Senior Day

Reminder: NSFW – Language and social recklessness

Getting There

Twice a month here in town, a local store has “Senior Day.”

It should be “Senior Geezer Day.”  It affords folks over sixty years old five percent off their total purchase price. (Tobacco and alcohol sales excluded, before local and state taxes).  I hate grocery shopping.  I certainly do.  Especially on Senior Geezer Day.  I avoid it whenever I can.

Forced by a complete out-of-stock situation of one or more kitchen essentials, there are times I cannot avoid shopping Senior Geezer Day.  For example, panic-mode for an item necessary for the evening meal makes a trip an unavoidable evil.  It is my hope, my foolish hope, that any time I’m part of Senior Geezer Day in emergency mode, it will be an exception and I can get in, get my groceries, get checked-out, and make my retreat quickly with minimum fuss.  

Certainly, I might hazard a trip to one of the local drugstores selling grocery items.  Um.  No.  First, drugstores (and gasoline, bait, and lottery convenience stores) have a limited number of items, very unlikely they will have Spanish Saffron or Insta-cook Quinoa.  Second, their milk in spite of what looks like a safe sell-by date, probably is rotated out for freshness less frequently than the pharmacy’s stock of Pookie Bear slow-release dengue patches.  Finally, on a lucky day, say I find Purple Rooster eggs at a buck fifty-nine a dozen at the drugstore, that’s the same week the real grocery is hawking Left-handed Leghorn eggs at seventy-nine cents a dozen.  I understand some people will with some justification take me to court on this last one, arguing price-to-convenience ratio. That’s a metric almost impossible to quantify, and there is the matter of economic principle.  The iffy metric makes their argument dismissible; principle is undeniable.

Shopping for me is fraught with trials and tribulations.  Check-out comes after careful selection of as many items on my list as I can find before my legs give out and I’ve missed two meals.  I do come with a list.  And a full stomach, knowing that could be a matter of survival, not necessarily to protect against impulse purchases.  The “list” has usually been co-authored by my wife.  This list of course, comes with explicit instructions for proper selection of some items:

“Not the regular size can, that’s the three-oh-three can, you want the larger can, you know, like the jumbo size can some non-condensed soups come in.  Oh, and make sure it’s low salt.  If they don’t have low salt, even if it’s the right can, don’t get it, get the smaller can instead.  Unless the regular size can is not low-salt.” 

Yes, there are inevitable heart-wrenching decisions required of almost every trip.  Whatever my decision in a particular quandary, it will be incorrect.  Then there’s my second-favorite list disclaimer:

“For this, get the store brand, you know we’ve tried the national brands and the store brand is better.  Unless, of course the national brand is cheaper.  Well, if it’s a lot cheaper, get the national brand.  You know.” 

Uh.  No, I don’t.  After twenty years, I still do not know.  Do you, like me, get the germ of an idea that effective grocery shopping requires a degree in Quantum Physics?

Solo shopping escapades are the rule because my wife hates grocery shopping as much as I do.  She convinces me there is no need for both of us to suffer the ordeal.  Two people racing through aisles doing per-ounce, per-unit, per-dozen calculations, properly weighing store-against-national brand decisions when price or producer isn’t clearly conclusive, will not make the trip any faster or more comfortable, profitable, or agreeable.  We settled that long ago.  Let’s save “natural,” “organic,” “fat- sodium- gluten- or petrochemical-free” considerations for another lament.  Neither would tandem-shopping save time.  Check-out lines would void any time saved.

Soloing on Senior Geezer Day, while I am off struggling through the process, my wife will have time to clean the house, redirect our investment portfolio, mow the yard, and write a three-hundred-page novel.  She of course can’t go alone, leaving me home to take a nap, because I married a younger woman, and I, after all, am the official Senior Geezer.

Senior Geezer Day has its own unique, added frustrations.  First you have to park.  It seems everyone over sixty is shopping this store at precisely the same time I need to fit it into my schedule.  Or when I want to.  Some days, I just suck it up and prepare to tell the Missus we are dining out of the freezer for a couple of weeks.  

