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Shelf Life

By Dick Weinman, The Thin Edge of Dignity

The trouble with supermarkets is that they’re . . . super.  Some are even - super!

With superiority goes volume.  Volume means a lot of stuff. In high-end terms it means, “Options.”

I’m lucky enough to live in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) that’s located close to a shopping center.  “Location.  Location.  Location,” realtors exclaim – the necessary ingredient of prime real estate.  Well, my ALF has it.  A shopping center means a supermarket.

I should be fortunate to have so many “options”:  Cold Cereal. Toilet Paper.  Tissues. Yogurt.  Anti-Bacterial spray.  Vitamin C. High Protein Drinks.

  In reality, I’m not. For starters, I sit way down in a wheelchair, the result of a traffic accident, as you know if you read other blogs.  Next, I have only one working hand: it doesn’t stretch all the way out or up, and the fingers don’t curve. The hand links to a body that won’t bend at the waist. Finally, I have three horizontal lines in the lenses of my glasses.  Seeing the products on a shelf, reading the small print on the label, and reaching a hand up and out is a formidable task.  Not enjoyable.


However, I’ve found the fun again in wandering the aisles of the supermarket - shopping for personal hygiene products – the stuff that’s applied to my hair and body.  For the other market products I need – fresh fruit, boxed or canned goods, dairy products - some nice, helpful person in the aisle or a store employee (who also must be nice) responds to my quest for aid.  But shampoo and conditioner, body wash and skin lotion, are fun to select myself.  They’re so attractively packaged. They have such poetic names and such a mix of exotic aromas.  They’re also a challenge to lay hands on; getting my unresponsive fingers around the bottle is a struggle – like trying to wrap my hand around a pint of beer.

Hunting for and selecting tooth paste is also a challenge.

I explained in a previous blog (Brush Twice A Day to Avoid Monkey’s Breath) that tooth brushing has been an uphill climb for me, since my disabling accident and all.  Equally a struggle is tooth paste shopping.

There exist some twenty-plus brands of toothpaste.  Among them, Aim, Aqua-fresh, Arm&Hammer, Colgate, Crest, Gleem, and Sensodyne. At my super market, five shelves of brand name toothpaste hover over one another.  Each shelf holds roughly seven products.  Do the math. It’s a labor intensive job to scan the many options.  Thankfully, necessity has proved to be the mother of selection.

My disability draws me to my product choice:  Crest Pro Health.  The reason is not the paste, itself, but the delivery system, as you read in the tooth brushing blog, Brush Twice Daily to Avoid Monkey Breath.

There are seven choices of the product: YOU DON’T REALLY WANT TO READ ALL OF THEM, DO YOU?

In addition to that choice, there are size differences.  Various lengths of tooth paste tubes, from short to extra long,  and various weights, in ounces and grams (if you prefer the metric system).  The dazzling array of colors rest side-by-side as my eyes scans the shelves as if watching a tennis match. The eye work is more like ping pong when I try to compute price differences.  Further complicating my selection are “2 for 1” specials; some packages have free tiny bottles of mouth wash packed inside; $.50 off coupons  hang from a hook on the shelf, waiting to be torn off (hard for me to do with disabled hands.) My eyes move up-and-down, and side-to-side.

These toothpaste products show off.  They’re on display, exposing themselves, luring me closer to examine them; asking me to remove them from their temporary home on the shelf:  “take me” their colors and graphics plead.

 The products asking to be looked at and fondled is all well and good – if you’re standing.  But, there I sit - looking up, frustrated.  A vertically challenged, wheel chair occupant, with minimal range of motion and hand use - and trifocals to boot!

 What to do?  Why, of course, ask another shopper in the aisle for use of his/her eyes, hand, and arm reach, to get my 6oz. tube of Crest Pro – Health.  If I asked, “would you reach out for me?”

I reach out for myself when I shop for shampoo and conditioner.  As you saw in a previous blog ( Rub-a-Dub-Dub), my hair products are exotically named, mysteriously – and synthetically –  odorous -  and exceptionally expensive.  Best of all for shopping, they’re sparingly spread out on only a few tiers.

