Adventures at Chez Costco

Rough Draft
(Richard Thompson)

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By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, July 10, 2005

When you walk into costco you immediately wish you had a family with eight or nine kids. I see all the bargains and, even though I'm a guy, start ovulating. I want more people at home to justify the purchase of all these enormous, cheap, bulk products. The key word is: bulk. Men like to buy in bulk. We are not discerning consumers, and one way we know something is desirable is if it's large.

"Don't buy anything crazy!" my wife always says, but it's the crazy stuff (look, a 120-ounce jug of Hershey's chocolate syrup!) that is so enticing. Over there, a giant jar of dill pickles! And check out, for just $5.29, the monster can (66.5 ounces) of Chicken of the Sea chunk light tuna. A real door-stopper.

And this: A huge bag labeled Pig Ears, for only $9.89! "Naturally roasted, tartar fighter, easily digestible, great chewers." Wait, maybe that's for a dog. Still, I'm tempted.

There are also clothes so cheap you don't have to try them on. Men don't want to try on clothes. Your average American woman will go through 175 different pairs of pants before finding the one that obscures the truth about her butt. A man will buy the first pair he tries on. At Costco, he just looks at the price -- $12.99!! -- and tosses it in the cart. Beautiful, he thinks.

All these things are appetizers for the real show, the meat department. As you know, men like to stalk and kill animals and roast their flesh over a fire. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have to appease our instincts with trips to the Costco meat section. Here, you can buy meat in slabs large enough to resemble a downed animal. Only at Costco can I push a shopping cart around and still abide by the central rule of male existence: Man Is a Predator. (Fact: A Costco supervisor told me the store sells giant hunks of meat of a size that is technically known as "subprimal.")

I should note that men also go to such places as Home Depot to reaffirm their masculinity. They go the way women go to the hair salon. Women don't realize this, but there's a little section in the back of Home Depot where men have their calluses hardened.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about home improvement, and whenever I go to Home Depot I end up buying something small and pathetic, like a half-inch rubber washer. Walking out of that place with my little paper sack, I feel like I'm a quart low on testosterone. But let me loose at Costco, and it's a different story. I love the moment in the parking lot when some Hot Mama sees my cart and says, "Wow, that's a really big pork loin," and I cock my head and look to the horizon and say, "Yeah, it's huge."

We won the Cold War because of Costco. The grim, gray Russians would line up for hours to buy stale bread and a piece of gristle. Francis Fukuyama has argued that we've seen the "end of history" because democratic governments have proved themselves superior to communist societies. What this really means is that capitalists have better stores. In America, the one thing we like even more than having things is buying things. The having is actually a side effect of the buying. Indeed, the having can be a pain. In my house, for instance, I'm the only person who eats. Everyone else survives on bread, water and air. They're females, and consider food to be inherently suspect. I have two male cats who eat ravenously, as though we've just rescued them from a storm sewer, and so our family trips to Costco are built around the need for cat food. We buy bags of Meow Mix the size of mattresses.

For many people in Washington, storing large quantities of food is considered vulgar. They think their social status is inversely proportional to the amount of food in their refrigerator. Some people actually hide their food. They buy dense food, like power bars, manchego cheese and filet mignon, and conceal it in the vegetable drawer or the butter compartment. People will buy a $10,000 fridge, but would no sooner have a deep freezer than a rusty Buick in the yard on concrete blocks.

I'm proud of the food in my house, and I'm thrilled to have, currently on display, a can of Italian peeled tomatoes that is roughly the size of a hassock. But there's one tragic note about that last trip to Costco: The $12.99 pants turned out to be designed for a mutant. Maybe there are places in the country where people have bodies like that, where you need a waistband that reaches to the sternum. I think in states like Oklahoma and Montana many people not only have unusual body shapes but entirely different types of internal organs. Those folks are just . . . bulkier. And I think I know where they shop.

Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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