The parking lot on Senior Geezer Day is jam-packed with Cadillacs, Mercedes, Kias and Hyundais.  There is no middle ground for retired folks.  Or near-retired folks.  They’ve either made out like bandits or have to take every opportunity to economize.   I’m not retired, but the wife and I do try to economize.  Five percent is five percent (tobacco and alcohol sales excluded) – even for a Rockefeller.  Normally I try for a pre-dawn sortie or furtively sneak in just before eleven PM to avoid the crunch.  But when the sun shines, it’s hell. 

The parking lot overflow problem is worsened by drive-through pharmacy customers, lined-up for miles in all directions, each vehicle burning at least a half-tank of fossil fuel waiting its turn for a shot at the beleaguered pharmacy tech manning the drive-up window.  I’m working on figuring out how good this is for the air these Senior Geezers breathe as they wait in line, engines running, air-conditioners screaming wide open.  Ah, but the time they’ve saved waiting in line outside instead of inside the store shopping while waiting for a lull in pharmacy counter traffic makes it all worthwhile.  Bullshit.  Anyway, congestion has been so bad on occasions I’ve heard bulletins on Public Radio that the governor considered declaring our county a disaster area.

If I make the grocery run before eight AM – it’s a twenty-four-hour store – or after six PM, I miss the assisted-living buses.  Otherwise, parking problems are further exacerbated by anywhere from two to five mega-vans or mini-buses, waiting while home residents do their two-hour monthly stocking-up.  Drivers of these buses are of one of two parking philosophies. 

There is the “park right in front” school of thought.  These drivers carefully avoid fire lanes, but park as close as possible to the front door, not in the lot proper, but in the lanes of travel closest to store entry.  This makes it difficult for vehicles needing to move in and out of the main lot throughway and for shoppers in and out of the store to see each other as they navigate past these buses.  

The other school of thought is the “park sideways” school.  These drivers use six normal parking spaces, usually very close to the store entrance.  Six normal vehicles then have to park in the next county and their passengers are forced to hike-in to the store.

Since these mini-bus drivers – of both philosophies – idle their time away reading, I don’t see why they can’t be the ones to park in the boondocks after dropping-off their clients at the front door.  They could give their passengers a short exit walk by having a flag-waver step out the front door when the first resident enters the checkout line.  Plenty of time to fire up the bus and run over shoppers coming and going as drivers maneuver their buses to the store front, then to block everyone’s vision for a much shorter time.

The festiveness of the day – and the significant savings possible keep the lot busy even when the assisted-living buses are not in evidence.  Non-bus shoppers exhibit a wide variety of parking methodologies too.  Almost half of Senior Geezer Day arrivals park normally – just like you and I imagine we do – straight-in, evenly spaced between the lines, not hanging out in the front or in the rear.  The rest of the shoppers park kitty-corner, covering two or three normal spaces.  Or fairly-well inside the lines, but with half their car hanging into the travel lane, front or rear.  Or make their own spots in travel lanes, even when plenty of real parking spots are available.

Not many Senior Geezer Day patrons drive SUVs.  Okay, maybe one or two of the Cadillac variety, but you normally see SUVs when you see the Beemers and Mercedes on non-Senior Geezer Days.  In which case, ah, never mind, that’s a different story.  This being a fairly rural area, you will see many pickup trucks, and to their credit, most of these drivers park with greater skill than do non-Senior Geezer Day regulars driving soccer-mom SUVs or downtown-cowboy pickups.

In direct competition with the assisted-living mini-buses there are those, fresh from the pharmacy drive-through, who insist on parking right at the front door, motor still running.  I’ve taken the time, otherwise trapped, to watch these people.  Many times, I’ve seen these normally sane (one hopes) people wait this way for twenty-minutes or more.  Longer than that I expect, but after fifteen to twenty minutes cursing the fact that I’m “shopping” on Senior Geezer Day, I muster-up the courage to go inside and get the ordeal started.

Walking to the front door from the boonies, a number of times, I have seen folks questionably using handicapped parking spaces.  What their handicap was, I’m not certain because these folks look as hale and hearty as I like to think I am.  If the sticker on the window is for Aunt Martha and her bum leg or her bum ticker, where the hell is Aunt Martha?  I’ve watched.  Yes, I have.  Aunt Martha never shows up – the same spry soul who walked into the store from the handicapped spot walks easily back from the store, gets into the vehicle and motors away.

