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  • March 25, 2023

    Life Lessons at the Supermarket


    I love going to the supermarket.

    I usually have a long list of the things I’m supposed to buy, but I really want to do is see what’s not on the list. I want to walk up and own every single aisle, explore every offering along the way, and check out what is available, even if I do not plan to buy any of the items I see.

    There are some people, whom I wisely choose not to name, who think this is crazy. They go to the supermarket, get what they need, check out as quickly as they can, and then come straight home with their purchases. They feel that shopping for groceries is a chore, not an adventure.

    They couldn’t be more wrong.

    Going to the supermarket is like going on an exploration of the society in which we live. What are people eating, how are they preparing it, and what does it all say about society as a whole? If you want insight into how the world works, don’t turn on the news. That is not now, nor has it ever been, a reflection of reality.

    If you want to understand our culture and the people with whom we share it, go to the supermarket.

    We all have to eat, and Americans come together at the supermarket, telling their own stories in what they buy, how they act, how they relate to their fellow shoppers, and how they pay for what they buy.

    There are the folks who see the market as a place to meet with friends. They block the aisles as they gossip with acquaintances and kinfolk or even people they’ve just met. There are the bickering husbands and wives, snapping at each other over what kind of mustard or jelly to buy. There are the out-of-control children, whether in the cart seat or running up and down the aisles grabbing whatever catches their fancy.

    Some brave souls go to the market with a list and an objective. These people are on a mission. For them, it’s in and out fast. Pick up the groceries, do a quick self-checkout, and out the door to the parking lot. These are the efficient and focused people – not at all bad people, but not very curious or interested in the other folks and the drama that unfolds all around them.

    Then there are the explorers – people like me, who go up and down every aisle, checking to see what’s being offered – even if they have no plans to buy. The explorers are in the same genus as the bargain hunters with a handful of coupons, looking to save a few cents on each item. The explorers are at war with the people on a mission, because the explorers are always loitering in the aisles, getting in the way and blocking the progress of the in-and-outers.

    For explorers, there is a lot to see. There’s the cheese and cheese-like food products – processed slices of cheddar, shredded jack, cheese wedges, string cheese in a stick, and rubbery pretend cheese like Velvetta, Cheez Whiz and American cheese slices – some of it legally classified as cheese and some on the borderline.

    There is the dairy section – milk and milk-like products – such things as almond milk, cashew milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and oat milk. These products have nothing to do with milk, except they are a sort of a whiteish liquid that may or may not be creamy. Even the real milk comes in nonfat, 1 percent fat, 2 percent fat, half-and-half, pure cream, and whipping cream, which is often more vegetable oil than dairy product.

    There are the novelty items, such as the omelet mixes – all you have to do is add an egg, stir, and microwave. Peanut butter and jelly or chocolate and jelly all pre-stirred in the same jar, mini bagels made to taste like pizzas, dozens of keto products, and various pickles and pickle relishes. The list goes on and on, and explorers want to check out all of it, even if they have no problem with putting their own peanut butter and jelly separately on their own bread.

    If you are thirsty, there are sodas (somewhat out of fashion now) mineral waters, energy drinks, fortified water, distilled water, and zero calorie drinks. There’s also a huge variety of juices and juice-like products that are more water, special flavoring and a bunch of dyes. If you want to grab a meal without sitting around a table with your pesky mate or children, there are hot pockets, chicken tenders, frozen calzones, tater tots, protein shakes, and sugary, high-fiber, high-protein “health bars.”

    There are a lot of cross-over items that span more than one category. Things such as trail mix – a supposedly healthy product that may include candied nuts or little chunks of chocolate in case you need to feed your sweet tooth while you’re hiking the High Sierras. There’s cereal, wheat or rice flakes and nuggets, often coated in syrup, icing, sugar, and artificial coloring and sweeteners.


    There are canned and frozen fruit chunks, packed in syrup or coated and frozen with a sugary glaze. There are even vegetables that have been mixed with extra ingredients to make them more enticing than they might otherwise be.

    Even the fresh vegetables in the produce section have been processed, cut up, mixed, and added to in order to save you from doing those menial chores yourself. Many children have never seen a head of lettuce or leaves of spinach that weren’t mixed in a plastic bag with a label that says “Spring Mix” or “Asian Slaw.”


