Land of Confusion

Sometimes the simple becomes complex not through desire but misdirected intentions. As long as I can remember I’ve used Crest toothpaste to keep my pearlies nice, white, and free of insidious tartar and other maladies as promised by toothpaste makers. Since I tend to buy Crest in large quantities at places like Sam’s Club, I rarely have to venture into the real world when I run out. This weekend, however, I’d squeezed the last possible glob of paste from the tube and assuming this task to be nothing more than a mindless errand, sought a replacement at my local Wal-Mart.

Our local Wal-Mart, as most of these giant ma-and-pop-store killers go, is a land of promise for anyone who enjoys shopping. In addition to having most everything, their magic-carrot prices draw me towards them against my inner conscience that scorns their existence. I once traveled through Kansas staying overnight in a small town of less than 5,000 people. Upon rising I took a spin through the downtowon to enjoy the nostalgia of small-town America. On this particular day I left the restored downtown square with its attention to authenticity, drove through the city park and crested a bounding hill expecting to see neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns and stately oaks. But there blocking the sunrise sat a Wal-Mart, with closed small businesses on either side, testimony to this behemoth’s typically glacial movement eliminating all competition as it lumbers across our fair country. But I digress.

I thought buying a new tube of Crest would be simple: walk in, grab what’s on sale in the same flavor as before, check out. To my surprise the simple act of selecting Crest toothpaste has become an exercise in comparison shopping, and not just for price but benefits and options as well. Am I buying toothpaste or a car? Greeting me were no less than 13 varieties of Crest toothpaste not including travel versions, paste variants, size options, cap types, and the all important tube or squeeze bottle decision. How does one decide what’s best? One promises cavity protection while another tartar protection begging the question, “Am I suppose to choose one evil over the other?” And it seems that whitening teeth is as important as fluoride protection since Crest offers several whitening varieties in combination with whatever protection you wish to have. Safe toothbrushing has become as complex as safe sex (I won’t comment on the myriad of options in prophylactics, but you get my drift).

The madness Crest induces includes these perplexing choices: cavity protection, tartar protection, tartar protection with whitening, vivid white fluoride, extra whitening, whitening expressions in orange, whitening expressions in cinnamon, whitening expressions in herbal mint, whitening plus scope, dual-action whitening, multicare whitening, baking soda and peroxide, and rejuvenating effects. And then there are the kid’s toothpaste options, but by then my hand was cramping from recording all the flavors.

What once was a seemingly simple process for a most basic function now appears to require research and perhaps some in-the-aisle training on the benefits of each wondrous offering. A chart would have been nice or a pretty model demonstrating the benefits of Crest’s varied line (which just means that I would have bought whatever flavor she was peddling, so perhaps that’s not the best way either).

In the end I chose “rejuvenating effects” and not for any specific reason other than it seemed to appeal to more mature teeth needing extra re-mineralizing (have no idea what that is but surely I need it). I was tempted by the expressions in flavors, but I prefer my orange from the real thing’s juice not my toothpaste. The boxes do have scratch-‘n-sniff spots to sample the wonders of chemically engineered flavors without committment, something that makes sense with cologne, but toothpaste?

After a couple of days brushing with my new toothpaste of choice, I can honestly say I can’t tell a difference over the old toothpaste, except that my familiar white with blue stripes is now a pale, solid green with a zillion tiny reflective somethings suspended in the paste. And it doesn’t even look right, resembling designer caulk more than my familiar Crest. But progress takes us all down new paths, so I guess I can adjust my old ways for the sake of re-mineralizing my teeth (still clueless what that means but it’s obvious I need it). After all, I only bought one tube and if I don’t like it I can always go back to Sam’s and buy a dozen tubes of the old familiar. Then I’ll get to wait another few years before venturing out into the brave new world of toothpaste. Pondering the wonders of toothpaste at Wal-Mart is hard work and not exactly my idea of the American dream, but it’s made me realize I need a life…and soon!

5 thoughts on “Land of Confusion

  1. Honestly, I can’t stand Wal-Mart, we’ve got one of their allegegly “Super” marts here….. I can say the experience is anything but. First, half of the year a big chunk of the parking lot is taken up by their garden center, the rest of the year, it’s full of snow. Then they, for what ever reason, can’t hire enough people to keep the check out stands open during peak times… so they put in Self-Checkout stands…. eight of them, four on one side, four on the other, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than two on each side open at the same time. Not sure what the purpose was.

    I agree with you, they try to be all things to all people, and in the process they carry so many different kinds, it ends up being debilitating.

    If I can help it, I don’t set foot in Wal-Mart, I’ll sit outside inth ecar while my wife goes in, but I doubt I’ll ever go back.


  2. heidi

    Gary, I spend at least a half an hour at ANY store I visit to buy toothpaste. I finally tell myself (out loud usually which creates head turns) this is rediculous Heidi just pick the cheapest and be done with it. I don’t go to Wal-Mart or any store that bombards me with the smell of greasy hamburgers, carmel corn and hotdogs with my first step in the door.

  3. I have had this same sort of angst over underarm deodorant. It just slays me how there can be, easily, a 100 kinds of pit wipe. Goodness!

  4. Ah, Wal-Mart! I only tread there during the work-day, when only shiftless grad students like me have time to go. It’s downright scary in the always-open-and-we-sell-everything-even-rifles-in-the-summer Wal-Mart in Carbondale:#

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