I use “Herbal Way,” an organic brand. Like toothpaste, I have several product options within that choice: pomegranate-sunflower, aloe-chamomile, cucumber-citrus, rosemary-lavender, orchid-ambrosia, to name a few. (But not parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.) Neither nomenclature nor fragrance determine my preference. The shampoos may have a delicious scent, but my choice is determined by “location, location, location.”

When shopping in my wheelchair – vertically challenged, as I am - my arm – stretched as straight and high as I am able to extend it - reaches the shelf on which these poetically-named, rapturously aromatic, and overpriced products are shelved. I can’t raise my arm higher or bend over lower. The two - shampoo and conditioner - that are positioned on the shelf my waist level - I can grasp, with my semi-functioning right hand reaching at the proper distance. They’re my choice.

Two other odoriferous purchases remain: body wash and body lotion.  As with the hair brands, there are so many body cleansers and softeners that each product has its own aisle, and fills all the shelves.  And, like the shampoos and conditioners, they have aromatic scents to match their sensuous and flowery names.  This day, I’m looking for a replacement body wash for my “Luscious Embrace” - a mixture of jojoba butter and crushed orchid extract.  I also need to renew my body lotion – a blend of cranberry seed and grape seed oil.  It will take a mighty synthesis to substitute for those body and bath emollients.

Unlike the right-in-front-of-my- reaching arm shampoo and conditioner, the body wash is on the shelves above me, while my lotion of choice is on the bottom tier.  These are the places I can’t get to.  I need an act of kindness.  There are nice people in the population.  Some are in my aisle.   I get the help I need.

Shopping at the super market wouldn’t be complete – couldn’t be complete – since there are security guards around – without paying.  Going through the checkout lane also entails reaching out and up.

Most checkout services now have the emblem – the stick figure person in a stick figure wheelchair imposed on a bright blue (or faded) background.  It’s a comfort to see the little guy.  It means the counters are low enough to accommodate a reach from a wheelchair.  Not to be ungrateful, but it’s a bicep, triceps, pectoral exertion to lift the hand-held shopping basket from my lap – where I balance it on my thighs while cruising the aisles - up to the counter.   Sometimes, a concerned checkout operator will grasp the wire handles of the basket and lift it for me.  Sometimes a compassionate shopper – in front or behind me - will do the same, even take my stuff out of the basket and lay it on the moving belt.

Another reach up occurs when I pay by credit card.  The instrument to swipe the card and punch in the proper instructions and PIN number is located on a stand above the counter.  With a lean forward in my wheelchair and a push up of my shoulder, I can reach my card into the swipe mechanism.  The checker offers to swipe the card for me, but this action is a challenge that I want to face and overcome.  I do it myself, and I tap the required buttons (“is the purchase price OK? Do I want extra cash?)  To the functioning hand, the action is a "no brainer."  I have the brain to know what to do.  I just don’t have the ability to do it smoothly. It’s a mild, upper body workout.

Even if credit card check out is troublesome for me, it must be awful for an aged, fragile person trying to pay in cash.  I watch from my wheelchair as I sit next on line. It’s sad.  The woman (usually) or man, hand trembling, fumbles in her/his change purse or wallet, slowly sliding out the change, counting each penny.  The elder usually receives the silent scorn of the checker for being slowed in meeting his/her customer rate for the work time, as well as the grumbling, often whispered-out-loud complaints of waiting customers. It seems everyone is irritated as the aged shopper fumbles in her/his change purse, slowly counting out the change, penny by penny. The only disability in this scene is the absence of kindness, courtesy, and respect.

Reaching out while shopping means more than straightening and stretching my arm,  I’m reminded of a “back-in-the-day” AT&T television commercial: Reach Out and Touch Someone.  As a disabled, eighty-year-old in a wheelchair, I search for the “someones,” and hope that we touch each other.[/youtube]

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