Senior Day – 3: Checkout Time

NSFW: Language and social recklessness

First, at the head of the aisles, directly behind the checkout lines, there are, only on Senior Geezer Days, the sample counters to contribute to the cross-aisle traffic and the checkout lines folding around the length of the already-clogged head aisle.  These sample stations are manned by old people, themselves old geezers, performing public service.  They offer tiny cups of miniature barbecued sausages, lemon-bars, trail mix, imitation cheese on too-salty crackers, and the like.

If you have a strong stomach, the areas around these sample stations are an interesting study.  Old geezers invariably try to be covert taking third and fourth samples of tasty treats particularly to their liking.  It is requisite that while chewing, they must continue to talk to the sample-giver as if to convince them they might actually purchase what is sampled, or in lieu of that to chew with their mouths constantly open in an exaggerated way.  What they manage to let fall from their mouths piles up on the floor in the immediate area gently nestling with the empty or half-empty sample cups tossed to the floor so as not to overfill the garbage receptacle positioned insanely close to the sample stations, and empty.  I did warn you.  This area is not for the faint of heart.

Checkout time.  Like all males, I’m plagued with wrong-line-itis.  It doesn’t make any difference which checkout line I pick.  That one is guaranteed to be slowest of them all.  I’ve been in lines so slow the wheels on my cart have gone flat.  All four of them, including the one permanently frozen into a left turn.  Think about that.  Those wheels are solid, hard rubber.  Going flat takes some serious long-time standing.  Which means “waiting.” 

“Well, you big goddamn dummy,” you say. “Get yourself and your cart into another line!” 

That won’t make any difference.  You know it won’t.  The line I just left will suddenly move faster than the Colorado River in spring melt, and the one I just lined-up in stops dead so quickly the checkout conveyor belt smokes.  The check-out clerk has to go pee.  The customer checking out is writing a check on a bank in Afghanistan only the Regional Manager, on vacation in Cozumel, can ‘authorize.’  The seventy-eight-year-old fart buying a six-pack of beer, a jar of salsa and a bag of nacho chips can’t find his driver’s license to prove he’s over eighteen.  The only requirement making sense for checking-out this old dude would be to make sure his heart is still thumping, which requires a stethoscope and medical training, not a driver’s license.  The bagger and cashier are suddenly diverted completely from Aunt Agatha’s melting ice-cream and her dog Bowsie’s French Chef Kuisine du Kanine by their discussion of last night’s MTV concert.

“Like, pretty-much, that was totally awesome!”  This accompanied by a phenomenal rolling of eyeballs back into the recesses of the checkout’s head so that only the whites were visible.  Reminiscent of Little Orphan Annie from the Sunday comics.

In case you wonder, there is an entirely correct response to that, and it usually runs akin to “Oh, my Gawd!  Like, to die for!”  Which, you know, must be synchronized with a false swoon.

Let’s not forget the all-time champion checkout line-plugger, the Price Check Queen, who unerringly selected only items the red laser beam of the Star Trek UPC reader-doohickey cannot identify…  Cannot identify…  Cannot identify…  Even after “Hi!  I’m Bobbie!” passed every edge of the package across the positronic hypersensor – five or six times – rubbed the UPC with fingertips, a polybag, a paper towel and the eraser-end of a well-chewed pencil.  Should the Queen err as she obviously did, selecting an item that was in the Captain’s Log, when it rang up at three dollars and ninety-eight cents, she demanded she be given the price marked on the shelf.  Which she insisted was three dollars and fifty-nine cents. 

“Price check on register five!” 

After “Hi!  I’m Bud!” reported the item was marked three dollars and ninety-eight cents and the Queen rejected it, it joined a growing stack of other selected-then-unselected items on the belt of a nearby un-opened checkout aisle.  A leaking gallon of milk.  A twenty-pound bag of kibbles, now approaching nineteen pounds as one pound of it was what crunched underfoot at the head of the last three aisles with empty sample cups and half-chewed sample detritus before “checkout time!”  A can of corned-beef hash rounded on both ends, either pregnant and fully dilated or a ham-and-potatoes time bomb ready to go.  Greens, guava and Brussels sprouts in their fresh produce bags, having lost their charm at checkout time, when on reflection the almost-purchaser determined they would have to be cooked or, in the case of the guava, “What the hell is this and how’d it get in my cart?”

The Queen’s selections finally done and the total rung, the Queen started to write her check.  Oh, but she remembered:

“Mercy sakes!  My coupons!  I forgot my coupons.  Here.” 

And from her purse, the envy of any nineteenth century train traveler, she produced a bale of coupons of all sizes and shapes.  Yup.  She had to search for the ones she intended to use.  Yup.  Some of them had indeed expired.  Yup.  You’ve been there?  Some of them were chain coupons.  This store is not part of that chain.  Finally, but of course, some of them were for items she forgot to pick up and toss into her cart.  Someone could just bring her one from the “canned vegetable and ethnic foods” aisle? 

