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.
You are walking toward an open checkout lane when you spy another person coming the other way with items in their hand. You aren’t exactly sure if they are heading to checkout, but you don’t want to take any chance they get there first. So you quicken your step, but try to cover it by casually glancing at nearby displays. When you get there first, keep acting casual by thumbing the magazines or looking over the gum selection.
The office supply store staff was unusually upbeat for a weekday morning, just a few minutes after store opening. I sensed a “visit from corporate” was under way. Everyone on the floor was scurrying about.
My instincts were right. I saw a man in a three-piece suit patrolling the area between the service desk and the computer printers. As I came into his line of sight, he stepped toward me.
“Good morning, sir,” he said extra loud and assertively. “Can I help you find anything?” As he spoke, I could see him surveying the staff to see if they were watching him.
“Do you have any of those Velcro loop strips? Like for bundling cable? The heavy duty kind – with the deep hooks.”
“Yes, sir! Right this way!” he shouted.
I followed as he strutted between the aisles toward the back of the store.
He made a grand gesture to the office supplies wall. “Right here, sir! Is there anything else I can help you with?” he asked, looking around to see if there were any employees in the area who could learn from his skills.
“Cool, uh no, this is good. Let me look over what you have here. Thanks.”
He was gone in a flash, and I turned to the Velcro products on offer.
For months, I have been looking for more heavy duty Velcro loops. I had about 15 of them, and used them all the time. They gripped like iron, and I used them everywhere. It’s like having Duct tape you can use over and over again.
But I couldn’t find the super-gripping, extra-sticky, heavy-duty kind anywhere.
And I didn’t see any in the office supply section, either. Sure, they had Velcro loops, with a tapered end on one side and a hole in the other end, but they were “normal” Velcro.
I walked back toward the exit on my way out.
The manager saw me and talk-shouted, “Did you find them??!!”
“Oh, thanks, yeah, I saw the loop things. I was looking for the heavy-duty kind.”
“Those ARE the heavy-duty kind, sir,” he said with some exasperation.
“Right, I hear ya, I mean the REALLY heavy-duty kind. With the deep hooks.”
“Sir, are you sure you found the RIGHT ONES?” he said, like I was shirking my job.
Was he going to give me a 30-day warning?
“Yes, the product you have SAYS ‘Heavy Duty’ on the package, but those are really ‘Light Duty.’”
“Sir, I KNOW the products!” He was starting to turn red.
“Well, I consider myself an expert on Velcro,” I said laughing. “I’m the Velcro king of California!”
He didn’t smile. Not a grin.
“I want the kind with the really DEEP HOOKS. The kind that can lift a bowling ball off the ground,” I said. “the good stuff – the kind that, had Michael Corleone had access to it, he would have attached the gun to the back of the toilet in the bathroom with it — you know, when he takes out Sollozzo and McCluskey. Velcro so strong that when you pull them apart, you really have to tug, and they make a tearing sound like, ‘Kkkkkkkkkkkkkkqqqqqq.’ The brand you have a has a soft, muffled noise that sounds like, “fffffffffftttt.’”
His face got flush and he paced faster, adding a slight stomp to each foot step that echoed in the empty store.
“You know what I mean?”
He didn’t answer, turning to walk away, saying over his shoulder, “Sir, thank you for shopping at our store.”
Mr. Derrin cleaned the glasses one more time. The store was new, shiny and smelled of linseed oil. For two days they wiped down the bar, counters and stools with that linseed oil. They also rubbed the brass fixtures until they shined.
Now it was opening day. People walked by outside but the didn’t come in.
“Why aren’t they walking in,” Mr. Derrin said.
“We need to advertise,” said his son, Alex. “We need a big sign out front. Tell the people what we got for ’em.”
“I don’t have any money for no sign,” Mr. Derrin snorted.
“Well, then,” said Alex. “I spose we can wait on each other, cause no one is coming here.”
It’s about four blocks to the grocery store from where I am staying with relatives. I announce I am walking over to get some bread, milk and other stuff. Requests are made for beer and spaghetti sauce which I add to the list.
Checking out, the lady bagging says loudly, “Sir, do you want your bread bagged?”
“Yes, please, I have to walk four blocks.”
She looked disappointed. I didn’t know if she thought I should carry them on my head, or she wasn’t sure I could walk that far without collapsing.
She eyeballed the 12-pack of beer and again asked loudly, “Sir, do you want your beer bagged?”
“Sure, that would help. I have to walk four blocks.”
She began to walk away, gesturing to the checker guy to finish bagging duty, saying loudly to him as she turned on her heel, “YOU’RE GOING TO NEED FOUR BAGS!”
I was walking down the aisle at the grocery store. At the other end of the aisle, a store employee was coming the other way, coughing loudly, not covering her mouth. I realized she was coming all the way past me, so I did a quick stop and scan of the candy on the shelf, as if I was close to finding what I want, turning my body to shield the impending viral hurricane.
I was wrong. She didn’t pass me. She turned to the same section of candy, checking prices or something, coughing into the air the whole time next to me, like a T-shirt cannon at a baskeball game, firing germ bombs toward me.
If I have German flu the next time you see me, now you know why.
I waited patiently behind a lady at the grocery store today. She is one of the characters at the store who have to talk to the cashier like they are two neighbors sharing a leisurely coffee.
“I’m 53 and my husband is 54,” she said, taking all the time in the world. “At this age, I don’t want to see his sorry self all the time. We have separate beds like Luci and Desi, but we went one better. We have separate bedrooms!”
After a long pause to dig through her purse for change, she said, “Separate rooms are perfect. Except once a month we meet to do MR. NASTY!”