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Why I can’t return the sour milk

Jocelyn pihlajaStep into my mukluks for 17 minutes.

Minute One: Park car in lot outside “fancy” grocery store in town. As door slams, congratulate self on not locking keys inside. Simultaneously marvel at surprising deliciousness of cotton candy gum.

Minute Two: Walk across parking lot to store. Remember time you ran into cousin there, in middle of asphalt. He wore long wool coat. When he was young, you’d never have pegged him as wearer of long wool coat. Wonder about intersection of coat and his recent “vice president” title at work. Related?

Minute Three: Enter store. Notice college student ordering latte at the coffee stand. Quash urge to yell, “Get the Turtle Mocha. They cut up a Snickers bar and put it on top of the whipped cream, and you’ll never have a better boyfriend than that!” Reject notion of getting cart, as you have short list. Pick up basket and congratulate self for traveling light. You are restraint on tiny cat feet compared to conspicuously consuming shoppers hacking around dairy section. Gad. Watch lady in North Face puffer coat loading yogurts into her cart like 12-day blizzard, or prolonged course of antibiotics, is imminent. Thorstein Veblen would clutch cravat in choked dismay.

Minute Four: Look at shopping list. First item: 10x yogurts.

Minute Five: Even though not on list, toss bag of pita chips into basket. Midnight snackies favor hummus and get shrill if not coddled.

Minute Six: Recall kids have been wanting little Jell-O cups. Green ones. As occur in nature.

Minute Seven: Bananas! On list! Virtue restored!

Minute Eight: Self-righteously march past bulk nuts. Crack nonsensical joke to self about “bulk nuts.” Slip by woman near cans of beans who needs new stylist. Hard black hair against 63-year-old face highlights, rather than masks, age. Tangentially wonder if Oprah dyes hair. Ruminate about how girls who have graduated from Oprah’s school in South Africa are doing and if they have seen Selma. Imagine what girls would wear to Oscars, had Selma been nominated and Oprah brought them as special guests. Predict strapless with sweetheart necklines. Hot orange.

Minute Nine: ORANGES! Head back to produce. Fruit supply at home is low. Mercifully, so is population of fruit flies. Pull out mental gratitude journal, noting unnecessarily that Oprah Is Ubiquitous, and jot “No fruit flies means don’t have to cover wine glass with coaster” as today’s entry. Watch as mental script fades away in middle of “coaster” because mental pen is running out of ink. Stupidly, toss oranges on top of pita chips. Cringe at ensuing crunch. Congratulate self for tricep workouts that enable you to carry light-footprint basket even when loaded with 15 pounds of items not on list. Wonder if Thorstein Veblen was any fun at parties.

Minute 10: Feel underwear tag scratching heiny. Complete sly mental scan of five-foot radius. Clear. Casually slide hand down pants and adjust offender.

Minute 11: As long as scratching crack, time for cracker aisle. Rue that Triscuits aren’t negative calorie food. Wonder if science fiction writer could ever create world where oil-rich food saps body. Wonder if, should this book be written, you would read it. Decide not. Send out mental signal to fictional science fiction writer not to bother. Wonder what his name would have been. Derek?

Minute 12: Get mired down in front of protein bars. Check calories and shake fist at sky. Note sugar grams and drop forehead into hands. Spiral, in under three seconds, into black void of hunger, exercise, intake, output and ceaselessly soft mid-section. Jar brain out of unreasonable rut with observation that protein bars are processed food. Also observe that husband and son aren’t bar-oriented while daughter and mother are. Feel exasperated by gender politics of food. Load eight bars into suddenly-heavy-feeling basket. Give triceps pep talk and remind them how hard they worked at gym while lady wearing microphone yelled motivationally about 16 more reps.

Minute 13: Walking past plexiglass case, get distracted by prospect of muffins. Realize, in complicated emotional bargaining that is parenthood, you “owe” son muffin since you bought several for daughter two weeks ago when she went on extracurricular event for three days and stayed in hotel. Store had no chocolate chip muffins then. Store has no chocolate chip muffins now. Get philosophical and ask self, “What is a muffin without chocolate chips, really?” Deliberate merits of massive pumpkin muffin instead. Decide no. As you walk away from pumpkin, bid him “Adieu, Derek.”

Minute 14: Realize you’re supposed to be picking up daughter and friend not named Derek from ski practice in one minute. Hope they find enriching conversational topics to temper waiting. Consider texting daughter quick message: “Beyoncé. Pregnant again? Discuss.” Concede Beyoncé topic not enriching. Revise unsent text to: “Are corporations people? Answer is NO. Discuss Romney’s failed bids for presidency.” Speculate about product Romney uses in hair to make it look like shellacked guitar strings. Smile at image of guitar strings because Taylor Swift plays guitar and daughter loaded your iPod running playlist with Taylor Swift songs. Oops, DAUGHTER. Should go get her. Do driving math of “four miles that direction before six miles another direction,” push gently on spongy internal organ to test its mass, and decide bathroom stop is essential.

Minute 15: Enter bathroom, sliding gaze to floor so as to avoid verbal exchange with hair-fluffer obsessed with volume of noggin’s silhouette. Skulk into stall. Set down bag of groceries while simultaneously setting rear onto ring. As soon as relief begins, realize there is no toilet paper. Unzip jacket pockets. Frisk self. Peer into amazing lime green purse that could easily hold Kleenex were they stocked. Check for feet under next stall so you can query, suddenly friendly, “Can you spare a square?” On every front: out. of. luck.

Minute 16: Contemplate brown paper grocery bag at feet. Ripping off some inches would be admirably pragmatic. Consider thickness of paper. Stiff stuff. Not absorbent. Entertain possibility of “tanning” brown paper as traditional hunters did deer hides: with urine. Realize, damn it, you just wasted that most precious resource. How can someone tan brown paper bag with urine when she’s just released all of hers into five gallons of water? Let brain drift to one of its favorite vacation spots: life of Ayla in Clan of the Cave Bear. When not domesticating animals or inventing needle and thread, assuredly that woman harnessed potential of urine.

Minute 17: Spot nine-inch receipt inside brown paper grocery bag. Push through nano-second of worry about vaginal ink poisoning. Grab receipt, blot cooch with it, and watch paper swirl and swirl again — so full of drama with swirls — before disappearing down porcelain chute. Take moment, bowing head like traditional hunter standing over elk with arrow in its side, to thank water, sky, earth for always providing.

And that’s why, when I got home and discovered the milk I’d bought was sour, I couldn’t return it.

— Jocelyn Pihlaja

Jocelyn Pihlaja has been teaching writing and literature at the college level since 1991. She has a husband who cooks dinner every night, kids who hold up hands requesting “silence” when their reading is interrupted and a blog, O Mighty Crisis. Her writing has appeared on MamalodeBLUNTmomsThe Indie ChicksThe Good Men ProjectMamapediaIn the Powder Room and elephant journal. She also is a regular contributor to a local public radio program, Women’s Words, where she delights in wearing huge headphones — and not just because they remind her she actually remembered to wear earrings that day.

Reflections of Erma