    Unless you’re a chemist, don’t bother reading the ingredients on most of what you find in a grocery store, first because you won’t understand them, but mainly because you don’t really want to know what is in a lot what you’re planning to put on the dinner table and in your body. I don’t really want to know, either, but I have an in-house expert who likes nothing better than to inform me of how may grams of sodium and how many grams of sugar and sugar-like components are in whatever snack I am about to put in my mouth.

    I’m not looking down on any of these processed food-like items – except maybe baby carrots, which are just grown-up carrots cut up to look like what a baby carrots might look like.

    I happily consume and appreciate what modern science and corporations have done to make our lives easier, such as low-sodium turkey bacon, which is a staple at my breakfast table. It may not be as tasty as fatty high-sodium swine bacon, but it is apparently healthier, so I do eat and even enjoy it.

    The whole supermarket society is presided over by a corps of burned-out, fed-up employees, who – if tracked down and prodded – will help you retrieve the item from the back of the top shelf that only a pro-basketball giant could reach on his own.

    Sometimes, because it is no longer considered a serious crime to steal, small, expensive items are locked behind closed glass cases that only an employee can open. Then, when the customer gets the item and examines it up close, he may decide he actually wants the similar one next to the one he got behind the same case. That never puts a smile on the employee’s face.

    The employees at the store are the grocery store bureaucrats – much like government employees, except they can actually be fired if they step too far out of line.

    The drama doesn’t stop when you finish at the check-out line. It continues right into the parking lot.

    There are the people who have forgotten where they parked and are wandering up and down the various aisles, trying to identify their own vehicle – a task made harder by the fact that modern cars all look sort of the same.

    There is a gauntlet of political hirelings collecting signatures for issues on which they have little information or understanding and bums looking for a handout.

    There are the parents who let their children run wild through the slow, but potentially deadly, parking lot traffic.

    There are the people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of an empty parking space, even though there is a corral for empty carts just a few steps away. These are usually the same people who can’t wait to get home to enjoy their snacks, so they throw the wrapping on the ground as they back out.

    Then there are the parking lot heroes, those fine folks who take their own carts back to the corral, often picking up other carts along the way. They’re the same ones who help old ladies struggling to transfer their groceries from cart to car.

    That’s who I aspire to be.

    It may not be my ticket to heaven, but maybe – just maybe – it’ll make me a little bit proud of myself.

    I can only hope.

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • March 15, 2023


    Getting old is not for sissies.

    I just received an invitation to my 65th Boca Ciega High School reunion, class of ’58. I am happy to report that Boca Ciega High School is still the home of the Pirates – apparently the bloodthirsty outlaws of the sea have not yet fallen victim to the politically correct hordes.

    The invitation was surprising to me in a couple of ways. First of all, I was surprised that it’s been 65 years since I graduated high school. That’s a really long time. And second, why me? I hated school – elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. My biggest goal when I graduated high school was to get as far away from all those people I had so little in common with, and to never see them again. I’d been pretty successful, up until last week. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember anybody from my high school days who hasn’t already died. That said, I’m kind of curious about what those few survivors of the Class of ’58 are doing 65 years later.

    As I studied the invite, I found a few interesting things. I have been to a lot of celebratory receptions, dinner-dances, awards dinners and lunches, and even fancy breakfasts to honor this person or recognize that anniversary. But, I have to say, this 65th High School Reunion invite had some things I’d never seen before. The dinner is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. – just in time, I suspect, for the early-bird special. As far as I can ascertain, there is no dancing scheduled – so it’s a dinner, rather than a dinner-dance. That’s kind of a plus in my book, although my potential date voiced disappointment.

    The reunion info packet proudly highlights that the Holiday Inn is only 500 feet from the reunion restaurant, which made me speculate as to whether attendees walking over from the hotel would be required to check their walkers by the door or if guests would be able to bring their walkers on in and park them near their tables.

    Sixty-five years is a long time. As I mentioned, there aren’t a whole lot of us left, and I wondering what, exactly, we might have in common. What are we going to talk about, besides our health problems, their grandkids, and exchanging lies about how no one has “changed a bit,” since high school.

    It seems to me that the event would be a lot more interesting if there was some kind of “tontine” involved. A vintage 1958 Bogey sweatshirt with a pirate on the chest for the last surviving member of the class would be nice. Or perhaps something even more valuable that we could all stand around and admire and that might give one of us that added determination to stay alive just a little while longer, so we could be the one to collect the final payout.