Oh, and hey.  Obesity is not a handicap.  I curse the idiots in Motor Vehicles Departments everywhere who issue HC stickers to fat people.  MVD clerks never go grocery shopping on Senior Geezer Day.  Or any normal day for that matter.  I believe a policeman should be allowed to certify vehicle occupancy by the “handicapped” person for whom the sticker was issued.  No genuine handicapper in residence?  Thank you, here’s your one-thousand-dollar ticket to Municipal Court.  MVD clerks should be present and if they issued a sticker for reasons of obesity, they should also get a ticket.  Or be docked a full week’s pay.  Some of these “handicapped” obese people when they get inside, get real pissy if all the motorized assist carts are in use.  Hell, some of these folks need an industrial forklift, not a courtesy handicap cart. 

On occasion, there is some really cheap entertainment in the store parking lot.  For example, when two old farts vie for a parking spot near the front of the store.  It runs like this:

“Hey!  You asshole!  I was here first!”

“Go fuck yerself.  The spot was empty.  I took it.”

“I was letting my wife out at the door.”

“Too bad.  My spot now.  Go park in the fucking fire lane.”

“Yeah, a cop’ll come and gimme a ticket.”

“Damn straight, cause see this here Mo-bile phone?  Soon as you park, I’m callin the cops!”

“You juss wait, I’m gonna find a place to park and come whip yer ass!”

This is doubly interesting when the contested spot is “handicapped.”  I’m not entirely sure, but I do believe one of these well-spoken gents I observed one cursed trip I endured, was an elder at the Presbyterian Church.  The other a Deacon at Second Baptist.  Neither has the cojones or energy to whip the other’s ass, so it’s like watching two Bantam roosters strutting and eyeballing.  Neither has spurs, if you get my drift, just loud feathers.

There are those who take over the “Expectant Mommies” spots nicely reserved near the store front.  The ladies stepping out of these cars are no more pregnant than I am.  Maybe there’s small print clearly stating, “if you’ve ever have been pregnant,” or “are thinking about becoming pregnant, it’s fine to park here.”  For certain, some of the guys I’ve seen park there fit neither category, and they certainly weren’t actually pregnant.  Not at the time that I could determine.  Nope, no wife in evidence either.

The crowning glory of the parking lot circus is empty and abandoned shopping carts.  They are everywhere.  Everywhere except in the “cart corrals.”  I have watched shoppers come out and after unloading their groceries into their SUV, wheel their cart directly behind the vehicle parked beside theirs.  One sane day, not a Senior Geezer Day – sitting in the car waiting for the Missus to come out with the dozen eggs for special cake-baking contests or mushrooms to go with steak bought the day before yesterday – I contemplated getting out of my car, walking over to the car driven by that cart cowboy, grabbing their empty cart and re-parking it directly behind their trunk.  While it still smoked of their groceries.  I’d planned a smile into their rearview followed by a slow walk back to my car.  I figured to keep this up until they got the point or challenged me to a duel.  Haven’t executed my plan yet.  One day, properly incensed, I will. Yes, Senior Geezers are just as bad as otherwise able-bodied Yuppies.

The Main Event

You remember sometimes I can’t avoid shopping Senior Geezer Day, or cannot make the early dawn or late evening hours of the gala?  Happened to me about two weeks ago.  This particular day, successfully parking my truck, miles and miles away – not really, I know a secret spot by the dumpster in the back of the store – I reluctantly entered the store and the real adventure began.  At once, I felt like Spartacus.

Just inside the outer door, I was greeted by a battle over possession of one of the motorized carts.  Neither contestant required support while they flailed their arms about emphasizing their superior claim.  I left the debaters to their discussion.

Fortunately, the third cart I pulled from the row of waiting carts was not covered in some unimaginable slime, belying the fact that it was still loaded with lethal microbes, viruses, and evil fluids like every other cart there.  At least I couldn’t see the evil it held.  (No, on my walk from my secret truck parking spot to the front door, there were no stray carts.)  I found a cart with four working wheels.  One was questionable, but for the moment looked like it would last.  My cart and I headed from the entryway into the store.  

Inside, having wrapped-up their front-of-store battles, handicap-carters continued to be entertaining.  An empty HC cart idled (I guess) in the canned-vegetables aisle.  Threw its rider, I suppose.  A reasonably old geezer, looking every bit entitled, tottered up to the abandoned cart, stared at it briefly, shrugged his shoulders (no mean feat) and started to twist his weary body into the driver’s seat.  Suddenly, from ten yards down the aisle, a man much the first man’s junior, screamed and brandishing his cane, every bit as spry as Terry Bradshaw on his best day, charged the cart yelling, “that’s my cart, you get the hell out!”  These seniors can be feisty.  The older gent yielded.

