Costco and the Caveman

My latest anthropological research is focused on man’s relationship with Costco. I find it curious that in most of my friend’s homes, Costco runs are on the husband’s “to do” list. This is interesting when one considers that many of these men identify themselves as anti-shoppers. My own husband would say that shopping ranks at the bottom of his list, below even scrubbing the bathroom or cleaning up the garbage a clever raccoon has gotten into.

So what is it about the humongous warehouse with fluorescent lights and birds living on its rafters that lures men in through its doors and onto its absurdly long lines? Why are men willing to give up a portion of their precious weekends to fight the crowds that are certainly thinner during the week when many of their wives could go?

The answer goes back to our prehistoric friend the caveman: men hunt, woman gather. Costco is a present day version of the jungle or forest or wherever it was the caveman went to collect food for his family. It is in this warehouse that man can return to his ancestral roots. No longer is it necessary to go with a bow and arrow or a pocket full of stones and sneak up on an unsuspecting animal, but the concept is remarkably similar. The weapons: a Costco card and an oversized cart. The prey: frozen pizza bagels for the kid’s lunch or the biggest bunch of bananas known to humankind.

And oh, the electronic aisle! It is no coincidence that every Costco I have ever been in has the big screen TV’s right at the store’s entrance. This allows the caveman to hunt for the ultimate prize immediately, and should he choose to make a purchase, he can walk taller and prouder on the rest of his hunting expedition. With his shoulders just a little more upright, the rest of the cavemen will get the message that this particular Neanderthal conquered the largest trophy in the forest—a new gadget for his toy collection!

Everything in Costco is bigger, and this is part of its appeal. From the dawn of time men have believed in the adage “the bigger the better.” In cavemen terms that may have been the guy with the largest fur coat, or the one who dragged home the largest deer for dinner.  In modern terms, it is the guy with the biggest screen TV.  But if he can’t get the widest screen, then at least in Costco he can secure the largest container of olive oil. Our last container actually lasted us five years.  And the bigger the better is not limited to food or television sets, quantity is just as important.   One caveman I know actually decorates the ledges in his basement with paper goods from Costco. When all the other cavemen come over, they admire how he has seen to it that his brood will never run out of toilet paper.

Make no mistake, either. The caveman likes to hunt for a bargain as much, if not more than his wife. Watch any social gathering and you will note that while wives dip their carrots in hummus (both bought in bulk on last week’s hunt) and talk about the sale at Bloomingdales, their hunters are off in the other corner discussing the deals they secured at their favorite warehouse that weekend. One caveman confided in me that the arrival of the Costco coupon book is his favorite day of the month.  My own hunter told me when we ran out of milk on a Wednesday, to only purchase a quart from the local market to get us through the rest of the week. He would of course be buying milk in bulk, over the weekend from his favorite warehouse. Much more cost effective.

I picture our prehistoric ancestors hunting and bragging about their kills. I have no doubt that they turned their hunting exploits, meant for pure survival, into a competition. The hunter with the largest kill would be the winner for the day. Or maybe the hunter competed with himself, to earn a personal best.  The Costco caveman behaves similarly as he tries to procure the best deal. One caveman I know was at a friend’s house when he noticed that his buddy had purchased a more expensive brand of paper towel on his latest Costco run. Apparently, the less pricey brand was two ply instead of three ply, but amounted to a dollar or two increase in price. They were situated next to each other in the store, so it was an understandable error. However, horrified at his mistake, the caveman ripped the paper towel out of his wife’s hand and loaded up the Volvo to make the half hour trip back for his two bucks. These men have built their friendship on sharing information and earning bragging rights as to who found the best deal. Those two dollars were necessary to save face.

In some small way it is reassuring to know human beings don’t change all that much. Yes, we evolve. We advance. The scenery changes. The menu changes. But husbands don’t. They will always hunt. They will always compete—with themselves and with each other. In another 1,000 years I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I know it will exist. In the meantime, I am going gather the berries out back while my husband goes to Costco.

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Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment