greeting her with a, “Good morning.” The woman stopped, smiled, and responded with a polite, “Good morning to you. May I help you?” Septa  relaxed and responded with, “Oh, thank you so much. I do need some help. I’m looking for a product called Bag Balm. Does Target carry it, and if so where can I find it?” 

She said, “What kind of bomb?”

“Bag Balllm (stressing the l sound)”

The Junior Leaguer tilted her head slightly and wrinkled her nose saying, “Is that B-O-M-B?”

“No. B-A-L-M.”

Now even more befuddled, she asked, “Er, what kind of product is it?”

Somewhat amused, Septa replied haltingly, “Uh, it’s a balm.”

 The woman’s eyes widened in concern and said, “It’s a bomb!?!”

Septa slowly raised her hands to calm the employee and said, “No. No. No. Like an unguent.”

The clerk’s eyes moved from side to side in bewilderment, then she recovered and stuttered out, “Uh, uh how do you spell that?”

For a moment, Septa thought about continuing the frustrating back and forth but finally exhaled, dropped her shoulders in acceptance and said, “You know, never mind.  You probably don’t have it.”

But no, Septa was not to get away that easily. The woman whipped out her hand-held and said, “Wait, wait, what’s the first part of it?” This woman was not giving up.

Back in her patient mode, Septa said slowly, “B-A-G and then B-A-L-M.”

She said, “Where would it be? What kind of product is it?”

Trying to maintain her composure and dampening any hint of sarcasm, Septa answered, “Well. It most likely would be right here in the pharmacy section.”

By this time, Septa was realizing that the woman didn’t know what either a balm or an unguent was and replied with, “It would be with lotions and things.”

“Oh, so what do you use it for?” Septa cringed at this response. Should she go into the product’s original purpose, which would lead to more questions, and she would never get out of the store.

Septa tried simplicity, saying, “You use it for…like Vaseline…or petroleum jelly…except it’s in a square green tin.”

Her eyes brightened and she said, “Like a for a baby’s bottom?”

“Well, no,” Septa chuckled slightly, thinking alright, she was going to plunge ahead and said, “It’s for…well it was originally created by Vermont farmers for their cows’ udders, to keep them from getting chapped.” Septa tried hard to suppress a giggle as she thought about telling her husband about this incident later. They would have a hearty laugh.

The employee gave Septa a funny look and trying still to be helpful said, “Have you tried a farmers’ feed and seed store?”

Septa repeated the woman’s words in a frustrated tone, “Farmers feed and seed…” recovering her composure after breathing deeply, Septa continued,  “No, no, no, actually I use it for my husband’s feet,” thinking, “Boy is Octo going to love this story. It keeps getting better and better.”

She smiled and said, “Oh your husband’s feet, well let’s go look in foot products.”

Septa redirected with, “You know what…can you just check in that little computer you have there and just put in B-A-G B-A-L-M to see if you have it?”

The clerk entered the name and said, “No, it doesn’t look like we have it,” continuing with the agonizing interaction saying, “well, what would it look like?”

Responding with some impatience and testiness, Septa tried stopping the time-consuming interaction reminiscent of an Abbot and Costello routine saying, “You know, if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. I’ll just go to a drugstore; you know like CVS.”

Not to be shut down, the woman said, “This is a CVS.”

Septa had forgotten that CVS is the pharmacy inside Target. She thought, “Can I ever get out of here. I do have a life outside of Target.”

Unthwarted in her futile attempt to assist, the woman said, “You can try Walgreen’s. Maybe they have it.  What else can I help you with?”

At this, Septa paused, took out the one item she had in her shopping basket and handed it to the woman, and said, “Could you please put this back on the shelf.”  As she quickly made her exit from Target, she thought, “We’ll both have interesting stories to tell this evening.”