As a heathen, I always try to get my grocery shopping done on Sunday morning – you know, to beat the crowds. Even so, there are the typical hazards that can never be avoided – the young mom blocking an entire aisle with one of those behemoth shopping carts that has a Cozy Coupe attached to the front so her offspring can get in some early drivers’ training, the economist who is deep in a price-per-ounce comparison trance directly in front of the bargain coffee I’m trying to get to, the nutritionist who is grilling the indifferent employee behind the deli counter about every ingredient that went into the making of the chicken salad, (having an uncanny knack for always finding) the cart that will only turn right.
The topper, of course, is checkout aisle bingo. Trying to pick the line that will move with the least delay. Based on previous visits, I know which employees are the quickest when it comes to emptying a shopping cart. But the rock star checkout guy, the savant who remembers all the produce codes so he doesn’t have to stop and flip through the reference guide for each item, the one who knows where every bar code is located on every item in the store so he doesn’t have to twist the frozen potato bag 12 different directions in front of the reader to get it to beep, is out today. So let’s see – there’s a new kid on 14 who appears completely befuddled by a bag of carrots that the laser refuses to acknowledge. Nope. I can see those waiting in his line already starting to look around for other options. Next to him is the old guy with orthopedic braces on both wrists who breathes through his mouth and always looks like he just smelled a turd. He likes to talk a lot – wants to know what I have planned for the rest of the day, if I’ll be watching the Broncos game, that sort of crap. I think the mindless chatter is simply a distraction meant to draw my attention away from the fact that the bagger (the one with the classic male-pattern-baldness horseshoe of hair that’s still long enough to tie into a ponytail) is cheerfully, if unwittingly, turning the hamburger buns into tortillas (I learned my lesson long ago and now simply ward off the baggers and do it myself). Wrist Braces is one of those individuals who doesn’t have a high gear, and with one person already in the queue in his lane, I’d probably qualify for social security by the time I came out the other end. That leaves the woman on 16 who’s all business – no feigned interest in my personal life, no sports analysis, just gettin’ customers out the door. Perfect. Even though she has one full cart she’s working on and another in line behind that, the second cart is one of those downsized ‘one-person’ models that are used by retirees and widowers with their pants pulled up to their armpits (the case today) that only hold about a third the volume of a normal cart. I figure All Business can blow through her line in no time, so I cozy up behind High Pants. That’s when I notice that there’s no bagger and the customer at the register is one of those types who refuses to lift a finger to help out. So her groceries are piling up at the end of the conveyor belt, which means All Business will have to abandon her post once she’s done ringing everything up to go do the bagging. Shit! No one is behind me yet, so I can back out easily enough, but by now Wrist Braces has two waiting in the queue and another hovering close by. That leaves New Kid, who’s trying to get Wrist Braces’ attention because he can’t find the code for cherry tomatoes but Wrist Braces is too engrossed in a conversation about the dietary benefits of high fiber with an elderly couple at his register to notice New Kid’s panicked gestures. But wait – the light on 17 just came on. Someone watching on the security cameras probably saw me mouthing expletives and got a cashier to open another register. I start to back out and run ass-first into the mom piloting that Cozy Coupe cart who is just turning in behind me. We trade apologies as she tries to swing her rig around, her kids twisting wildly on their play steering wheels all the while in an attempt to “help mommy drive.” Fully loaded, it’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier and she gets hung up on the magazine rack (where I think I recognize one of her children as Hillary Clinton’s Alien Baby), thwarting my exit as others who share my haunted look sprint toward the open checkout aisle. Too late she clears the path, but now I feel obligated to move away for having made her put in the effort. I stand in the checkout staging area for a moment, without a plan, before muscling my reluctant cart into New Kid’s lane, where I am next in line because everyone else bailed due to his incompetence inexperience. As feared, every item is painstakingly inspected and cross-referenced, and several price checks are required because I managed to find the only two pieces of produce in the store that didn’t have UPC stickers attached. Horseshoe Ponytail starts to approach but I deter him with the wave of a hand. I have all the tortillas I need, thanks. At one point New Kid rings something up incorrectly, a normal head of lettuce going through at the higher ‘organic’ rate, but I decide to let it slide because the extra 29 cents seems a small price to pay for not having any more of my soul sucked from me by what would surely involve calling a supervisor over to reboot the mainframe or realign a satellite in order to make things right. Meanwhile, every other line has cleared its queue – even Cozy Coupe mom has left the building. Finally I stagger to the parking lot where I pass an employee in a day-glow vest pushing a train of shopping carts toward the front door. “Thanks for coming, and have a great day,” he implores me.
And people wonder how serial killers get their start.