Like everyone else in Baltimore, I have been stricken by a series of sicknesses: cold, flu, allergies.  It is hard to tell where one ends and the next begins.  The cold and flu aisle at every store is decimated!  But one thing about going to the store at midnight is that you get first shot at the recently restocked dry goods.

So when I showed up there last night I knew it was time to break down and purchase some allergy medicine,  an activity I dread.  The longer I stand in that aisle, perusing the brightly colored brand-named packaging and the white generic packaging, the more of a sense of responsibility I feel, the decision taking on the heft of a moral choice with far-reaching consequences.  Behold!  This red package has three ingredients attacking six separate symptoms!  The white one is three dollars cheaper but it has the ingredients in a different percentage!  Wait, is this for night?  Will it make me drowsy?  Will the daytime stuff make me high?  Don’t forget that day at work last spring when I giggled through four hours for no particular reason.   Do I have a responsibility to consider the whole aisle section by section before making a purchase?  The rows of colored boxes extend fifty feet long and reach seven feet high! There’s got to be something here that is just. exactly. perfect. for my malady.

It is my duty as an informed consumer to put in the time, to find that perfect allergy medicine.  If the medicine I purchase doesn’t solve all my problems, it is I who have failed, not the drug manufacturers.  In the same way it is my duty to find the perfect spaghetti sauce, bottled watter, and cheddar cheese.   If I am a good person I will spend hours examining options.
Ah, the illusion of choice, of there existing somewhere in the rows the exact match for my age and station.   The promise that someone somewhere has studied people just like me and tested products on them, and subsequently invented a perfect antitode to my problem, a perfect fulfillment to my momentary desire for thick-but-not-too-thick ranch dressing or crisp turkey bacon.  And they have done so without relying on substandard wages or undue mistreatment of animals.

Thinking of all this last night in the cold and flu aisle I did something I had never done before:  the grab and go!  There was this red box with some pills in it, it said “Allergy Relief” on the front, and it had a bunch of bullet points.  I threw it right into the basket without even checking for a generic version.  Today, my nose is a little swollen but less runny, I’m a space cadet but not ridiculously high, and my eyes don’t itch.  Not perfect,  but about as good as usual.

I miss shopping in Africa, where the marche mama gives you whatever can of vegetables she has that day and you take it, and she throws in a few cubes of boullion as a gesture of goodwill, and you smile and go away.