    Tontines have fallen out of favor in the United States over the years, but they are actually quite special. After World War II, there was a brief resurgence, when guys who left their homes and risked their lives together created them as a way of somehow staying in touch with blood brothers who scattered far and wide after the war. They had some pretty cool tontines in those days. My favorite was the one that was for a very good and very old bottle of Scotch that was trotted out once a year to sit in the middle of the reunion lunch table and be admired before, finally, being left with the last man standing to sip and remember his old buddies. That’s if his doctors still allowed him the occasional swig of alcohol.

    Graduating high school together isn’t nearly as dramatic as going to war, but tontines would sure make 65th high school reunions a lot more interesting. We could all make side bets over who was going to die next and who was most likely to take the final prize.

    It was very nice to be invited to the 65th Boca Ciega High School Reunion. But with all due respect to my fellow Pirates, I’m not going.

    Even if I could be back in my room at the Holiday Inn by 6 p.m.

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • January 30, 2023

    Following Directions or Kowtowing to the Man?


    There are people in this world who don’t like reading instructions or following rules that have been written down about some new complicated device – which these days can be a new car, a new stove, a new refrigerator, a new phone, or God help us, a new computer. I, on the other hand, was trained as an engineer, and so by nature I want to read all the materials that come with any new device before I even think about putting it together or using it.

    My wife, whose first action on getting something new is to throw away all those pesky directions that come with things, tells me this is strange, because I’m the guy who hates to follow the rules. It’s true. I don’t like people telling me what to do, and I sure as Hell don’t want some elected or appointed official sitting around making up rules to govern my daily life.

    I see rules and regulations as helpful guidelines to make it easier for everybody to get along. And to be honest, the more that other people follow all the rules, the easier it is for me to choose which rules I want to follow and which I choose to disregard.

    For example, I don’t stop and wait at traffic lights at 3 a.m. if there is no traffic in either direction and no cop cars in sight. Why would I? I’d just sit there feeling stupid. I don’t think it’s anybody else’s business what I choose to eat, drink, or smoke or how I choose to spend my money – especially not the government’s. And even though I consider myself a safe driver, if traffic conditions allow, I do not obey speed limits. But for some reason, I don’t extend this unwillingness to follow rules to following instructions. I’m sure they’re different, although my wife tells me I’m wrong about that.

    We recently bought a new dining room table that’s taller than our old table. It’s a splendid piece of furniture, but Carmela did not like the drab chairs that the retailer had suggested, so we ended up with a beautiful marble table that was too high for our old chairs.

    So, she went online, shopped around, and ordered some higher chairs that happened – like almost everything else these days – to come from China. They are very nice chairs, but let’s face it, anything you order from China is a crapshoot.

    The chairs came packed in a box with various pieces to put together and line-drawn pictures with a brochure in computer-translated English that misused adjectives and neglected prepositions altogether. I carefully read the directions, studied the drawings, sorted nuts and bolts into little glass dishes, and started putting the first chair together, following each step carefully.

    But when it came time to attach the braces at the top of the legs, nothing lined up. I’m not saying things needed a little elbow grease to bend the metal into place. I mean things were an inch or so off.

    I stared at the instructions and the line-drawing picture of the finished chair. In the picture, the bottom ring, where you rest your feet, was on the inside of the legs. Carmela didn’t look at the pictures or the instructions. She just said the foot ring should be on the outside of the legs – not inside.

    It was an obvious observation, but I was so busy studying the stupid, faulty instructions that I lost my way. Carmela didn’t even look at the instructions. She just used her common sense. Kind of like I do with rules and laws.

    Further, the seat – according to the instructions – was supposed to attach to the legs by four bolts. There was no way the four bolts lined up with the four holes on the bottom of the seat in which to screw in the bolts. I tried for a long time before I finally went online and read what other customers had to say. Nobody got all four bolts to line up. Three seemed to be the record; two was the norm.

    I attached three seats with two bolts each and got two chair to take three bolts. I tightened them down snugly, and the chairs seem to work. I will check them again to make sure they stay tight, but the chairs are both comfortable and look nice. And, they seem to provide the pop of color Carmela was looking for.

    But all this has got me thinking. Carmela says that reading and following instructions on how to put things together is the same thing as “kowtowing to the man,” something this child of the 60s still rails against. I’m not sure that’s really true, but she is insistent.