Earlier instances come to mind.  Once a three-hundred and fifty pound ballerina left her cart, walked first to the cooking spices shelf, tip-toed a can of sage from the topmost shelf, pirouetted to the freezer case across the aisle, hoisted a thirty pound turkey and chunked it into the cart with the finesse but not the accuracy of Michael Jordan.  One of the pneumatic wheels exploded.  I did not wait to see what came next.

Blocked aisles are a constant hazard on Senior Geezer day.  Two old farts who had discovered they’d not seen each other since high school graduation sixty years ago, picked the narrowest aisle-end in the whole store to park their carts and discuss all the girls from “back then” they dated.  These two gents, Harve and ‘Loopy,’ surely were studs because the list was long, and they were so determined to out-lie each other that they were oblivious to the jam of carts they’d created. 

“Yeah, that Imogene she was a looker!”

“I’ll say!  Prettiest blonde in the senior class.”

“Redhead.”

“Naw, she was blonde.”

“Who?”

“Who what?”

“Who was blonde?”

“Oh, there was lots of’m.  Like Lacy, Joan, Emily.  Wow, that Emily!  I mean she sure had a set of boomers, eh?”

“Yeah, and Imogene, too.”

“Sure did!  But not like that Lucille.  Man, what a set of jugs!  But ugly, damn that girl was ugly!”

“Say what?”

“Lucille.  Ugly.  Ugly as sin.”

“Lucille is my wife, you clown!”

All of the carts in the growing cart-jam hoped the wife of either would arrive to terminate the man talk.  Or keep them from beating each other to death with their canes.  It was possible, either a wife arriving, or the EMTs when one of them cold-cocked the other, but I never found out.  All of us in the jam, rather than deprive these two gents of their reverie but with shopping to do, reversed course and backtracked the aisle to resume in the next aisle.

This meant we’d head against the flow in the next aisle. There is a pattern, a correct direction for each aisle, you see.  Violate that pattern and you get the most vicious looks from the older ladies.  There are no arrows, it’s just known by all the real shoppers.  Harve and Loopy and their senior class reunion would have caused me to travel the wrong way in the adjacent aisle if I followed normal male instincts.  So, whenever I encounter a Harve and Loopy, forced to backtrack at the bottom end of the aisle, no mean feat, as that’s against the flow too, I’ve learned to skip two aisles over and head correctly with the flow, two aisles over.  Meaning of course at the end of the aisle, I’d have to go right instead of left to travel the aisle I skipped.  That’s a brief flow violation itself, but much easier to get away with.  It does mean I’d have to either shop the aisle I just finished (the first out-of-sequence) again, or again skip two aisles to stay synchronized.  Confusing, isn’t it?  But it’s law.

Got to watch a rerun of a ritual I’ve not completely figured out.  On almost every Senior Geezer Day trip down HBA (that’s Health and Beauty Aids) I encounter a great-granny shopping for men’s deodorant.  Okay, that particular day she was Harve’s mate or Loopy’s and she was working from a list.  Here’s the deal – for a particular brand, Martha pulled the cap of every one of that brand and fragrance and took a sniff.  One?  Okay.  It’s a fragrance Harve (or Loopy) has never tried – maybe hubby’s favorite was not stocked or was discontinued or in the wrong size.  But why smell every one of the same brand and fragrance?  Does deodorant spoil?  Can you tell by sniffing it?  What should I be cautious of?  Fantastically, determining the brand and fragrance would be okay for Harve,  Martha will put the last one she opened back nearly in the correct spot on the shelf, and select the only one she didn’t open to toss into her basket – not wanting, obviously, a package that had been opened.

If memory serves me, for any given occurrence of this ritual, this is usually the same woman I saw earlier ten aisles over in bakery, squeezing every loaf of white bread.  Every loaf of white bread.  Squeezing maliciously.  Is it by luck alone that I’ve never bought a loaf of white bread with bones?  Or a squeaky toy inside?  Oh, of interest, she’ll buy a loaf of pumpernickel.  Or no bread at all.