Bobbie wasn’t having any of this, finally, thankfully, she dispatched a now angry Price-check Queen to Customer Service, manned at present by “Hi! I’m Danny!” bless his heart.

Watching all this, I came up with a question I’d really like to have someone take a run at: why are all the magazines in the impulse racks “Women’s This” and “Beauty That”?  Why not Guns, Rods, Cycles and Beer?  How about Playboy?  Where is Carl Sagan when there’s a real need?

I looked to the line to my right.  Baggers have a strong union.  A young man who is never going to be on the high school football team was muscling a gentleman away from the bagging area.  The man wanted to bag his own groceries.  Makes good sense, I do it myself sometimes, in a hurry and no official bagger within earshot of the “blip-blip” machine.  Sometimes you just don’t want the bleach tossed happily into the bag with two loaves of bread already there.  Maybe it’s not the union.  Anyway, this old gentleman would not get the chance to show he can still dead lift a cantaloupe.

To my left I saw the conveyor conveying “diet this” and “diet that.” And three near-half-gallons of cheesecake ice cream.  Not sorbet or frozen yogurt.  Nope.  Nosiree.  Icky (lovely) chocolaty, fudgy (yummy) full-caloried, made from the good part of cow juice, ice cream.  More diet stuff.  And beer.  More diet stuff.  And chips and (diet) cola.  I’d figured Jack Sprat and his wife until the chips and diet cola.  Nope, she, the diet-no-diet blimp, just came into view standing up from retrieving another case of diet colas from beneath the basket.  Oh, if you’re curious: not Senior Geezer.  Jack couldn’t bend to fetch the colas as the weight of the poly-wrapped case would have snapped his scrawny frame.

So, there I was.  In line and next!  Uh-oh.  Change of check-out clerks.  So what?  Oh, if you guessed, you’re sharp!  Or have been routinely so afflicted.  That’s right… I got…  The trainee!  Obviously this one, “Hi!  I’m Donald!,” was chosen for manual dexterity and powers of concentration, and he was chewing gum like I’ve never seen it done before. 

Donald, or “Donnie” as I can legitimately call him before leaving the store because we have spent so much time together I can claim him on my Income tax as a dependent, chews that huge wad of bright purple gum as if slowing down the least little bit will allow it an advantage on him and it will explode in his mouth, taking him out of action.  That, I certainly don’t want.  A veteran in spite of my hatred of the chore, I have unloaded my cart (and checked underneath, yes, most certainly) in the order I would like to have “Hi! I’m Lula!” bag my items. 

I’ve placed my cloth ecobags on the belt first with my “Hey! Ya’ll, I’m an Old Geezer” ID-card, my coupons (carefully matched to my purchases) and Lula, quick as a rabbit takes all this in and asks, “Paper or plastic?”

“Unh, I brought my own bags, Lulu.”

“I’m Lula.” Some degree of indignation.  “Paper or plastic?”

Whoops, big social gaffe!  I figured I better focus on Lula, to hell with watching Donnie to see that he doesn’t ring one item five or six times, thereby effectively cancelling my five-percent discount, because Lula’s already showing signs of becoming surly.  In her defense, had I spent the last two formative hours of my life placating the insipid demands of senior geezers, I’d be testy too.

“Lula, I brought my own bags.  See right there?  Cloth?  Re-useable.  Earth friendly.  Save your store money and you get a big bonus.”

“Say what?” 

Zooks.  Time to cut my losses, point, grunt, and shut my face.  “Um.  There are my bags.”

“Oh.  Whyn’t you say so?”

Back to Donnie.  I feared for his life.  How the hell could he breathe with all that K4 in his mouth?  I looked up at the tote-board and saw I was already down one hundred and thirty-seven dollars and fifty-three cents, before coupons, and discount and taxes, my being “Shopper *********3221, Welcome to U-Save Big and Foods-N-More stores!”

“Mmts zis?”  Donnie struggled over his gum to communicate something.  I wondered if he had decided someone should call 911 to rescue him from his gum?

“Beg pardon?”

“Mmts zis hmr?” 

Shit.  It’s not any language I’m familiar with.  “I’m sorry, Donald, what did you say?”  I learn, don’t call Lula, Lulu, probably, therefore don’t call Donald, Donnie.  Donald stopped chewing.  His gum didn’t explode.  Shoppers behind me slowly came out from under their carts.

“What’s this?”

“That’s lettuce Donald.  Romaine lettuce.”

“Do you know the PUC?”

“UPC?”

“UPC.  PUC.  ABD.  Whatever.” Donald was looking at me like it was my fault items didn’t properly align themselves as they bounced past the laser beams.

I violated the barrier and leaned over his produce looker-upper flipper-thingy.  Gee the pictures were pretty darned good.  I pointed.  (I do catch on fast, for a Senior Geezer.)

“There it is, right there.”

Donnie, I mean Donald, raised his eyebrows.  I told you the kid was dexterous. 

“Whatcha do with it?”

“You eat it.  Make a salad.  Add some tomatoes, maybe, some cucumber, celery.  If you wanna do it right, just black olives, some croutons and Caesar dressing.”

