Editorial: Put your head on the shopping block

Out of the blue Friday morning, my bride advised me that I was insane - or at least headed in that direction. Then she lumped herself in that group.

Her diagnosis was prompted by something we had never done in a marriage dating back to 1977, namely venture into a retail establishment on Thanksgiving night or the following Black Friday. The mistake was compounded by the fact neither of us was in the proper physical condition for competitive shopping.

The ad in the Miner that sparked our after-dark foray was for a ridiculously large television for a ridiculously small price.

What turned out to be even more ridiculous was the idea I had that we might somehow arrive "while supplies last." After milling around for a few minutes in the Land of the Giant TVs, I decided I'd better find out how I was going to be able to buy anything, much less a ridiculously large television, since the huge line snaking through the store was full of people standing still, hands tightly gripped around the handles of their overloaded shopping carts. In other words, these people a mere 100-and-some-odd yards from the nearest active cash register were in the checkout line.

The TV I wanted wasn't on sale until 8 p.m. I figured if I went to the back of the line and waited my turn, I just might get to a cash register by 8 a.m.

Then a guy in a uniform clarified the situation.

"How do you buy the television?" he repeated my question back to me before fully understanding the bewildered look on my face. "Oh, you mean how you can by this television."

He pointed at the ridiculously large TV with the ridiculously small price. I nodded.

"You can't buy that. There were only four of them. People got the four wristbands for them hours ago."

"But you can't buy them until 8," I protested. And indeed, it was still a few minutes before 8 p.m.

He looked at me as if I was insane (another diagnosis!), then looked at the peaceful crowd surrounding us.

And then I got it. If the store did it as I thought they were going to, the peaceful crowd may have turned into an unruly mob.

It took a phone call to hook up with my bride (it turned out we were about 10 feet apart; I advised her she was going to remain difficult to find in crowds unless she had another growth spurt). We pondered our purchasing options, eyed the line still over 100 yards from the nearest register, then abandoned the empty shopping cart and slunk away, clearly defeated.

The way to the front of the store was a snap - we simply avoided aisles with discounted big-ticket items that seemed to act as people magnets. We slipped through a final obstacle where we encountered open space and an employee.

"How do we get out of here?" my wife asked the smiling woman, adding as a guilty afterthought that "We didn't buy anything."

The smiling woman understood - we weren't the first people she'd encountered that day who just weren't tough enough for competitive shopping. She pointed to a small gap between two registers as our most likely escape route, then whispered "good luck" to us as we made a break for the opening.

We made it through, though not before banging my ankle on a wayward cart in the traffic jam between registers.

The night air was sweet when we stepped outside. And despite what we'd just been through, we did manage to recall where the car was parked. As we approached, we saw two women busily trying to stuff the contents of two shopping carts into one small car next to ours.

We traded small talk during the delicate ballet of entering the front seat of one car between trips from the carts to the back seat of the other.

I was momentarily jealous of the competitive shoppers. They had won, I thought as I slowly backed out of the parking space, and the spoils of war were being jammed into every available empty space in the car.

Then the envy vanished. The final box, a huge one with "My Little Pony" (do they still make that?) in big letters on the side, wasn't going to fit. The box was too big for the back seat, and clearly way too big to fit in the trunk.

I pointed this out to my bride as we slowly rolled out of the parking lot.

"You could go back and help," she suggested.

I could, I agreed, but that wouldn't change the reality of the situation. Besides, I may be insane, but I'm not crazy.

•••

The growing season will officially end about midweek, when the first hard freeze is expected. Prior to that night I will be clumping around our four-foot by four-foot garden plots, harvesting a crop of tomatoes that almost wasn't.

For knowing next to nothing about getting stuff to grow out of dirt, it sure has been an interesting - and sometimes dispiriting - spring, summer and fall.

In 2012, we had two zucchini plants share one 4X4 plot, and it was a blast. (This is what happens to your sense of entertainment when you reach a certain age.) The two plants created their own jungle and it wasn't uncommon to paw through the leaves and harvest three or four foot-long zukes where there had been almost nothing a few days before.

And then, somehow, there would be the one that blended in until it was about two feet long. Where did that come from?

We expected more of the same this past summer and didn't get it, harvesting perhaps 15 zukes.

The watermelons were equally disappointing. I suppose it would be helpful to read the seed packets to know what exactly we were growing and how long it would take for them to mature.

Instead, we were perpetually surprised to have round melons and oblong melons, some of whom would split upon reaching a certain size, while others would mature into something straight out of a Stephen King novel - a red, stringy, gooey mess.

The cantaloupe came out fine, though.

And while the melon harvest was mostly disgusting, it was fun trying to keep an accurate census of them as they blended it with the leaves and vines.

The tomatoes haunted us. In the ground by April, I'd look them over every day before it got hot. Come on, I would communicate with them telepathically, now is the time to grow.

It didn't work. By August, when the 10 or so plants had produced perhaps a dozen tomatoes, I was wondering why I was still bothering to water.

And then, suddenly, each one of those plants was covered with tomatoes. It was a race to get them to ripen before the freeze, and we've harvested about half of them, mostly the cherry-sized ones.

The bigger ones persist in remaining green, but those with a tinge of orange will come inside if the freeze forecast holds up.

And don't you worry about what I'll do for entertainment until April. You should just see my seed catalog collection.