Costco exhausts me. You know how the elderly have to distribute their obligations across an entire week (laundry on Tuesday, drugstore on Thursday, etc.) because everything is so damn tiring? That’s how I am with Costco. I walk into that warehouse and, I’m not just wiped, I’m done for the day.
Management realizes the stamina required to get from hygiene to produce and then back up again to computer supplies— that’s why they set up sample stands at every aisle. Those noble men and women in their red hats and aprons dispensing bites of dumplings or pizza bagels are as essential to the process as are the individuals handing out cups of water along marathon routes. And that, of course, makes me the runner. I’m bent at a forty five-degree angle in order to push the oversized cart, which by the time I reach the cereal section is already piled with goods, and setting my sights on the next table equipped with a mini oven and toothpicks is the only thing fueling me from section to section.
By the time I slump my way to the cashier, my cart is teeming— one sharp turn away from a wreck— but there’s no getting around the sheer amount of product. There might be only four items in the carriage, but it’s the quantity of those four items that demands such space. If I want to shave my legs, I have to buy 52 razors. When I walk out with that many blades, I know the cashier is wondering what manner of forestry I’m hiding under my cardigan. And their Parmesan cheese container has such a circumference that it requires two hands to palm. When I’m topping off my spaghetti, I feel like a baby gripping its bottle of milk. (Costco sells 50% of the world’s supply of cashews. Half of the world’s provisions at one franchise!) Caskets may be the only item Costco sells in moderation, although I’ve honestly never looked into it. They very well might come in twelve-packs.
Despite what my local grocery bagger might think (every time I pull up to checkout, he says, “Big family, huh?”), I am part of a small household. The second smallest possible, actually. Two. Costco was not made for families like ours. The toilet paper I bought in June 2011 is still in reserves. We live in a one-bedroom apartment, and I have a roll of toilet paper in every cabinet, nook, and drawer. I continue to find toilet paper like parents continue to find Easter eggs they forgot they hid. Then there’s the canola oil. Olive oil is our oil of choice; it’s what we use to sauté onions and garlic, which is the foundation for pretty much every meal. But, occasionally, I bake muffins, so when I spotted the industrial sized canola oil at Costco, I thought to myself, that would be better for muffins, and without due process, I bought it. Do you know how many batches of banana walnut muffins I’ll have to bake to get through that vat of oil? 320. Breakfast at my place?
And this is why I fear that I might be on a domestic terrorist watch list.
The FBI has labeled bulk food purchase (more than seven days worth) as potential terrorist activity, and God knows it’s going to take more than a week for my Phil and I to eat our way through three pounds of almonds.
I don’t blame the Feds. I’ll be the first to admit that my behavior is suspicious. What do I, a childless woman of 25, need with twelve pounds of peanut butter? The authorities would sooner assume that I’m improvising some manner of Skippy Super Chunky explosive device than that we eat the creamy protein by the spoonful to stave off hunger pains. (Government suspicion may be heightened by my recent Google search, “Can you make a bomb with peanut butter?” The scary thing is– somebody already asked that question on Wikianswers.) I can just see myself cordoned off in a small, stark room with nothing but a metal table and a spotlight, an agent over me screaming, “But twelve pounds of it? Cut the bull***t. Why do you need that amount of whipped nut?”
The truth is, of course, that I don’t. I don’t need 25 lbs of potatoes, 500 Ziploc sandwich bags, 5 quarts of liquid plumber, 2,400 sheets of computer paper, 700 coffee filters, or 10 cans of water chestnuts. But I can’t resist. I can’t resist the idea of never having to shop for water chestnuts again, and I can’t resist the suggestion that, by purchasing my year’s supply of toilet paper upfront, I’m saving. That is the allure. It’s why Costco has 58 million members worldwide, and why its security is tighter than an airport (they demand to see your membership card at the door, screen your receipt on your way out, and last week the cashier asked me for three forms of identification). It’s why customers will put up with quirky eccentricities like only accepting American Express and, despite stocking boxes of 200 count kitchen garbage bags, that there is no plastic in sight at the end of checkout, so after being fatigued by towers of goods, you now have to face lugging all of your purchases from cart to car and from car to home without the help of handles.
Nevertheless, four Sundays a year I devote to my Costco pilgrimages, because wholesale prices and eliminating extraneous shopping excursions is a gift worth subscribing to.