When the renovated World Class Hamilton ShopRite at Route 33 opened a few months ago, I had the same questions anyone would have about a new supermarket: Will I be able to get my tires changed there? Will they have a wide selection of magazines, car parts, garden equipment? Can I rent a movie, buy jewelry, pick up a prescription, do my banking? And oh yeah … do they still sell food?

They do. So let’s explore the aisles together, shall we? A quote from Star Wars comes to mind: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. A fairer statement about supermarkets might be: “You will never find a more mystifying mix of material misstatements, misleading marketing and half-baked truths. We must bring coupons.”

Let’s start with the juice aisle. Oh, look, fruit juices, with 100 percent real juice—just not the kinds you wanted, or thought you were getting. The main ingredient of the Blueberry-Blackberry juice is… apple juice. They also threw in some grape and pear juice as a bonus. How nice of them! I’m sure they’ll be changing the label any day now to better indicate that fact. No, I’m certain those substitutions had nothing to do with cost-cutting.

Wait, should we get juice with “no added sugar” or “only real sugar”? Zero calories, or light? Or should we get a juice “cocktail”? Looking up the word cocktail, I see two definitions. The first is “an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients.” The second is “a mixture of substances or factors, especially when dangerous or unpleasant in its effects.” Since alcohol is perhaps the one thing supermarkets can’t sell, definition two must apply. Let’s stick with the 100% juice.

We’ll pass by the detergent aisle. A few years ago, Big Laundry (like “Big Oil,” but not as filthy) reduced the size of laundry detergent bottles. Prices were reduced too, but not quite in the same proportion. Instead, all of a sudden, everything was “twice as strong.”

So in theory, we, the consumers, were making out on the deal, right? Now we would only need to use half as much laundry detergent, and our clothes would be exactly as clean as they were before! A major advance in cleaning technology! A new golden age! Of course, we all knew the truth, and people still use the same amount of detergent they always did. But now we have more, smaller bottles, instead of fewer, bigger ones.

Here are some Clorox wipes that “kill cold and flu viruses”—wait, there’s an asterisk. The associated note says, “Human Coronavirus, Influenza A2 virus”—well, that’s two, so at least they weren’t lying when they went plural.

And now, my arch-nemesis, the paper products aisle. Like a fractal exploration of nature, it seems there’s always another layer to study—1-ply versus 2-ply or 3-ply, recycled versus non-recycled, super-absorbency versus “thirst pockets.”

Bounty sells a 12-pack of “Mega” rolls that equals 20 regular rolls. Sparkle has a pack of 8 “Giant” rolls, equivalent to 12 regular rolls. Brawny and Bounty both offer 6 packs of “Big” rolls that equal 8 regular rolls. Then there’s a pack of 2 “Huge” rolls from Bounty that equals 5 regular rolls. Do you feel like you’re taking the SAT exam again? We haven’t even gotten to the sheet counts yet.

Let’s jump over to toilet tissue instead. We have some sale items: a 12-pack of Charmin Basic for $4.99, or 24 roll packages of Charmin Ultra Strong or Ultra Soft at $12.99 each. It gets more complicated, though—the Basic is a “double roll” pack, so its 12 rolls are equal to a regular 24-pack. More regular than Basic? Can I buy these regular rolls, or are they purely theoretical? Wait—the Ultras are double rolls, too, so they’re actually equivalent to 48 regular rolls. And to complicate matters, the Basic is 1-ply, while the Ultras are 2-ply.

Still, we’re only comparing three items this time. We can do this. Get out your pencils, and start the Rocky theme music.

Basic package = 12 rolls X 308 sheets X 1 ply each sheet = 3,696 “plys” (“plies”?)

Ultra Strong package = 24 rolls X 165 sheets X 2 plys each sheet = 7,920 plys

Ultra Soft package = 24 rolls X 176 sheets X 2 plys each sheet = 8,448 plys

The Ultra Strong package breaks down to approximately $.00164 per ply, the Ultra Soft to $.00153 per ply, and the Basic to $.00135 per ply. Clearly (and I say that with tongue firmly in cheek), Basic is the best buy. Luckily, I’m neither powerful nor delicate enough to require an “Ultra” option. Ah, the price we silly Americans pay for luxury.

I think we’re done…whoops, almost forgot—I was going to get some fluoride rinse. I can pay $2.99 for the regular version, or $3.99 for one that “rebuilds enamel.” With the casualness of adding a piece of cheese to a hamburger order, I can upgrade and restore my dentition to its once-perfect status. Or can I?

What the heck. It’s my health, after all. And what’s a dollar, in the grand scheme of things? Hmm. It is a wretched hive out there. But forget the lightsaber—bring a calculator instead.

Peter Dabbene lives and writes in Hamilton. His website is peterdabbene.com. His short story “Tributary” is featured in the music anthology Tribute to Orpheus 2 from Kearney Street Books.