Bringing home the bacon

Among TV commercials, one rings the most true: Two slacker dudes are in a store with limited money, trying to decide between beer and toilet paper. They choose the beer, then respond in unison to the question, "Paper or plastic?"

We laugh not just at the follies of youth or because we've been in similar straits ourselves. We laugh because they're guys. Buying groceries. And we all know what a hoot that can be.

Supermarkets don't cater to men. The logic of the layout escapes us. The competing brands and colorful labels and computer pricing are confusing. We don't care about comparison shopping. In fact, we don't like shopping at all. We like buying. And we want it all to be finished quickly.

If supermarkets were designed for guys, they'd offer one type of each product, labeled generically in black-and-white. "Beer." "Chips." "Cereal." We wouldn't even care what was inside the boxes, so long as we could just grab one, throw it in the cart and move on to the next. If we got home with a box marked "Cereal" and it turned out to corn flakes rather than organic, honey-nut Prune-de-Ohs, that would be fine. If it turned out that all the boxes contained beer, that would be even better.

I took a course in college called "Industrial Psychology." One of the marketing strategies we studied was supermarket layout. Store designers intentionally put the things you need most often -- milk, meat, coffee, beer -- in the far corners, so you must pass all those loudly labeled products to buy the staples. They're hoping you'll buy things you don't really need at inflated prices. Guys fall victim to this syndrome, which is why pork rinds and canned chili are now considered food.

This knowledge has come in handy. I took over the grocery shopping for our family after I left the 9-to-5 world to work at home. It wasn't a smooth transition, but I feel I've got it mastered now. My secret is that I always go to the same store, even though it's miles away from my home. It's a smaller market, and I've learned where everything is kept. I can do a week's shopping there in less than an hour, zooming up and down the aisles like a contestant on "Supermarket Sweep."

Here are some other tips to help guys who are doing the family foraging:

--Don't waste time selecting the best shopping cart. They all have one wheel that goes waga-waga-waga. Just take one and go.

--Buy whatever's cheapest. Forget brand loyalty or family favorites or what might make a lovely dinner a week from Tuesday. Buy lots of cheap stuff. Fill the cart with it. Later, in the kitchen, you can piece together the different products into something resembling a nutritious meal.

Some supermarkets recognize the "buy cheap" philosophy and cater to it. Those are the markets that sell those tiny boxes of detergent only good for one or two loads. Guys -- especially bachelors -- buy those little boxes, even though they cost only pennies less than a big box. This means much of the laundry will be done soapless, of course. Eventually, all the clothes will be a uniform gray and you can eliminate detergent from your shopping list altogether.

--Make excuses. Guys famously refuse to ask directions, which means they can wander up and down supermarket aisles for days, holding their tattered lists, searching for the one item their wives insisted that they buy. You can avoid this problem with a simple answer when you get home: "I forgot." This will lead to a certain amount of eye-rolling and an even lower opinion of guys in general and you in particular, but it will save time.

--Get the eggs last. No matter where the supermarket Easter bunnies hide the eggs, make that your final stop. Then you can set the eggs on top of everything else and they won't get crushed. Until the bag boys get hold of them. They'll put them in the sack with the beer and the motor oil and you can have an omelet as soon as you get home.

Don't be too hard on the bag boys when this happens. They're guys.

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