    She says it’s all just a matter of degree.

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • January 12, 2023



    I don’t mean to be indelicate, but the older I get the more I find myself thinking about all kinds of weird s**t. If that offends you, that is not my intent, and please read no further.

    There are two things that bring this to mind. The first is an interest in words and their meaning. The second is frequent visits to doctors.

    I was watching a documentary on Mozart the other night and was surprised to find that he was quite earthy. In correspondence with his wife, Mozart would talk in very plain language about things such as bowel movements and other bodily functions.

    You have to understand that in Mozart’s time, even middle-class people didn’t have running water in their homes or apartments. They had to go down the hall to a common facility or they had chamber pots near the bed. And if they lived in the country, they might have to go to an outhouse to do their business.

    Today, we are blessed with indoor plumbing. We go to the bathroom, do our business, flush it away, and never think about it again. We’re not ashamed of what we have done. We just don’t need to talk about it.

    We haven’t, however, abandoned the word itself. I do believe that people today probably use the s**t word way more than they did in Mozart’s time. They don’t just get inebriated at a party, they get s**t-faced. If they disagree with somebody, they might tell them they are full of s**t. And if they think that somebody is pulling their leg, they might ask: “Are you s**ting me?”

    The second thing that brings the word “s**t” to mind is that as I grow older, doctors are more and more interested in what ends up in my toilet.

    As an old-school old man, I feel embarrassed about talking about my “product,” especially with women doctors. What color is it, what’s the consistency, how often does it show up, how painful is it when it does show up, and what does it smell like?

    When I was a kid, it was doo-doo or poop, but after about  six or seven years old, that sounded like baby talk. Feces is probably clinically correct, but doesn’t really sound like something that came from a human being’s butt. At the doctor’s office we mostly end up calling it “it.” What did “it” look like, how did “it” smell, was “it” soft or hard, and how often does “it” come around?

    Consequently, I find myself examining my s**t after every sit-down, number one to see how I’m doing and number two (no joke intended) so I can report back if necessary. There are certain frustrations to this. A lot of public restrooms now have toilets that automatically flush when you stand up.

    You get up, turn around for a quick look, and whoosh, it’s all gone. And what do I say when that happens?

    “Oh, s**t.”

    – George Lee Cunningham

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  • December 30, 2022

    Home for the Holidays

    So Christmas came and Christmas went, but we stayed home, cuddled with our dog Henry, sprawled on the couch, slouched in chairs, laying together in bed, wrapped in blankets, and sick for the Holidays.

    Carmela had a sore throat, a raspy cough, headaches, and total lack of energy. I  was listless and fatigued, and even Henry was ailing – especially when he had to go out in the drizzle to pee or poop.

    We cancelled get-togethers with friends and family. Carmela had been scheduled for a new holiday do at the beauty parlor. We had been planning a special lunch with a dear friend and our niece and her husband. We had been looking forward to Christmas dinner at a fancy restaurant in Los Angeles with our sister-in-law Susan and her husband Jeff. Everything was cancelled.

    But, I’m not complaining. It was Christmas with just the three of us, locked inside, coughing, sniffling, and snuggling while the rain came down outside and other people gathered to celebrate the season. It was an intimate and caring time, and it brought its own Christmas joy.

    Our grand niece Everly Pearl had come to visit a few days before we had gotten sick, and she and Carmela had set up the creche in the corner with Mary and Joseph, the little shepherd boy, three wise men, their camels, a lamb, a donkey, and of course the baby Jesus. It took more than an hour as Everly placed the figures in their proper places, then moved them all to other places, and moved them once again. The baby Jesus was in his Mary’s arms, then moved to the manger, then back to his mother’s arms, while an angel looked on from above.

    Then Carmela and Evie decorated the rest of the house, hanging sparkling decorations and ornaments from knobs and hooks all over the living room and kitchen. Later, after Evie had gone home with her mother and brother, her sweet, bossy, little girl presence remained behind along with her handiwork.

    And so, we count our blessings. We weren’t stranded in the snow in upstate New York or sleeping on the floor of an airport terminal halfway to somewhere with no way there or back. We weren’t stuck in a frozen place ravaged by war and hatred.

    We were safe in our home, we had a warm place to sleep, we had food to eat, and most of all, we had each other.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.