Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

There are products we see on store shelves every time we shop but never buy. The obscure crackers and the weird vegetables. Cans of instant coffee and crinkly bags of that pink disk candy, or strange mustard. A small grocery store had jars of Vegemite in its cheese section the other day.

And in the case of the obscure product I’ve never needed until recently, Rit fabric dye.

Last weekend I was on a mission to find a packet or bottle of the dye in a bright color. I was not planning to dye a wedding dress so I could cut it off and wear it again. I was sent out by the farmer, who at the moment happened to be knee-deep in a ditch.

We had a plumbing backup in the house – a messy and inconvenient development that made it impossible to use water. The water was coming into the house and out through the faucets; we just couldn’t put anything down the drains. We couldn’t flush.

Off I went to a hotel, for although I may be the outdoorsy type, I am not the brushing-my-teeth-or-going-to-the-bathroom-outdoors outdoorsy type.

The farmer fixed things, of course, but to make sure, he would pour dye down the drains to see if the new pipe was leaking.

“Get the brightest color you can find,” he said as I drove away.

Now, I have been in grocery stores at least twice a week for the past 40 years, often enough that I can picture the envelopes of Rit dye hanging by clips from racks in the cleaning products aisle. The dye is always in that vertical display that has the clothes pins, the iron-on patches and the mothballs. I would walk on by, snubbing my nose.

My first stop that day was the grocery store. I scooted on over to the laundry aisle, stopped in front of the vertical display and was so confident, I stretched my hand in the direction of the Rit dye. And they were not there. I stopped, looked again, carefully scanning every bit of the display, but no. (Ask someone, you say? Try finding a knowledgable person at the back of one of these megastores.)

Next stop, Target. A person can wander around that place for three hours trying to find something as specific as green dye, and then find they don’t have it. Had these stores stopped carrying the dye years or decades ago, and my memory of it was that outdated?

“Fabric store will have it,” said the farmer into the phone.

As any sane person would, I went straight for the aisle that sells the starches and glues and elastics and interfacing, to finally get my Rit dye. Not there.

I went searching for an employee, walking through long and deserted aisles until, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a woman who was wearing a smock and name tag. She looked like someone who might host quilting bees at her house. She would point me to the dye.

“I don’t work here,” she said. I thought about pointing out the name tag.

I looked around for an employee, and let me tell you, I was getting my Fitbit steps in that day. I stopped a worker on her way to the back of the store.

“Over by the T-shirts,” she said.

Aha! Tie dye!

And there, in the aisle with the shirts was the Rit dye, a whole display of little bottles in every color of the rainbow. I bought the neon green, the brightest I could find.

We poured it down the drain and then looked for leaks. We are happy to say the green dye disappeared.

As these products are known to do.

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