On a night like this, I’m pretty sure that just about anyone more creative and/or bored than myself could have come up with any number of better places to be than hanging out in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket, but with as hot as the weather was outside, I certainly couldn’t think of any. Well, Alaska maybe, but that tends to be a little tricky when I’ve got a 9am meeting tomorrow morning that I’m expected at. This was a lot cheaper anyway, and besides, as of the last time I checked the modern American supermarket tends not to be populated by too many wild animals inclined to devour you. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I was even there for, only that it was way too hot outside, and the frozen food aisle seemed as good a place as any to get out of it.
After aimlessly wandering up and down the aisle a couple of times I decided that I should probably consider actually buying something there before someone decided I was loitering. There was no shortage of potential choices here, but for some reason, nothing seemed quite right. Ice cream just sounded too heavy right now, and none of the good stuff was on sale anyway. The usual litany of ice cream bars, sandwiches and other novelties wasn’t exactly sounding all that appealing either. And the pies, cakes and other desserts were just right out. Without any idea what I was even looking for, I began to make yet another slow walk down the aisle, pausing only to let the occasional shopping cart pass by.
Then it hit me. As I looked into the freezer case, I saw the Bomb Pops. Even though I hadn’t had one in years, I could immediately taste them in my mind. The combination of cherry, lime and blue raspberry flavors sounded like just the thing I wanted at that moment. And yet, as I took a closer look at the case, I found a rather odd sign placed above them: “Please ask an associate for assistance with these items.” I quickly dismissed the sign as some sort of misplaced leftover from something else as I reached for the handle to the door, but strangely enough, the door would not open. Further investigation revealed that for some unknown reason, there was a lock on this particular freezer door, which appears to have been a recent addition. Not that it would have done any good anyway, since I could have just reached in from the next door over and grabbed a box anyway, but that was beside the point. At this point, I suspect most people would have just given up and wandered a couple of doors over to the generic popsicles a couple of doors down, but at this point morbid curiosity took over.
Down at the far end of the aisle I found a store employee stocking the shelves, and wandered over. Trying not to act too suspicious (which I suspect was rather difficult at this point since I had probably already spent twenty minutes slowly walking up and down the aisle by this time) I got the clerk’s attention, and asked him where I might find the Bomb Pops. In retrospect this was probably a really stupid question since I had been staring right at them no more than thirty seconds before, but I naively assumed I could feign ignorance.
The employee looked up from the shelf he had been stocking, pointed back to the front of the aisle, and said, “The popsicles are at the front of the aisle on the right.”
“Yes,” I replied, “But I’m looking for the Bomb Pops.”
“I’m afraid we don’t sell those anymore,” replied the stocker. “But we do have a 2-for-1 sale on our store-brand ice pops…”
At this point, there was no point in maintaining any sort of pretense. I pointed toward the locked case.
“It appears that you have at least three boxes in the freezer over there.”
“Fine, but I’m afraid those aren’t very good. If I were you, I’d strongly recommend the Fudgsicles…”
At this point it was clear that this had become far more of a hassle than the situation really warranted, but by now I was determined to carry on, if for no other reason than to see just how ridiculous it could possibly get.
“Is there a problem with the Bomb Pops?” I asked.
“No, I can assure you that the Bomb Pops are just fine. I stocked them in that case on Thursday.”
“Then why can’t I just buy a box?”
“BUY A BOX?” the stocker exclaimed, with a sudden look of shock on his face. “Why on Earth would you want to do THAT?”
At this point, I found myself straining a bit to avoid breaking out into laughter. After a pause, I replied, “Well, because I’m looking for a snack.”
“Well, if you’re looking for a snack, why don’t you just go get some POTATO chips?” the clerk quickly blurted out, sounding like a con artist who had just figured out a way to weasel out of his rapidly collapsing web of deceit “The Pringles are currently Buy two get one…”
I interrupted before he could continue, “Potato chips aren’t what I’m here for, I’m looking for Bomb Pops, and I’m trying to figure out why this is so difficult.”
“Clearly you have no idea what you’re asking for!” the stocker exclaimed. Apparently our conversation had attracted the attention of several other shoppers in the store, who had now congregated at the opposite end of the frozen foods aisle. By now we had also attracted the attention of a store manager.