There are two other individual personalities unique to Senior Geezer Day.  The first is the reader.  Usually a woman.  Saw one that day.  She picked up a store brand can of crushed tomatoes and spent ten minutes reading the label.  Why?  “Net weight 14 oz.  Ingredients: tomatoes, water, salt.”  Don’t ask me to explain why, but I watched.  The reader finished the “Crushed Tomatoes” novella; put it back on the shelf and immediately pulled a different can of the same size/variety/brand from the shelf and began a re-read.  Nope.  I do not make this stuff up.  This is Senior Geezer Day.  A movie costs ten bucks.  This is free.

Then there’s the leaner.  He’s usually an old guy.  This particular day, a really old guy.  I was sure he was alive.  I was just as sure he was not in distress.  I’d considered it one day on a previous Senior Geezer Day and asked the gent just to make sure there was no need to call the paramedics.  I was not politely rewarded for my concern.  I was berated for interfering with his shopping. That’s what he called it: shopping.  He was just standing there; not reading; not lifting, smelling and putting back; he was not picking, squeezing and putting back.  Had he been in the produce section, he might have been sampling fruit, determining it foul and waiting for an opportunity with no one watching so he could spit whatever out.  But he wasn’t doing any of that requiring movement.  Just leaning.

Leaner?”  Yeah, not standing straight-up, but listing oddly to one side.  Like a shade-tree mechanic listening to a skipping eight cylinder.  Motionless, not a single bit of teeter or totter.  I did not interrupt his ‘shopping.’  Actually, this leaner was so good, he might have been there since last week. 

I said two personalities?  Make that three.  There are blockers.   Blockers are usually also readers, but with advanced skills.  Blockers can be men, but most often they are women.  Whether intent on reading (and re-reading) packaging, or simply staring blankly at items on a shelf, they are adroit at parking their carts strategically in the aisle leaving no room for another shopper to overtake either side of their cart.  Successful blockers position themselves close to their cart to preclude another shopper’s foolhardy efforts to politely move the blocking cart to one side or another.  For correct blocking, the blocker must be able to be oblivious to anyone, anywhere, waiting to pass through, and must maintain the block long enough to seriously agitate other shoppers.  True professionals, those I openly admire, also master righteous indignation and scathing scowls should another shopper politely ask the blocker to yield a path.

Finally, this particular Senior Geezer Day, I was close to being done.  A quick check of my list was in order.  Um-hmm.  Um-hmm.  Yup.  Everything seemed to be crossed-off.  I wrestled my cart, its left front wheel suddenly wobbling like a gyroscope finally running down.  I passed a gent considering the kitty food.  Snooty-Kitty cans, two-dollars and five cents.  Generic synthetic tuna cans, one dollar and twenty-five cents.  I had to wonder: does this guy own a cat?  He didn’t look like a cat guy.  If he does own a cat, does the cat really care…  Ah, never mind…  Incidentally, at the time, real tuna was one dollar and fifteen cents a can.  Over in the human foods aisles.

I pointed my cart, gyro-wobble and all, toward the checkouts.  One final look over the list before committing.  Penalty!  Penalty!  I forgot chili powder.  Go back five aisles.  Lose ten minutes.  There is the reader, still reading the label, now some 40 minutes into it.  It is surely a riveting read – she has not moved a muscle. The leaner?  Yup, still.   I did not cruise over to check on Harve and Loopy.  It would have been interesting, but time-consuming.  And mostly against the flow.

Reaching the head of the spices and baking needs aisle for the second time, I watched as an old duffer, in the cross-aisle, all alone for the moment, put fifteen packages of frozen split chicken breasts into his cart.  A quick scan of the rest of his goodies suggested that while the chicken was probably a stupendous deal, no one in his household actually knows how to thaw frozen chicken breast let alone fry, bake, stew or broil it.  Everything else in his cart was instant this, peel and eat that, boil-in-bag, and eat-it-raw-from-the box.  No veggies, fresh or canned.  No fruits. 

Chili powder.  Back to the checkouts with my gyro-wobbler.  I have suffered, but at last I have reached first-and-goal.  At long last.  No escaping it.  I had all I could get from my list and could no longer put off the trip across the head aisle (the DMZ) into the checkout lines.  Soon, soon, oh soon, I would be checked-out, bagged and on my way.  

Checkout Time

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.

© SP Wilcenski 2020

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