by Maggie Wollman

There is such a dizzying array of products, sizes, colors, shapes, etc., on supermarket shelves, you practically need a Ph.D. in supermarket shopping to get the best deals these days.

I know he’s precise and analytical. After all, he’s an actuary, but I never considered he would take these skills into the mundane field of bathroom products. For the last three weeks Milton, my husband, has not moved beyond our porch. His balance is poor. Since he hasn’t done any shopping, it came to me to fulfill his short list of health-care needs.

First on the list was aspirin. Apparently the last time I was asked to buy aspirin, I came home with baby aspirin. No! No! I must look for 325 mg. When I found the shelf of 325 mg. I had many choices with product names I recognize. Would it be OK to select the Acme house brand, Equaline? It costs less. Go for economy, says I. I used the same criterion for dental floss where there was a $2 difference between the same length of floss, one waxed and one flavored. Big deal!

It was the mouthwash that really tripped me up. Milton’s order was for 22.5% alcohol. Was he drinking it or swishing it in his mouth?  I walked through shelves of mouthwash, and the highest alcohol content I could find was 21.6%. I, who occasionally bought the product and rarely used it, made my choice based on flavor, price and size. Actually, size is the important consideration. Will the bottle fit within the constraints of the shelf height? I searched Target and Rite Aid and gave up. As it turned out, Milton misremembered the alcohol number. It’s 21.6%. Go figure.

Then there was an order for liquid soap. I buy liquid dishwasher detergent for the kitchen but have never bought the kind for hands and face. I’m still using the cake soap inherited from my mother, who bought it by the case from Macy’s.

In this product, the choices are mind-boggling. First off, does Milton want his soap clear or opaque? Would it be acceptable if it contained honey, lemon, lime, or does it have to be fragrance-free? Would it be bad if it specified hand use or that it foamed? There were too many options for me to choose.

When I came home empty-handed, Milton said any one would do. That being the case, I gave him a cinnamon-scented opaque liquid soap that someone had given me and which I hadn’t gotten around to using.

Buying eye drops was easy. (Finally!) I was given a discount coupon picturing five varieties. The one Milton wanted was circled. No thought necessary.

Distilled water was another problem on the shopping list. I don’t even know what that is. I get my whiskey from a distillery, but I didn’t know there was a water distillery. Target was out of the product. Rite Aid had it for $1.35, which turns out to be about 25 percent higher than Milton’s store of choice, Giant. I bought two gallons. One is still in the trunk of my car.

Come to think of it, if it freezes, it can make trouble. Last winter I left a case of Coke in the trunk only to find that the cans had popped their closings and the liquid disappeared, amazingly without leaving any residue. What does that say for the ingredients in Coke? The contents are ephemeral; only the price is real.

This week expects to see very mild weather. Milton should be able to leave the house, go to the store himself and shop for his preferred products, please God.

Maggie Wollman, long-time resident of Mt. Airy, is a member of the Lovett Library Writing Club. She is not a member of Supermarket Lovers of America.