Okay, so this is the 2nd edition of my helpful newsletter (If you missed the last edition on surviving your child's birthday party, click here).
Today's issue will focus on what I discovered to be a horribly traumatic life-altering experience: Back-to-School week at OfficeStaplesMaxDepot. There's one right across the street from my office, so I go there regularly for supplies. It's quiet, the employees are generally helpful, and I know my way around it pretty well.
I naively thought this would be easy.
So on to the lesson:
1. Do NOT volunteer for this job (flip a coin, or arm wrestle, or have a duel to decide instead).
Silly me. When Mrs. Grumpy was wondering when she'd have time to get the school supplies, I volunteered. I figured "How hard can it be? Hell, it's just some pencils and a bottle of glue". DUMBASS!!! The list is HUGE, and features items from the mundane (No. 2 pencils), to the specific (Expo dry erase markers, wide tip, in blue, green, yellow, and black) to the odd (1 Pringles can with lid, original flavor, empty). It took me 2 freakin' hours!
2. Be prepared. Normally there are 5-10 other quiet business-type people there. NOT THIS WEEK! Holy Crap! An African street bazaar is an orderly affair compared to this! Deranged parents running on caffeine! Kids running amuck! Store clerks running for their lives! And all the crazed parents are trying to read off a list, push a cart, yell at kids, and scream into a cell phone at the same time. Bring a water bottle, food, a map, a cattle prod, and a flashlight. A card with your blood type, hospital preference, and next of kin is also a good idea.
3. Do not leave your cart unattended. People will steal your shit out of it. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! I had my cart 2/3 full with the crap on my list, when I left it at the end of an aisle to go find notebooks (spiral, wide-ruled, 100 pages each, single subject, 1 red, 1 blue, 1 green). When I returned 3 minutes later about half the stuff I'd already put in it was GONE! I watched a few minutes later as it happened to others. Apparently, when you walk away from your cart, people think it means they can raid it for supplies they haven't had a chance to pick up yet. "Hey, this guy has those index cards (2 sizes, lined and unlined, 100 each) that my kid needs. Cool. I'll scratch that off my list".
If another parent asks you what school your kid goes to, or who their teacher is, DO NOT ANSWER. Ignore them. Pretend you're deaf, or that you don't speak English. They are not making conversation. They are casing your cart, and if they find out your kid is in the same class as their kid, they'll wait until you aren't looking to take your stuff (or just switch carts).
Best part was when I went to ask an employee for help finding something (Flair Correction Pens, in 4 colors). When I got back to my cart the box of 12 ultra-fine tip Sharpies I left in it had been opened, and someone had taken one of them. They'd even doodled on the shopping list I left in my cart to make sure they were taking a pen that worked.
Oddly, you can leave valuables in your cart. Your wallet, purse, and gold jewelry will be perfectly safe if left unattended, but the $2.69 box of high-lighters (12 markers, large tip, in 3 colors) will vanish.
My recommendation: bring a child to guard your cart, preferably one with an iron bladder and who's old enough to use a Taser or firearm if needed. If your kids don't meet this requirement, stop by Home Depot and hire one of the day laborers who hangs out in front looking for work.
4. Do not look for certain numbers of things. The people who make these lists have no idea how things are sold, so it lists things as "1 Expo dry erase marker, chisel-tip, red). Great. They don't sell red ones individually, just in boxes of 4. Or the Flair Correction Pens don't come in only 4 colors, but they do come in 8. Just buy it. If you aren't certain what item the teacher wants, just buy everything in sight and return the rejects later.
Alternatively, if the teacher only wants 1 of an item, such as, say, an ultra-fine tip Sharpie (which only come in boxes of 12), you can always look for an unattended cart with a box of them in it, and take one. If paper is handy, try doodling on it to make sure you are stealing one that works.
5. Hold your place in the check-out line AT ALL COSTS. Reserve it as soon as you walk in the store BEFORE shopping. Use a child (preferably your own) if possible. Other options include day laborers from Home Depot, mannequins, dogs, and aggressive Venus Fly Traps.
6. When in doubt, ask the bleary-eyed, terrified employees for help. If nothing else, it is fun to watch them try to convince you that they don't speak English as they run outside for a cigarette.