Walking through Big Box Mart on my way to check out, I spied a display of golf caps at the end of an aisle.
The worn-out hat on my head called for a replacement, somebody to come in off the bench and relieve it of the hat duty it had come to despise.
I listened to its pleas, and chose a simple, plain, no logo, black hat with an open mesh back perfect for the hot weather of the coming summer. I clutched it in my hand with the other items and headed for the checkout.
I usually go to self check-out, but that was not an option as it was blocked by empty shopping carts. There were no other checkout lanes available in the huge store save one.
It was 230am, and while there weren’t many people in the store at that hour, they love to shop for everything they need. In the wee hours, no one is fighting them for the last box of Cap’n Crunch, so they take the time to fill carts to the brim. I had to wait in line forever.
Once at the front, my few items went quickly until the cashier got to my hat.
He sighed when he realized there was no tag.
I sighed when I realized there was no tag.
Bad things happen at Big Box Mart when your item doesn’t have a tag.
“It’s $3.44,” I offered cheerily, as I had just come from the display and remembered the amount exactly.
In my days as a cashier back in the mists of time, when an inexpensive item like this hat came to the register without a tag, there were general codes we could use to ring up the purchase and keep the line moving. In this case, the cashier, who appeared to be new on the job, decided to fight the good fight and figure it out on his own.
He punched at buttons valiantly, but nothing was working. Finally, an older lady appeared and asked him if he needed some help. He told her he didn’t know how to run the Price Override.
“It’s $3.44,” I said again helpfully. “I just came from the display, and I guarantee that’s the price.”
“Sir, it is not that I don’t believe you,” said the new cashier.
“Oh, I don’t think you don’t believe me. It just sounded like you needed the price to ring it up,” I said.
The older lady stepped in, punched in the elusive Price Override code, and went about her business.
He was relieved.
I was relieved.
Everybody in the now growing line behind me was relieved.
Soon I would be wearing my new simple, plain, no logo, black golf hat on the drive home.
Again he punched the buttons over and over, like he was trying to figure out the combination of a safe in a Las Vegas heist movie. The beads of sweat began to gather on his forehead, slowly rolling down to the tip of his nose.
“I can run back and get another one just like it if it helps,” I said.
“No, sir,” he said. “You don’t have to do that.”
The older lady again appeared, as if entering from another time-space continuum.
“Still need some help?” she said to the man punching buttons.
“I don’t know the department,” he said.
After some conversation, she asked me, “What department did you buy this in?”
“Men’s clothing. You know, where they have all the shirts and pants and stuff.”
She said to the man, “I don’t know what department code that is.”
They looked at me as if I knew what the department code was. I can tell you I did not know then what the department code was, never knew what the department code was, and still don’t know what the department code is.
“Look, the hat was just a spur of the moment purchase as I was walking toward the register. Really, I don’t need another golf hat. You can just set it to the side, take it off my list of items, finish out my sale and that’s fine.”
“No, we’ll figure it out,” the man said.
“I can run back and get another one with a price tag,” I again offered.
“No, I’ll do it,” the man said.
He set out at snail’s pace, shuffling toward the men’s clothing. My Lord, son, put a little giddyup in your get-go! I’m going to be here all night. I sprinted ahead of him, calling out, “Let me show you where they are.”
We returned to the cash register.
The line now snaked around the main aisle behind the registers, sneaking past the sunglasses and costume jewelry, edging into the grocery department near the granola bars and boxes of cupcakes made to look like baseballs.
The tumblers turned, and the safe finally unlocked.
The sale was complete.
“Thank you for shopping at Big Box Mart,” the man said without a smile. “Hope that didn’t take too long.”
I entered the store at midnight. As I left, I saw the sun rising in the east.
Nah, didn’t take too long at all.