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Too many choices turns a shopper into a basket case

January 23, 1998

The old yellow pages ad keeps echoing through my head: "I need more choices." More choices? Speak for yourself, Buster.

I've touched on lettuce before - it used to be there were two types, green and brown. Most people took green. Now you walk into the supermarket and it looks like the Mekong Delta. I never know whether to reach for a cart or a machete.

On Sunday they were selling, I swear, banana leaves. Who do I look like, Cheetah? How does one cook a banana leaf - make it into a football-sized cabbage roll?

And as for the fruit itself, you have to decide among a regular banana, a short banana, a plantain or one of those deals that may be a banana - it may be a hot pepper, you're not really sure.


And that's not to mention the banana that looks as if it's been deformed, defiled, spit on, stomped on, bug-riddled, bruised beyond recognition, hacked up, chewed up, blown up and labeled "organic."

At least the label is on the peel and you do not have to dig it, along with half the fruit, out with your fingernail. (They're even putting sticky labels on potatoes now, the Huns). But you know as we speak the food scientists have bananas ensconced in their sub-atomic nuclear banana proton accelerator, trying to figure out how to put stickers on the inside.

Apparently I'm not the only one becoming overwhelmed. I got a phone call recently from a woman who reported finding a dish washing liquid designed specifically for pots and pans.

Suspicious of some serious leg-pulling, I went to the supermarket myself, where I found that she not only was telling the truth, but she was understating the case.

This particular brand offered original soap, clear soap, anti-bacterial soap, lemon soap, soft-hands soap and yes, soap for pots and pans.

It didn't specify how the product was to be used. Like if you're humming your way through a sink full of dishes you're supposed to say "Ah ha! A pot! I do believe I'll reach for my special 'pots and pans formula' dish washing liquid." Then you rinse out the rag, apply the goop, wash the pot, rinse the rag again, reapply the regular stuff (let's see, I think this time we'll go with "anti-bacterial") and sluice through the rest of the inventory.

I never dreamed choosing a dish washing liquid would be like choosing a wine. Tonight we're having salmon with a brown-sugar mustard glaze, so we will want to wash with something that has a slight blush, light suds and, of course, being fish, we will need that anti-bacterial bouquet.

Heavens, all I want is soap, do you hear me? Soap! Plain old dish soap. I do not want it for my pans. I do not want it for my hands.

In college, my friend Dave Coyne would start out the year with a two-gallon jug of some pink, slippery liquid with an ambiguous label and, with the pronunciation "Soap is soap," proceeded to use it to wash his clothes, hair, dishes, floors, himself, windows and his car. Dave was not a man who believed household products ought to have strict roles assigned to them.

I was reminded of this later in the shopping trip when I came across my friend Kate, looking very small, staring plaintively up at a Stonehenge of paper products and saying: "All I want is paper towels without any pictures."

It is true. You can find paper towels with artistic representations of Sacco and Vanzetti playing teeter-totter in the crown of a coconut tree if you look long enough.

Of course then you have to decide whether you want the Sacco and Vanzetti two-ply, four-ply, single roll, double roll, with perforations down the center, absorbent, extra-absorbent, super-absorbent in aqua, olive, brick, maize...

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