I am shocked when people tell me they hate grocery shopping. What’s not to love? It combines two of the best things in the world: shopping and food. And what’s even better is that it’s mandatory shopping, like if you don’t do it, you will starve to death. I try to make a similar argument about clothes- that my soul will starve to death if it isn’t fed a new top or pair of shoes weekly- but my husband doesn’t buy it.
The only thing that makes me uncomfortable about grocery shopping is what sometimes happens when I am in the check-out lane. When someone lines up behind me and starts unloading items on the counter, I get anxiety about whether or not to place that rubber stopper between my food and theirs. I don’t want them to feel like I don’t trust them or that I am so cheap I am terrified of paying for their watermelons.
But, then I remind myself, “Jenny, we use the rubber stopper like we use the comma, to separate items from one another so it’s easier on everyone.” And that makes me feel better about slapping it down.
Example: I bought chocolate pudding fruit juice rice milk and beer.
Without the commas, we don’t know if I bought chocolate pudding or chocolate and pudding, fruit juice or fruit and juice, rice milk or rice and milk.
So, we add the commas and it’s crystal clear:
I bought chocolate pudding, fruit, juice, rice milk, and beer.
That's right, I like rice milk.
However, here’s a trickier scenario. Say you are going to the market on your lunch break and your colleague hands you twenty dollars and asks you to buy her a Red Bull. And you think, “Shit, that girl talks enough as it is without an energy drink, and I don’t have any cash, so I am going to have to pay separately for my stuff and her stuff. This sucks!”
Wouldn’t it be nice if, for those rare occasions, the supermarket provided two sizes of rubber stoppers: one small one to divide your items from your colleague’s items and then a larger one to divide your and your colleague’s items from those belonging to the person behind you? Otherwise, don’t you kind of feel guilty, like you are taking two turns in line?
The punctuation world offers something akin to the two sizes of rubber stoppers. If the items we list in a series already contain commas, then we use semi-colons to separate those items:
Last weekend, I shopped at Whole Foods, where I bought my produce; Ralphs, where I bought household items; and Trader Joe’s, where I went because the cute check-out guys always starts up conversations with me.
I know it must be part of the Trader Joe's customer service training, but, what can I say, I’m a sucker for male attention. Now, you see why I need to buy more clothes: so I can wear them when I go grocery shopping.