Foreign language.  Couple of years scraping groceries across the Star Wars laser, he’d pick up on some of it.  Maybe.

“Oh.  Think I seen that once.”

We’d just started the produce.  This was going to be fun!  Let’s see what’s up next?

“This?” mumbled Donald, in a way I picked-up on.  Or I was understanding Donald-ese.  Minimalist, this kid.  But at least he was almost communicating in my language.  Give him credit.

“That’s garlic.”

“Oh yeah, another guy bought some of this.  It’s not very big is it?” 

The gum had surrendered, I guess.

“Doesn’t take much.  It’s pungent.”

“Wha?  Is it gawlic or pungent?”

“Garlic.  Doesn’t take much, it’s strong.  Like horseradish.”

“Like what?”

“Onions.”

“Wow, it’s expensive too!  Five dollars and twenty-two cents!”

“Just a sec, Donnie, you had the chicken on the scale when you weighed it.”

I got, you understand, a stern look.  

“Oh?  How’s that?”

“Shouldn’t you void the five dollars and twenty-two cents?”

“Why?”

“You rang up five dollars and twenty-two cents for the garlic the first time.”

“Well, yeah. So?”

“So that was your mistake and you need to cancel it.”

Utter confusion.  Ah, “Hi! I’m Mr. Timmons, Asst. Mgr.” just happened by and helped Donnie out with the void.  Wordlessly.  I suppose Mr. Timmons, Asst. Mgr. didn’t enjoy Senior Geezer day any more than I did.  Or trainee Donald days, any more than I did,

Blip.  Blip.  Blip.

“Mts zis?” 

“Those are avocadoes.”

“I see the picture, whatcha do with them?”

I was really, really tempted to tell him they were gonna be oil filters in my Ford, but hell, the kid’s just learning.  So, I did a brief cooking school, “slice’m open, mash’m up, add jalapeno, lemon, garlic, tomato and onion…”

“Eeew!”

“Good on nacho chips.”

“I know what them are.  I dip them in that yellow sticky stuff.”

“Cheese.”

“Yeah.  Uh-huh.  Whatever.”

Fortunately, it was summer, and my produce needs were trimmed somewhat by the garden’s bounty.

Blip.  Blip.  Blip.

“Hts zis?”  I’m a fast learner.  I could communicate on this one.  Unassisted.

“Kale.  Don’t ask.”

Blip. Blip. Blip.

“Zis hrr?”

“Zucchini.”

Eyebrows up.  Not curious up.  Suspicious up.  Donnie thought maybe I was trying to slide a cucumber past him disguised as a Zucchini?  He glared right at me.  Maybe I wouldn’t declare him on my taxes.  Problem child.  Cost too much in psychiatrist’s fees.

“Mmm.  Okay.”

Blip.  Blip.  Blip.  Blip…

Here came the Birra Moretti.  Almost home!  I had my driver’s license in hand.  I thought seriously about driving someone insane using my Passport, but not on Senior Geezer Day.

“Good stuff, this,” volunteered Donald.

Wow!  A clean statement!  Donnie flicked the aisle light switch so the ‘I’m open to check you out’ light flashed off and on.  Beer.  Can’t ring it up if you’re a minor.  Stupid.  On the other hand, Donnie knows it’s ‘good stuff.’  Let me work on this one a little bit…

“Hi! I’m Dorothy!” looked at my driver’s license with all the attention I give the brand name embossed on each sheet of toilet paper.  She’d seen and certified the “Senior Geezer” as she walked over, and I could have handed her my library card.  Not a word.  She didn’t even look at it.  She could have said “Gee, you don’t look sixty!”  Would’ve been a PR coup.  So much for the manager’s training AVT.  And hey!  The really old guy they card, and I get a pass?

Finally.  Finally checked out, I wheeled my purchases out the “out” door. Dodging both the idiots coming in the “out” door.  Dodging the same old fart sitting in his idling Dodge minivan; waiting and waiting and waiting.  Dodging the crowd of genuine article Senior Geezers climbing out of or into their minibuses.  Weaving my way through cars parked every which way but the correct way.  Weaving through a field of scattered empty shopping baskets.  Back to my truck.  I unloaded, relocked the doors and delivered my cart to a cart corral.  Amazing.  There were actually two other carts there.  One likely would stay there as it only had two wheels.  The other, I cannot explain.

Not bad.  Three and three-quarter hours.  My shirt was soaked with sweat.  My ice cream had melted.  My potatoes had sprouted.  But I was alive.  Slightly amused.  Greatly amazed and disappointed by my fellow Senior Geezers.  All this is why I never shop Senior Geezer Day.  Or try not to.  If absent-mindedness strikes and I forget what day it is and swing into the lot on the way home from the hardware store or from a client meet, as soon as it registers why the lot is so crowded, I’m out of there.  The out-cycle gallon of milk or dozen eggs can wait until tomorrow.  I hate grocery shopping.  I especially hate grocery shopping on Senior Geezer Days.

Episode 3 of 3

© SP Wilcenski 2020

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