Have you ever noticed some sort of higher power controls what happens inside a grocery store? No, I’m not referring to the (usually) mustachioed manager, though he does wield considerable power over his flock of high school cashiers.

No, there seems to be some universal force that determines what’s going to happen to you while filling up your buggy (aka “shopping cart” to all you fancy city folk). You have no power over this. Occasionally, the grocery gods work in your favor, but most of the time they are against you. So very against you.

The first universal law of grocery shopping is if you look like total crap, you will see five people you know — five people who will want to engage in conversation so they can get an extra up-close-and-personal look at yesterday’s mascara that has settled down into your crow’s-feet.

This is a given no matter what time of the day or night you shop. You foolishly tell yourself, “It’s 6 a.m. I just need to run up and get some coffee and a can of biscuits. It should be OK to slick back my greasy hair, wear my husband’s T-shirt with holes in it with running shorts that have bleach stains all over them. Surely, no one will see me!”

But it doesn’t matter if it’s 6 a.m. or high noon, if you walk into a store looking like that, you better be prepared to chat about how your kids and/or parents are doing. It will happen.

And most likely those people will judge you and wonder what on Earth must be happening in your life. Did she lose her job? Has her husband left her? Has she turned into some sort of crack ho, they will ponder. Her poor children!

Conversely, if you look like a million bucks — maybe you are on your way to work or an event, you will see absolutely no one you know. Maybe even no one at all. I have heels, makeup and a dress on! My hair is not only washed, but styled! Where are all you people who need to ask me questions about my family, friends and/or business?!?!?! Nowhere to be found, I tell you. Nowhere! Curse you, grocery gods!

The forces working against you will also usually make sure there is at least one item on your list you will not be able to find, so you will be forced to go to another store. And it will definitely be one of the times you look like death so you can see even more people. Wow! She has really let herself go, they will think.

This will not be an exotic item either. The store where you’re at will have 50 different kinds of barbecue sauce, 14 kinds of spaghetti sauce, five different types of curry powder but somehow be totally out of creamy peanut butter. Sure they’ll have extra-crunchy Jif, Skippy, store brand, but nary a creamy jar of PB in sight. And your kids will have no part of that, so there you are, realizing you will be headed to another market of judgment, looking like a hobo. You sniff your pits and realize you smell like one, too. Damn it. Curse you choosy kids for choosing Jif.

But nowhere in the grocery store do the gods conspire against you more than the dreaded checkout line.

I have become a bigger and bigger fan of the self-checkout. The lines are usually shorter and you don’t have to receive additional judgment from the cashier. And frankly, by this point, haven’t you been judged enough?

If you choose the self-checkout, though, bad things will inevitably happen. The grocery gods are a particularly cruel deity.

You will no doubt get behind someone who can’t work the machine. This will just happen. It’s the law. They can’t scan the barcodes correctly or it takes them 10 minutes to find them. They don’t know how to punch in the code for bananas. It’s bananas, I tell you!

It’s not like I can throw stones or frozen pork chops at these people. I, too, have had my own problems with the ol’ self-check. One time I accidentally hit Spanish for my language. Let’s just say screaming, “No hablo español!” back to it will not change it back to English. It’s platanos, I tell you!

And I never seem to bag my items up quickly enough. “Please place your item in the baggage area.” Give me a freakin’ second, computer self-checker grocery lady. I’m trying!

She doesn’t have time for your greasy, hobo-lookin’, self. You better keep it movin’, Mary!

If you decide to opt for the regular checkout lines, well, then you have a whole other set of choices to make and potential problems to encounter.

First, of course, you have to size up the lines. Many a rookie grocery shopper with fewer than 10 or 20  items will always go the express line route, making that line not so express. It’s better to get behind one full cart in the regular line than three smaller ones in the express. I’m pretty sure Confucius said this.

But if you aren’t “eligible” for the express then you have to start judging people more harshly than the five people who have already judged you. And you, my friend, are wearing a shirt stained with wine and chocolate ice cream. But it must be done.

You want to pick lines with people who look like they will pay with a credit or debit card — that works. Old ladies will sometimes still use checks and it takes them the same amount of time to write them out as it did Thomas Jefferson to pen the Declaration of Independence, so avoid them like the plague.

Also, you don’t want to get behind a couponer. You can usually size them up by what they have in their buggy, I mean cart. It’s usually an usually high volume of an item you don’t really need a lot of unless you are preparing for the apocalypse. For example, the extreme couponer will often have 24 tubes of Aim toothpaste in their buggy. Go to the other line, friend!

The hardest ones to spot are the ones who ask for things from “over there.” Usually “over there” is the customer service desk. The things they need most often are cigarettes or money orders. This will no doubt take forever. They don’t have Ultra Light 100s, do they want regulars?  Just pick and poison and leave, please!

And then you have to decide if you want to make the line switch.

This is a risky move. You are next. You’ve invested your time in this line. You can’t really size up what’s happening in the next line over — there could be couponing or someone claiming their Spam is supposed to be BOGO this week and a price check may just have to take place.

Many things could go wrong. And if you make the switch you could end up being in there even longer.

I find in these situations the best thing to do is stay in your line but start looking really pained, like your dog has just died in a particularly violent way. Or your diverticulitis has started acting up. 

Very often, this look will get you “the nod” and the opening of a new checkout lane just for you. Ma’am I can take you over here, they say.

Yes! And you speed over there like your life depended on it. Because you know you are the “ma’am,” but other shameless shoppers will try to skip in front of you. They sure will. And they are evil.

But with pure determination and slightly aggressive buggy handling, you make it. And you get your groceries checked and you are free!

“I don’t need any help to my car today but I sure appreciate you opening up this extra line,” you say.

“Oh no problem, ma’am,” the cashier replies.

We were just trying to get you out of here before you scared the other customers, she thinks to herself.