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by Rose Madeline Mula

Yesterday I went shopping for a book to help me unravel the mysteries of my recently-acquired digital camera. I eventually narrowed my search to Digital Photography for Dummies or The Idiot's Guide to Digital Photography. I panicked. I couldn’t decide if I’m a dummy or an idiot. So I didn’t buy either book. Instead I went to lunch to relax and recover from my identity crisis.

"Would you like something to drink?" the waiter asked.

Absolutely. After all, I was there to unwind.

"Yes, please," I said. "A glass of wine."

"Which would you prefer?" he asked, handing me a leather-bound, gilt embossed wine menu that was thicker and more intimidating than my computer manual.

I gulped.

"Perhaps I can help narrow it down," he offered, sensing my bewilderment. "First, would you like red or white?"

Another quandary. I had planned to order fish for lunch. Did that mean I should drink white wine? But isn't red better for the heart? And if I decided on a red wine, should I have steak instead of fish? But isn't red meat bad for the heart? By now I was sure the waiter was convinced I was an idiot. Was he right? Should I go back to the bookstore and buy the idiot's digital photography guide? That's a dumb way to make a decision, I thought; so maybe I should get the dummies book ... Meanwhile the waiter was shuffling from one foot to another, sighing heavily, checking his watch, then the calendar on the wall. The pressure! I couldn't take it any more. I grabbed my purse, mumbled something about an appointment I had forgotten, and fled.

Fortunately, despite my discombobulated state, I managed to find my car in the parking lot and headed for the exit. But should I turn right and drive home via the highway — or left and take the byways? I knew the highway would be clogged with traffic at that hour. On the other hand, the route via the side roads was painfully slow and tortuous.

What to do? Delay the decision, of course. Instead of going home right then, I'd go shopping. So I reversed back into the parking lot and made a beeline for Macy's. Unfortunately, once inside the store, the path I chose led me right smack into the cosmetics aisle. Big mistake.

I was immediately accosted by an overly groomed, overly perfumed, overly solicitous Beauty Consultant (that’s how her name badge identified her) who quickly appraised my face and launched into a spiel about a new miracle wrinkle cream which she assessed (correctly, I admit) I direly needed. Her own skin, of course, was as smooth as the proverbial baby’s behind. Was it because she used the products she was touting, or because she was about fifty years younger than I? In addition to the wrinkle cream, she strongly suggested I “invest” in a large jar of make-up removal scrub (when did soap and water become obsolete?); a larger jar of rich moisturizer; and a flacon of skin toner. (“Tsk! Tsk! You’ve really been neglecting your pores!”) She wasn’t sure if I needed the “cooling revitalizing” or the “stress relieving” toner to restore my pH equilibrium which cleansing (probably with the make-up removal scrub) could unbalance. There was a third choice — a “thirst-quenching” version with glycolic and amino acids which she promised would remove dulling surface cells and bring a fresh radiance to my skin. And I thought trying to decide between a white or a red wine was a challenge! I used my “forgotten appointment” excuse and scurried away, as the Beauty Consultant called after me, “Wait! We haven’t discussed your dark circles and puffy undereyes yet!”

By now the traffic had subsided a bit, so I hit the highway for home, but made a short detour to the supermarket. More dilemmas. Should I buy organic or regular tomatoes? Greenhouse or vine-ripened? Beefsteak, plum, cherry or grape (I’m still talking tomatoes here)? And how about apples? McIintosh? Cortland? Delicious? Granny Smith? Washington State? New York State? Empire? Fuji? Jonathan? Macoun? Northern Spy? Winesap? I settled on one of each.

Cereal. I needed cereal. But I didn’t need the aggravation I encountered in the cereal aisle — shelves laden with more than thirty selections, each fortified with a different, impressive array of vitamins and minerals. I’m not a doctor. How do I choose? I used the scientific method. I closed my eyes, spun around three times, then reached out and grabbed a box. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the sugar-coated oat clusters sprinkled with gummi bears.

That reminded me. Toothpaste. I was completely out. Just that morning, I learned that toothpaste has an expiration date (who knew?), and I had to throw away three tubes I had bought on sale a while back — actually quite a while back, judging from the. staggering new assortment that had been added since my last purchase. I could now select from more than a dozen brands, each of which offered both regular and gel versions of a cavity-fighting, or whitening, or tartar control, or plaque removal, or fluoride-fortified, or gum disease protection formula. I need all of the above. If I opt to fight cavities, for example, will I have to sacrifice tartar control? And if I do, won’t that promote cavities? Should I buy them all and use every one of them daily? Our parents and grandparents never had to choose from such a confusing variety of products. They did the job merely by sprinkling a little baking soda on a utilitarian toothbrush that didn’t oscillate, rotate, or vibrate — or, in fact, involve electricity.

Today’s world requires too many options, too many stress-inducing decisions. No wonder so many people are in therapy.

Hey! Maybe a few sessions on the couch could help me become more decisive. I’ll just find a psychotherapist in the yellow pages. Oh, no! There are over three hundred listed!

I can’t deal with this right now. My head is pounding. I’ve got to go to the drugstore and buy some aspirin.

But, wait. Do I want tablets or capsules … normal or extra strength … plain or buffered …???


Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.


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