This morning my roommate came home with a small assortment of groceries. He packed them into his part of the fridge and took a few items up to his room. He does this all the time, just picks up a couple of things to get him through the next several days, then he eats them all. This kind of thing blows my mind. I get the feeling that a lot of people shop like this, just buy what they need for the coming days, consume it, then return to the store to restock. I don’t. I hoard.
I visit the grocery store every week or two, fill my cart as if the zombie apocalypse is nigh, and soon all grocery stores will have been looted to the bone, or I am embarking on an Antarctic expedition and will have nothing to eat but penguin for the next eighteen months. I have never tried penguin. I might not even like it. Then I bring my provisions home to add it to the vast stores I am already compiling in my bomb shelter. I am not saying that this is the right way. I’m pretty sure I have a sickness.
I buy all sorts of things I don’t even cook, but think I might start working with at some point. Right now there are roughly two dozen varieties of rice and quinoa in a drawer next to the stove. Several of them have been there for years. I have a limitless assortment of crackers. I never eat crackers, but they were on sale, and some day I might want to entertain. And if something I actually use is on sale, I buy out the store. I’m currently sitting on enough coconut oil to fill a medium sized swimming pool. The cabinet over the sink sags from the weight of backup vitamin C.
I am absolutely terrified that I will run out of something at any given time. When my grocery discontinued my favorite lotion, I amassed an epic supply to tide me over until I could find it again, as if when the last drop were squeezed from the tube, I would crumble to dust on the spot. But here’s the thing. Once something I like becomes rare, I stop using it. I save it for a special time to come. It is no longer a substance merely meant to moisturize, but a priceless endangered liquid to be cherished and revered. You cannot squander it with every day use. So I squirrel away my precious remaining tubes in a locked cabinet on the second floor.
The other day I heated up some soup from the freezer that I had made last fall from the carcass of my mother’s Thanksgiving turkey. I make turkey soup every year, and it gets me through the winter with nice comfy warm meals. I realized when I pulled the container from the freezer that my frozen soup supplies were dwindling. I panicked a little even though it’s already spring, and I don’t eat soup that often. But what if I want soup, and it isn’t there any more? All I’ll have then is the memory of it.
Now let me get this straight. Normal people who shop and consume logically like, say my roommate, walk up to their refrigerator with a thought in their head something like this, “I am hungry. Here is some cheese. I will eat this cheese.” Whereas I think something like, “But what if you run out of cheese?” Or I might save the cheese for when I really need it or buy thirteen varieties, so I have options for all eventualities. I would never just have one kind of cheese. What if I need to spread it on something, or melt it on something, or grate it over pasta or crumble it on a salad? But people like my roommate maybe buy one or two hunks of the stuff, eat them promptly, then purchase more when they run out.
This must be what moderation is like. It’s the equivalent of those people who only smoke at parties. I do not like these people. They don’t light a cigarette and get no more than a third way in before they start to miss the cigarette as if it’s already gone. These people probably have one or two drinks, then go home to bed because they have some stuff to do tomorrow, rather than get halfway through their first beer with a friend and start reshuffling the next day’s plans to accommodate their inevitable hangover, while they workshop if they have any alcohol at home or if they can get to the liquor store before it closes once they leave this place. Perhaps I’m tipping my hand a little here. I’m really just talking about groceries.
My roommate is moving out soon, and I will have to replace him. I imagine this means I will need to make some space for a new individual in my cupboards in case they are the type of person who eats food. I am filled with dread. The cupboards are currently tetris-packed with items I long ago forgot I purchased. Recently while searching the uppermost shelves, I found three bags of cornmeal. I don’t use cornmeal, but there it was. I guess there was a point where I felt I was running out.
Years ago, while packing for a move to California I found and finally disposed of three boxes of pudding that had lived with me since I moved out of my mother’s house at seventeen. They sat untouched for so long, because I don’t like pudding. But to be clear, I had moved eleven times since I originally left my mother’s. Each time while boxing up the contents of the kitchen, I would diligently pack away the twelve year old powdered pudding to move into new cupboards. And the only reason I threw them away this time was that I was on a major purge to diminish what I had to drag across the country in a moving truck.
Two months ago I lost my cozy job waiting tables that kept me from having to think about myself. I worked all the time, piled up money I had no time to spend, and kept, muffled and gagged somewhere in the back of my mind the idea that at some point I was going to really get back to being an artist. This afforded me the resources to feed my grocery mania. If the rapture was going to happen and I was left here, I was damned sure going to have enough bags of pancake mix to keep me going. But now that I am unemployed, I am on a definite budget. So I am forced to forego replenishing my pasta arsenal and try to just buy what I actually need. This is an alien concept I am having a very difficult time adjusting to. For example, by the year 2015 I might run out of maple syrup, and I would like to prepare for that eventuality, but something now tells me I should wait.
There are a lot of things to be compulsive about. There are the obvious ones, like cigarettes, alcohol, exercise, work, money, and food. I can crazy myself through all of these like a champion. I have enough clothes to wear a completely different outfit every day for……well let’s just say it’s a lot of clothes. I can gain and lose shocking amounts of weight as if I am just changing my mood. I could put a bunch of kids through college on the money I’ve spent on cigarettes. I’m surprised I never lost it over gambling. The first time I was in Vegas, I won seven thousand dollars playing blackjack. You’d think my legs would have been broken years ago by a loan shark, but it just never took. And drugs? I just always got annoyed that I wasn’t thinking clearly, so my junky days were numbered.
But I like to find more unusual activities to manifest my mania. If you come from compulsive people and have embraced these tendencies fully, it’s helpful to be creative about it. Every time I try to quit a bad habit, I find I’m much more successful adopting something more productive to lose my mind over. After I erased my horrifying mass of credit card debt, I found it was just as gratifying to become hysterically obsessive about budgeting my money. Whenever I try to quit smoking, I take up exercise. But some compulsions I just don’t know what to do about, so I pretty much just leave them alone, which brings me back to groceries.
I have in my spice cupboard, a shockingly large amount of saffron. I hear it’s one of the most expensive substances on earth. I like things cooked with saffron. You know how many times I have cooked with it myself? Not a once. There are containers of it in there that predate the Carter administration, when I was too young to cook in any sophisticated fashion. I am told that spices eventually go bad or lose their oomph or whatever dried things do. I’d imagine quite a large proportion of mine passed their threshold decades ago, but I keep them around just to say I have them. I also keep an unreasonable quantity of tiny empty jars up there that I intend some day to fill with more spices.
I don’t know if there’s a cure for what I have here, or even a name. Maybe the first step is recognizing that I have a problem. I think the best I can do at this point is just try to keep the stocking to a minimum, but who knows how long that will last. I might panic if my canned tomato supply gets too low and fall off the wagon.