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Field Guide to the Commissary Shopper

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According to a recent press release, the Defense Commissary Agency recorded “more than 96 million transactions in fiscal 2011.” As a militaryfamily.com reader, chances are you were at least one of these transactions. But what kind of commissary shopper are you? This handy list can help you decide.

The “Speed Racer” – you grab a hand-held basket and go straight to what you need. Your average commissary visit is less than 5 minutes, you power-walk from door to door, and you have never been in any other lane than the express checkout. Advertising executives secretly hope you defect to Cuba.

The “Uniformed Speed Racer” – A sub-species of “Speed Racer” whose distinguishing characteristic is appearing in uniform so as to take advantage of head of the line privileges.

“The Active Duty Husband” – This is a “Uniformed Speed Racer” who wanders around the commissary as if in a dream sequence or as if having just arrived from a car wreck.  The Active Duty Husband has reached the rank of Staff Sergeant and can probably field strip a weapon in less than 10 seconds, but cannot distinguish between “ketchup” and “catsup”.

The “Clot” – cart in one hand, list in the other, you dutifully enter the commissary where you proceed to park your cart at the end of the back aisle. You move up and down the aisle with agility, while your parked cart makes the walkway at the end of the aisle approximately 2 feet wide. Your car is probably the oversized SUV parked in a compact space.

The “Clot With Child” – As the name implies, this sub-group of “the clot” has a child in the cart. The child would be a useful member of the team if the mission was throwing random items out of the cart or adding items from the end-caps while Mom or Dad are down the aisle. Members of the “Clot With Child” group who don’t have a real-time inventory system in place run the risk of arriving home without bread but with seventeen packets of Pot Roast Seasoning.

The “Traffic Cop” – you are less concerned with the price of items or gathering the items on your list than you are with what direction other people are moving. With steely glares, muttered comments, and an occasional hip check that wouldn’t be out of place in the National Hockey League, you maintain orderly progression in the aisles. Or at least you try to. The arrows painted or tiled in the floors are the bedrock of your existence. You’re thinking of putting them in at your own house.

The “Salmon” – you are the reason the “traffic cop” stops at the antacid shelf. Oblivious to the direction of traffic or number of people in the aisles, you go for it. The 17 people you force to the side to avoid a head-on collision? Who cares? You just saved valuable seconds by swimming upstream instead of going around.

This "defensive lineman" is at least using a small cart.

The “Defensive Lineman” – you are a conscientious shopper, reading the labels and comparing prices before you buy. Sadly, as you’re treating the sodium content of the green beans like a summer novel, your cart is blocking approximately 72% of the available shelf space. The 453 times you’ve had to move (grudgingly) by other people’s “excuse me” don’t register – calculating the best buy on tomato paste has your full and undivided attention.

The “Social Shopper” –The social shopper’s primary characteristic is what isn’t in their cart: groceries. Instead, the social shopper comes to the commissary around the same time as other members of their group to exchange news: who was promoted, who got married, who retired, who died, who has extra coupons for $1.00 off any brand of shampoo… Bands of social shoppers tend to rotate slowly through the commissary in a counter-clockwise motion, which endears them to the “Traffic Cop” if to no one else.

The “Wagon Master” – Traveling in pairs and usually retired, the wagon master has two carts, both filled to the brim with groceries. The wagon trains on this here trail are natural riding partners with “end cappers” and “defensive linemen”. The RV in the parking lot is theirs, and they aim to fill it! Git’ along, little doggies, and if you tip the bagger by the bag, you’ll need a second mortgage.

The “Shepherd” – A shepherd has several children in tow. Some of them may or may not be hers, but it’s difficult to tell as they’re in constant motion. That isn’t entirely true, as three of the children are in the cart: one in the seat, one in the cargo compartment wedged upright by canned goods, and one on the front, “I’m king of the world” Titanic-style. The shepherd has no apparent control over any of the children outside the cart beyond yelling threats from three aisles away.

The “Dependent Husband” – an educated man in his twenties or thirties with a small child, the dependent husband elicits sympathy and assistance from almost everyone (except the shepherd, who’s got problems of her own). These sympathizers assume a man alone with his child must be completely helpless. Dependent Husbands are capable, but an unenlightened society sees them as lambs at the slaughter. Dependent husbands fall into two sub-categories: the ones who resent the help and sympathy (the “suckers”), and the ones who ride that horse as far as it will go (“your correspondent”).

If you don’t fall into one of these categories (or if you experience these symptoms only occasionally), I apologize on behalf of all my brethren. You see, before I morphed into a Dependent Husband of the first rank, I was a “Clot With Child”.

Curiously enough, we had a lot of pot roast back in those days…