THE BLOG

Costco: Or Why I Might Be on a Terrorist Watch List

10/10/2013 02:40 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Alena Dillon Humor author of I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean

Costco exhausts me. You know how the elderly have to distribute their obligations across an entire week (laundry on Tuesday, drugstore on Thursday, etc.) because everything is so damn tiring? That's how I am with Costco. I walk into that warehouse and I'm done for the day.

Management realizes the stamina required to get from hygiene to produce and then back up again to computer supplies -- that's why they set up sample stands at every aisle. Those noble men and women in their red hats and aprons dispensing bites of dumplings or pizza bagels are as essential to the process as are the individuals handing out cups of water along marathon routes. And that, of course, makes me the runner. I'm bent at a 45-degree angle in order to push the over-sized cart, which by the time I reach the cereal section is already piled with tubs of shampoo and conditioner; 1,000 tablets of Tylenol; tampons fit to stock a women's prison; and enough toothpaste to trace a mint football field, complete with yard lines and a team logo. Setting my sights on the next table equipped with a mini oven and toothpicks is the only thing fueling me from section to section.

By the time I slump my way to the cashier, my cart is teeming -- one sharp turn away from a wreck -- but there's no getting around the sheer measure of product. There might be only four items in the carriage, but it's the quantity of those four items that demands such space. If I want to shave my legs, I have to buy 52 razors. When I walk out with that many blades, I know the cashier is wondering what manner of forestry I'm hiding under my cardigan. And their Parmesan cheese container has such a circumference that it requires two hands to hold. When I'm topping off my spaghetti, I feel like a baby gripping its bottle of milk. Costco sells 50 percent of the world's supply of cashews, and I'm fairly confident that's just in one container. Caskets may be the only item Costco sells in moderation, although I've honestly never looked into it. They very well might come in twelve-packs.

Despite what my local grocery bagger might think (every time I pull up to checkout, he says, "Big family, huh?"), I am part of a small household. The second smallest possible, actually. Two. Costco was not made for families like ours. The toilet paper I bought last year is still in reserves. We live in a one-bedroom apartment, and I have a roll of toilet paper in every cabinet, nook, and drawer. I find toilet paper rolls like parents discover rotten Easter eggs they forgot they hid.

Then there's the canola oil -- my god -- the canola oil. Olive oil is our oil of choice; it's what we use to sauté onions and garlic, which is the foundation for pretty much every meal. But, occasionally, I bake muffins, so when I spotted the industrial sized canola oil at Costco, I thought to myself, That would be better for muffins. And, without due process, I bought it. Do you know how many batches of banana walnut muffins I'll have to bake to get through that vat of oil? 320. That's over 2,000 muffins. Breakfast at my place?

And this is why I fear I might be on a domestic terrorist watch list.

I've heard that the FBI has labeled bulk food purchase (more than seven days worth) as potential terrorist activity, and God knows it's going to take more than a week for my husband and I to eat our way through three pounds of almonds.

If it's true, I don't blame the Feds. I'll be the first to admit that my behavior is suspicious. What do I, a childless woman of 27, need with twelve pounds of peanut butter? The authorities would sooner assume that I'm improvising some manner of Skippy Super Chunky explosive device than believe we eat that much creamy protein by the spoonful to stave off hunger pains. (Government suspicion may be heightened by my recent Google search, "Can you make a bomb with peanut butter?" The scary thing is -- somebody already asked that question on Wiki answers. The answer, it seems, is no, unless you mean the fun sweet treat by the name Peanut Butter Bomb.)

I can just see myself cordoned off in a small, stark room with nothing but a metal table and a spotlight, an agent sitting across from me, calmly chewing a peanut butter on white bread sandwich, waiting for me to break. I insist that we aren't terrorists; we just really enjoy peanut butter. We eat it on celery, soft bread, toasted bread, graham crackers, saltine crackers, pretzels of all shapes and sizes, apples, and even, simply, plain. Finally, he loses it. He snaps, pounding the table and jumping to his feet. "But twelve pounds of it? Cut the bull***t. Not even the Duggars need that amount of whipped nut. This is chemical warfare and we know it. You're going after the new wave of kids with peanut allergies, aren't you? Aren't you?"

The truth is, of course, that I don't need twelve pounds of peanut butter. Just like I don't need 25 lbs of potatoes, 500 Ziploc sandwich bags, 5 quarts of liquid plumber, 2,400 sheets of computer paper, 700 coffee filters, or 10 cans of water chestnuts. But I can't resist. I can't resist the idea of never having to shop for water chestnuts again, and I can't resist the suggestion that, by purchasing my year's supply of toilet paper upfront, I'm saving.

That is the allure. It's why Costco has 58 million members worldwide, and why its security is tighter than an airport. (They demand to see your membership card at the door, screen your receipt on your way out, and last week the cashier asked me for three forms of identification. "I do this to everybody," he assured me. But I didn't see him do it to the woman before me or the woman after me, so I think he's full of a Costco amount of baloney, and that I was a victim of age profiling.) It's why customers will put up with quirky eccentricities like only accepting American Express and, despite stocking boxes of 200 count kitchen garbage bags, that there is no plastic in sight at the end of checkout. After being fatigued by towers of goods, you now have to face lugging all of your purchases from cart to car and from car to home without the help of handles.

If this doesn't seem like a big deal, then you weren't in the parking lot watching me navigate a cart brimming with groceries when I hit a bump in the sidewalk. My clamshell of fresh raspberries slid off the top and exploded on the concrete below. The beautiful pink succulent raspberries that I was so looking forward to enjoying were everywhere, except in their plastic container.

Like I mentioned earlier, Costco exhausts me, so I was already skittering on the temperament of an infant in need of a nap, and this disaster was the mean older sister that pinches you when your mother turns her back. My eyes watered. My lip trembled. I abandoned my cart, ran back inside, and tugged on the sleeve of the first person I saw wearing a red apron.

"My raspberries," I said, trying to grip the last remaining shreds of composure. "They fell. And they rolled. And they are everywhere."

"Go get another one," she said, taking a step away from the crazy lady before I sobbed into her bosom.

So I did. I sprinted to the back produce area, grabbed the top box of raspberries in the stack, and walked back out of the store, carrying my prize like a lollipop.

As I approached my cart, sitting where I left it in the middle of the sidewalk, some astute man said, "Oops. Looks like somebody lost their raspberries." Ahh, I believe you are correct, my dear Watson. A very clever conjecture. It does seem as if somebody lost their raspberries. Idiot.

I slowed my pace so he would pass before identifying me as the loser.

Although, being known as the woman who cried over spilt fruit is much less dangerous than being recognized as a person of interest. So, if you're reading, FBI, we are only criminal overeaters. Please don't lock me up. Even though a lot of this food doesn't expire for another year, it may take that long for me to get through it, and I just don't have any doing-time to spare.

YOU MAY LIKE