Usually, when checkout clerks ask me if I’ve found everything I was looking for, I just nod and smile. Kind of the way I reflexively X out of pop-up surveys that ask me if I’m liking (at maybe, perhaps, a five-star level?) the dating apps where I shop for men.
I’m here, am I not? I always want to respond. If I didn’t think all this swiping and subsequent ghosting was prime Friday-night fun, I wouldn’t be online. And if I didn’t find every gluten-free, meat-free alterna-food on my shopping list, I’d still be burrowing deep inside a freezer, not here — defeated — in the checkout aisle.
But on a recent Target-run checkout, I decided to actually answer the standard quality-assurance question. I was desperate. And besides, I presumed I might be positioned, at that very moment, temptingly near the object of my desire, like Evangeline hidden in the willows as forlorn Gabriel unknowingly rows by — a kind of grocery-store missed connection.
“I was looking for Tic Tac gum,” I said, casting my 15th futile glance over the checkout candy display.
“Everything we have is out on the floor…” the clerk droned automatically. “Wait — Tic Tac makes gum?” she asked, suddenly animated. Dammit. I’d just created another competitor.
I’d been unconsciously creating competition for months, ever since I’d become addicted to these little white pills. In their mint form, Tic Tacs had never seemed worthwhile, dissolving almost instantly like a one-week fling. But with gum, that classic Tic Tac tang could last like a long marriage. I’d pressed the pills excitedly into the palms of friends and coworkers. And I’d squeezed a piece into my teeth while I’d minty-fresh French-kissed a guy I liked.
And then suddenly (as that guy was also prone to do), the Tic Tac gum had disappeared. The demand I’d created with my unpaid promotions had apparently exceeded the supply in my city.
The gum had ghosted me.
I rationed my last two pieces, rattling against each other for company in the clear plastic box, by alternating them with lesser gum vintages, like Eclipse or Dentyne. Kind of like casual dating, keeping a few options in rotation so as not to get too obsessed with the one I was already obsessed with anyway.
But after repeated missed connections in the Target checkout line, I resorted to straight-up stalking.
I slunk into every corner of Walgreens and CVS and lurked (without any purchasable items in hand) near the registers to case the candy displays. I did a slow daily walk-by of my office building’s convenience store.
The regular Tic Tac mint boxes, so similar save that one missing word GUM, kept teasing me, the way I’d think I’d glimpsed my ghosted lover — until the man would turn around.
I tried to consider other suitors, then. How about this last dangling package of four green spearmint Tic Tac gum packs for a discounted bulk rate? Or what about the zesty red Tic Tac gum named “Cool” Watermelon? But it was like Tinder trying to lure me with redheads and blondes, when all I wanted was a basic, original flavor: a good, old-fashioned bald guy, with no risk of surprises when he lost his hair.
So I started a mental list of the qualities I never really liked anyway (which, incidentally, is the same ineffective technique I employ when I get ghosted by a guy):
- The size was too small: two or three pieces, minimum, could conjure up a gum-wad substantial enough to be satisfactory;
- The taste wasn’t that long-lasting: said gum-wad did eventually morph into something more akin to painter’s putty, requiring emergency ejection from the oral cavity;
- The box was too noisy: its rattling in a pocket or purse announced bad breath even to people who never would have gotten close enough to know;
- The gum was not, according to the front label, a “low-calorie food”: a mere breath freshener squandered a precious portion of the recommended daily intake that could have been better allocated to, say, avocado toast; and
- The sweetness was too keen: somehow this supposed toothbrushing substitute actually coated molars with a guilty ache more commonly associated with unregulated cupcake consumption.
I recited this list as I shivered through Polar Ice Eclipse gum. But then, as I always do after refreshing a ghost-guy’s witty Twitter feed or scrolling through my camera roll’s paparazzi-level shots of his moods’ nuances, I succumbed to the fond (if limited) memories. The suave, smooth candy coating, giving way to the pliable, softhearted center. Then the strong, cocksure come-on of the freshmint flavor.
I made a last desperate search for the gum online. A dubiously named Amazon seller — was there a Tic Tac gum black market? — urged me to purchase quickly. Only five left! I couldn’t justify it, though. Because I had always silently judged ex-boyfriends who waited on their sofas for Peapod grocery deliveries. Man up and carry some bags a few blocks, I thought. How could I force planes and trains and trucks to bear to my door a few ounces of sugar-free confections?
But then, just when I’d lost hope, there they were: staring innocently up at me in the Walgreens candy aisle one miraculous morning on my emergency tampon run. As everyone always told me, You’ll find the love of your life when you aren’t even looking for it.