I’ve always detested the grocery store in my neighborhood. The way they pride themselves on making personal connections with customers makes me feel like I’m at a used car dealership. Employees are encouraged, if not cattle-prodded, to greet customers and inquire about their days as though the veneer will fool us all into thinking we’re supporting an old friend by shopping there. They justify their outrageous prices based on this and their pristine sales floor. Then they use your name. Whether they know it because you’re a sap who spends all your time there, or they read it straight off your credit card and then act like they know me from grade school. “Have a nice night, Martin.” Roast in the bowels of hell, I always think when they say that. Normally I avoid the crap hole altogether, but tonight I was on a schedule.
It was exactly 8:04 when I pushed my cart up to the check stand. I didn’t really need a cart for four items, but you blend in more with a cart than with a basket, I find. Luckily I still got to use the express line. I was in a rush and didn’t want to get behind that obese woman who is always there when the store is busy with her cart full of microwave dinners (the Weight-Watcher’s brand, of course) and Haagen-Dazs.
I lay my items on the counter one at a time to make sure I had everything. Bleach, check. Trash bags, check. Air-freshening cone, check. I maybe should have picked up two of those, oh well. Frosted animal-crackers for after I finish, check.
“Hello.” My eyes dart up and meet the eyes of a high school aged girl. It’s just the cashier. Breathe.
“Find everything alright?”
No, you’ve moved the damn bleach since the last time I was here and it took me almost ten extra minutes to find it. But I don’t say that. I smile and say yes. Then I make sure she double bags the bleach. The bags keep my prints off the bottle and the extra one will be useful for cleanup.
“Excuse me, sir!” It’s coming from behind me. I feel every muscle in me flex around the handles of my cart, ready to throw it and high-tail towards the exit. But when I turned around, I see a portly woman glaring at an elderly man in a flannel coat. Maybe he took the last Haagen-Dazs? “Excuse me,” she continues, “I was in line for the next available checker! Excuse me, sir!” That sir was more like a kick in the nads than respect.
“You are in line for that checker. I am in line for this one,” he replied. I watched him turn back to his business. He looked to be done with the conversations. Both had valid points in that the check stands were at the same counter. I could easily see there being one or two legitimate lines.
“What a rude jerk!” She leaned over her cart. It looked to me as though she was trying to use her words like a knife to cut open the man’s calloused heart.
The man huffed at her and shook his head. He appeared to me to be using his indifference as a club with which to bludgeon her.
“You are next anyway,” he said.
While I detest the amount of attention drawn to my area of the store, I take comfort knowing that I’m pretty much invisible in comparison to the two buffoons arguing their spot in line. I put my hand out for the receipt. As entertaining as the whole ordeal could seem, I was on a tight schedule. I never truly know when the drugs will wear off and my trunk door gets kicked out.
The cashier arched her eyebrows and gave me an expression as if to ask me if her shift was over yet, or if I could take her with me. Believe me, lady, no one wants me to take them with me.
“Who taught you manners?” asked the portly woman.
“No one,” he replied.
“Obviously,” she said. It seemed to be the only thing they could agree on.
“Here’s your receipt, sir.” I’d used cash to pay so she wouldn’t call me by my name. I cannot stand when they do that.
I collected my receipt as soon as she held it out and attempted to exit the store. The portly lady’s cart had inched closer in the heat of the exchange and I bumped into it. Damn near threw my bag of bleach across the store into customer service.
“Oh, excuse me,” the woman said. She used an awkwardly boisterous tone in saying it as if she was still performing a lesson on manners for the man in the flannel coat.
“No problem at all,” I said.
After all I had to get back to my car before you woke up. I’d left you there in the trunk, and it would be ever so rude to keep you waiting.