Monday, January 11, 2010

I ring up groceries. Then I bag them in paper bags.

“Can you put all the cold stuff together? Double bag please, they ALWAYS break....and bread on top.”

I agree with their requests like they are new, brilliant discoveries of grocery bagging technique.

Ok, let me see if I understand you correctly. You'd like the fish separate from the bag of flour and you'd like the hot soup not in the bag with the goat cheese? Got it. I GOT IT ALL UNDER CONTROL. I think I understand now. Thank you for your thoughts. Really I was about to put your ice cream with the rotisserie chicken and the frozen peas in your coat pocket. THANK GOD YOU TOLD ME TO PUT THE COLD STUFF TOGETHER.

We are encouraged to talk about the food customers are buying.

“Lemons are great, I cook with them all the time. Mmhmm!”

This cake is so beautiful. I love this cake. This cake looks good.”

“This bouquet is pretty enough for a wedding proposal. Are you proposing to the woman of your dreams later on? Cause I think the weather is just right, not too windy, not too cold, but crisp and the sun is out, thank goodness for the sun!, except it goes down so early. I cannot wait for Spring.”

Some cashiers are the queens and kings of comfortable, thoughtful small talk. And often I hear them turn their small talk with customers into real conversations. From weather to the stock market. From cantaloupe ripeness to big weddings. From corn flakes to the local crime scene.

All the while, I stand quietly listening to my register beep bar codes. Because there is something in my blood that prevents me from successfully acting artificial when my shoulders ache and my legs are stiff from standing all day. But occasionally I try. The result is usually creepy and awkward.

Recently, cinnamon came down the belt toward me in a plastic bag.

I love when people buy cinnamon because then I get to SMELL it.”

The customer nodded his head. He looked slightly confused. And I thought: never again.

Many times, customers do not know what to do during the process of buying groceries. When I look at them and say, hihowareyou?, they shove bottle return slips and coupons in my face. Then tell me that their yogurt is on sale 10/$5.

Then the demanding, obvious and/or sometimes strange bagging requests begin.I have a long driveway. So can you make them extremely light BUT double bag them, please double them.”

Many customers simply don't care. “Naw, just throw it in, I'm not picky.”

And then I start to wonder if this person can actually handle the responsibility of carrying the groceries into his/her house. Are these groceries safe? I wonder. What if this customer just throws the bags into his trunk and things fall down? WHAT IF THINGS FALL DOWN? Bagging groceries for the worried has made me feel like I am working in an adoption center, handing out bags of babies all day long. I tape every lid that might open and stretch elastics around every plastic container of strawberries. I'm just as bad as the crazies who want their milk gallons in bags. 

Then there is the end of the transaction. “Your total is $65.01”

The customer has already been standing on the other side of the counter with her money in hand, ready like whenever I take a taxi. She wants this to be as fast as possible. No one wants to be the one holding up the line. Unfortunately for them, I don't mind. I will wait for a penny. “Do you have a penny?” I ask.

Huh? Ah... I might.” And then the customer goes hunting. Pockets, fanny packs, bottomless Mary Poppins pocketbooks, change purses. “I don't. I don't have a penny. I used all my change at the last place.” Yeah, likely story. “Can I give you $81?” That's dumb. “You don't have a bowl for pennies?”

No, sometimes people leave them, but I don't have any now.So I take the $81. and hand her back the change. The customer slaps the four pennies onto the counter.”

“For the next guy.She says. This infuriates me. This should not infuriate me, but it does because this is exactly the reason why she didn't have a penny in the first place.

I ring up groceries. Then I bag them in paper bags. Then I look at the clock and count on my fingers how many hours I have until I get to leave.