“May I help you?” the manager asked as he approached the conversation. The stocker took this opportunity to hastily back away, apparently wanting nothing to do with this conversation. It seemed that he had some pressing business in the cereal aisle that required his immediate attention. A shortage of Cap’n Crunch perhaps?
I continued the conversation with the store manager. “I’m just trying to buy some Bomb Pops.”
The manager paused for several seconds. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yes,” I replied. “It seems they’re being locked up in the freezer for some reason.”
“Of course they’re being locked up,” the manager replied, with a slight hint of condescension in his voice. “We can’t just have anyone wandering in and buying the things now, can we?”
“I don’t see why not,” I replied. “I mean, they’re just popsicles, right?”
“Popsicles?” responded the manager, who had now reached the point of full on indignation. “Of COURSE not. Only Popsicles are popsicles! Those things are… Are… Are…” He struggled to find a word.
“Quiescently Frozen Confections?” I offered.
“Yes, those!” the manager replied. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
“How complicated can it be? I’m looking for some Bomb Pops, your store is selling them. If it wasn’t for the fact that you’ve got the things locked up in the freezer I’m pretty sure I’d be halfway home with a box of the things already.”
“Wait,” replied the manager. “You mean you would actually take the things HOME?”
“Of course I would, unless you expect me to sit around and eat a whole box of the things here in the aisle.”
“Clearly you have no idea what you’d be getting yourself into.”
“And just what would I be getting myself into?”
“Trouble, of course!”
“Listen,” I replied, “Just how much trouble could I get myself into with those things? I mean, I’m pretty sure I could just walk into the Safeway three blocks away and buy the things off the shelf without any hassle.”
“Of COURSE those irresponsible nitwits at Safeway would sell the blasted things to anyone who wandered in off the street!” the manager snapped back, clearly irritated by now. At the other end of the aisle, the other shoppers continued to watch, transfixed by the pointless-yet-amusing drama unfolding before their eyes. The manager paused again, this time for several seconds, possibly noticing for the first time the stares of the other shoppers. Afterward, he assumed a much quieter tone.
“I apologize sir,” he said. “I suppose we can’t expect every customer that wanders into the store to understand.”
“Understand what?” I replied.
“Let’s just say that there have been certain… Shall we say… UNFORTUNATE incidents, related to Bomb Pops in this store.”
“Well,” the manager replied in hushed tones, almost as though he didn’t want anyone else to hear, “We still haven’t figured out all the details really, but the place was a disaster area. It took three people an entire Graveyard shift just to clean up all the red and blue goop before the morning rush arrived. I mean, we were finding the stuff in the BAKERY for Heaven’s sake!”
“So that means you have to lock up the Bomb Pops now?”
“It’s the only way to be sure.”
“Be sure of what?” By now, It was pretty clear that this entire conversation was a was doing nothing but wasting everyone’s time, but nobody was backing down at this point.
“That there won’t be another Ugly Little Bomb Pop Incident.”
Wait,” I replied. “Let me get this straight. Somehow there was an incident involving Bomb Pops, and now everyone is so afraid of the things that they have to keep them under lock and key?”
“To make a long story short, yes.”
“So why do you even sell the things?”
“Believe me, I’d be more than happy to just get rid of the things and be done with them, but someone in corporate just keeps putting the things into the weekly ad, and the warehouse just keeps sending more. We’ve tried explaining to them, but they just ignore us and keep expecting us to sell them anyway.” By now, the manager’s face grew increasingly nervous, and as he spoke he made several glances to the side, as if to look for a way out. I figure that by this time the stocker with whom this conversation started was hiding out in a dark corner of the breakroom, waiting for the whole thing to blow over.
“Listen,” the manager said nervously, apparently getting as sick of this conversation as I was, “If I let you buy a box of Bomb Pops, will you agree to never speak of any of this again?”
“Well, that’s what I’m here for, right?”
“Are you sure there isn’t something I could do to talk you out of this?”
“OF course not,” I replied. Sure, I had just wasted the last fifteen minutes in a pointless argument over a three-dollar box of popsicles, but I sure as heck wasn’t leaving without them after all that.
“Very well then,” the manager finally said, with a barely concealed sigh. “Now if you can follow me over to the customer service desk, we have some papers we will need you to fill out.”
As we proceeded down the frozen foods aisle toward the front of the store, I noticed another “Please ask an associate for assistance” sign located above the case holding the Eggo waffles. I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to know what prompted that one.