Sunday, January 09, 2005

One way aisles

Bath mat.

Scrub brush.

Hand soap.

(Things you find in the bathroom! Things with two syllables! Clean things!)

Sorry, no. The category was, "Things I walked all over Manhattan looking for this weekend." (If you don't know "$20,000 Pyramid," trust me, I'll be writing all about it one of these days.)

Manhattan is interesting: you can find just about anything you want - but only if you know exactly where to look.

Consider this, "The Case of the 64 Ounce Rubbermaid Jugs." (I realize that sounds a little like a porn title, but bear with me.)

On the Crazy, Crazy Diet that I'm still on, you are required to drink 8 glasses (64 oz.) of "cran-water" per day. One part cranberry, seven parts water. This involves putting eight ounces of pure cranberry juice (not sugary cranberry cocktail) into a jug and diluting it with water to total 64 ounces. It's oh-so-easy with the Rubbermaid jug that has the ounces helpfully marked on the side. The 64 oz. size is two quarts - you could find it in just about any large supermarket or Target-type store, anywhere.

Anywhere, that is, except Manhattan.

The big problem, of course, is that stores are so starved for space that they can't carry everything. Grocery stores carry groceries, a few assorted housewares, and not much else (as opposed to the mega-markets everywhere else.) Drug stores carry drugs, a few assorted housewares, and not much else. Likewise with hardware stores: hardware, a few assorted housewares, and not much else.

I began trying every store that might fit the category "Places which sell Rubbermaid." The nice hardware store on the corner had a surprisingly wide selection - but they had only the one-quart size. I didn't want the one-quart size. That would mean refilling at somepoint during the day, or else buying double (four total, two for me and two for D.) which seemed ridiculous. I imagined a visitor opening the refrigerator to find four jugs of cran-water. It would be ... weird. ("I went over there, and their fridge is filled with jugs and jugs of this bizarre watered down cranberry juice. Don't invite them to the movie.")

Hardware store: some Rubbermaid, but not the right size. Drug stores in the neighborhood: no Rubbermaid. Grocery stores: some with Rubbermaid, but not the right size. Apparently in New York we only want one quart of a beverage. Two quarts is too much commitment. In the average New York refrigerator, which contains leftover takeout food, bottled water and a container of yogurt, two quarts of anything would be ridiculous.

(And I wasn't being picky, looking for Rubbermaid. Any jug with the ounces marked on it would have been fine. )

I worked my way down the East Side, getting some other shopping done as well. I stopped into Gracious Home, which is a sort of everything-for-the-home store - furniture, cookware, linens, cabinet hardware, bath accessories, you name it. I had been to the West Side store, but on the East Side they have THREE stores all on one block. I couldn't figure out exactly how the categories were divided among the three locations, but I'm sure there's some logic to it.

Gracious Home isn't a discount store by any means. It doesn't have as clearly defined a style as, say, Pottery Barn or Crate&Barrel, but the prices are similar and sometimes higher. I was looking at small metal wastebaskets for the bathroom - I had the "Jesus Christ!" reaction more than once reading the price tags. There was a nice brushed-metal wastebasket going for almost four hundred dollars. I imagined it must have magical properties as well that weren't immediately apparent. Like, you throw away a Q-Tip and summon a genie, or something like that. You know.

In one of the Gracious Home locations, I found the Rubbermaid cache. The aisles are incredibly narrow, and stocked literally nine feet high. If you haven't been to New York, you cannot imagine how narrow and tight the stores are here (if you aren't in one of the big showroom type places like Pottery Barn and so on.) I have a little bit of a bull-in-a-china-shop problem to begin with (being a Taurus, I suppose) where I am afraid I'm going to knock everything over. With the incredible mosaic of products jammed in the aisle, I could very well have been staring right at what I wanted and not have seen it.

There was a woman standing in the aisle I wanted, her back to the Rubbermaid, checking out some whisk-type-gadgets on the opposite wall of the aisle. I needed her to move. She was taking her time. You can't take your time in a store like this - you must move it along. Make your decisions while moving. People literally cannot get by you. (There was a grocery store near one of my first jobs in New York in which the aisles were actually marked "one-way" because they were so narrow. You had to begin at one end, go through the maze of aisles, and exit at the other. If you weren't paying attention and forgot to get the can of green beans you needed, there was no reversing course. You had to go through and come back again. I learned that the hard way.)

My mistake, of course, was in trying to shop on the weekends, when every store is packed. Everyone has had brunch, and is now doing their home shopping, usually in couples. Of course, in Gracious Home, there isn't room for couples to drift down the aisles holding hands - it's more a case of charging through the cramped rat-maze, making sure you don't lose each other.

I finally got a clear shot at the Rubbermaid. Again, there were one-quart jugs but no two-quart. By that time, though, claustrophobia was kicking in, so I had to get out of the store.

I had been scoping out stores all weekend - not just for these jugs, but to get a sense of which stores were the "good" ones. ("That's the good Rite Aid. That's the bad one. That's the good grocery store. Don't go over there, that's the bad one.") But good and bad, no store had what I needed. This was a shock when I first moved to the city - that a store might have some of a product, but never the full line. Looking for Jell-O? A store will have the three most popular flavors, and maybe one other, but no store had the space for every last variety. If you're a fan of the watermelon Jell-O or some other rare flavor, you were going to have to do a lot of walking to find the right store.

Finally, walking back up the East Side, I passed a Food Emporium. I had a gut feeling, so I followed it (I can usually find things this way ... just going on autopilot.) This store was mostly below ground, so it had more space. It also had ... the 64 ounce Rubbermaid jugs! And not only that, it had Glad kitchen-size blue recycling bags (you'd think everyone would have these, but they are also hard to find.)

I scooped them all up. This was now the "really good" Food Emporium. It had earned my loyalty. I would go twenty blocks out of my way to come here, if need be.

I'll be going back to Gracious Home during the week, though. There's still a bath mat to be found. Perhaps one with magical properties: as you dry off after your shower, the bath mat flies you to work. You know. That kind of thing.


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