Thursday, June 14, 2012

Street Legal

So much of my life is like walking uphill. I drove to a store I'll call Kroger Universe, to differentiate it from a regular Kroger store. Kroger stores helped put Mom & Pop bookstores, toy stores and drug stores out of business by including entire aisles of nonfood items. Kroger Universe would like us to buy dishes, pots and pans, furniture and oodles of toys. Plants and gasoline too. They'd like us to live there. There are tables and free newspapers next to the deli counter. The magazine rack is next to a Starbucks kiosk. The aisles  are wide enough that even a woman with 4 children can't block one entirely. It is well lit. There's no feeling of impending crushing by towering shelves. 

But the air exchange ratio is still inadequate, and by the time I get to the back of the store, my ability to concentrate is gone. My friend is speaking. I know this. She is uttering words that are meant to have a meaning for me, and I am pulled away. Two aisles over, I find it: a display of Cheez-its. I haven't eaten Cheez-its in years. Guilt. Empty calories. Cheesy crunchy, with a load of additives and preservatives. But the pricing system is too much for my increasingly fogged brain. It looks as if I have to buy 10 boxes at an inflated price to get one box at reasonable price. I wander off to find my friend, who tries to explain the system and sends me back for the product.

People insert themselves between me and the places I want to be. The cracker aisle is nowhere near the cheese aisle, and I remember that I wanted Jarlsberg cheese. There is a Jarlsberg sample plate, but it's not near the Jarlsberg. If the store actually sold Jarlsberg. I found the cracker aisle and picked up a Cheez-it box at random.There are many flavors to choose from.  Lost in a time warp, I fight my way back to the checkout, where my friend is almost done. The person ahead of me had plastic card problems. Neither debit nor credit worked. She laboriously counted out actual money.

Once freed from the store, I realize that every muscle is vibrating like rubber bands that have been stretched almost to breaking. It's hard to think. I am anxious and irascible. I snarl at cars. We made it back to her house without incident, if you don't count my missing her street and having to circle back.
By this time it is 5:30 and I am in a full blown "panic" attack, every nerve on edge, muscles twanging. I'm getting to be an old hand at this. I know that it is not actually panic because my mind is not racing. This is simply a chemical reaction to all the toxins outgassed in the average underventilated store. I reached  for Coca-cola, whose familiar flavor and bubbles breaking against my teeth has a calming effect. By 7, I was on my way home, agitated but not dangerous to myself or others.

I was owl-eyed until 3:30. Online, I respond to everything with angry logic, ranting in a fashion that is amusing in QI's David Mitchell but which is probably annoying coming from me.

Today the adrenaline surge is much less, but I am still on edge. I am eating Cheez­-its, hoping that the starch and preservatives will cloud my mind and soothe jangling nerve endings. It is a forlorn hope. Following through on thoughts is almost impossible. The strawberries, red, shiny and crunchy when I bought them several days ago, have gone less crunchy. I should hull and slice them and toss them in a box with a tablespoon of sugar to make them weep. If I don't, the crunchy strawberries will  go directly to slime and need composting. It seems too complex. Eating seems too complex.

This is my life. When I go into stores, my muscles go on fast forward and my mind is tossed into reverse. No amount of rationalization, no dialectical behavior therapy can stop this. Fight, fight, fight. Fight the twanging muscles by going out into the sun, fight the sluggish brain that aches. My drugs of choice are books and Coca-cola, both of which are street legal. But so is underventilating stores and airplanes. Isn't life a kick?