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Photo by Kozy
Photo by Kozy

Photo by Kozy

"Mind if I write a check, dear?"

The Wait: 37 Minutes of Hell in a Grocery Store

  I visited my favorite Italian specialty grocery store the other day. I only needed three items, but I was on a tight schedule so I was hoping to get in and out fast.

  The store was not crowded. Should not be a problem, I figured.

My first stop was the deli, where I took a number, 26. There were only three people in front of me and two women working the counter so I assumed it would go fast.

  I assumed wrong.

  Mr. 23, a short, middle-aged guy with thinning hair and a perpetual smile was trying to decide between Milano and Genoa salami. He asked Jenny, the deli employee, her opinion. Based on the blank look on her face – she appeared to be around 20 - it was immediately clear Jenny was new on the job and didn’t know the difference between bologna and ham.

  Mr. 23 figured that out as well.

  “I’ll take a half a pound of the Genoa,” he said.

  While Jenny went off to slice the salami, Mr. 23 struck up a conversation with the woman holding ticket 25, who had yet to be waited on.

  Meanwhile, the woman with ticket 24 asked the other clerk, Beth, for a pound of provolone.

  “How would you like that sliced?” she asked.

  “Medium, honey,” Ms. 24 said. She was a hefty, 40ish woman dressed in a Hawaiian muumuu and possessing a sweet, motherly disposition.

  Beth, obviously more experienced than Jenny, quickly produced a sample slice of provolone.

  “Is this OK?” she asked Ms. 24.

  “No, dear, that’s too thick.”

  Back to the slicer went Beth.

  Over at the other machine, at the opposite end of the counter, Jenny held up a slice of salami for Mr. 23’s inspection.

  “Will this work?” Jenny asked, in a barely audible voice.

  Mr. 23 was too far away to hear. Didn’t matter. He was engrossed in a conversation with Ms. 25, a 30-something hipster wearing designer jeans and holding a purse larger than my daypack, about their favorite actors in the TV series “Yellowstone.”

  Jenny asked again. Mr. 23 remained oblivious. I interceded.

  “Hey, pal! Jenny’s asking you a question.”

  Mr. 23’s sunny smile turned cloudy as he first looked at me, clearly annoyed, then, the smile back, Jenny.

  “That’s perfect.”

  Jenny: “Anything else?”

  Me to myself: “Please say no.”

  Not a chance.

  Mr. 25: “Yes. I’ll take half a pound of white Vermont cheddar cheese sliced for sandwiches.”

  At that point Beth showed Ms. 24 another slice of provolone: “How’s this?”

  “Ah, gee, honey. I’m sorry. But that’s too thin. Try it right between the first one you sliced and this one.”

  Beth expertly masked her displeasure with Ms. 24. Me? Not so much. I took three large audible breaths and leaned forward, stretching my arms across the counter. Subconsciously, I began lightly tapping the glass top with my forehead. Maybe it wasn’t as lightly as I thought as my head hurt. I looked up and noticed that everyone was staring at me. That included a pimple-faced kid stocking shelves 30 feet away.

  Mr. 23’s voiceless expression was easy to read: “Chill, jerk.”

  I looked at my watch. I had been there 17 minutes but it felt like 30. Then I realized I had crumbled my ticket into a tiny wad, making the 26 unintelligible. That concerned me because, suddenly, we were joined by an older gentleman holding ticket No. 27.

  Nervously, I wondered: “Will they blackball me?”

  Finally, there was movement. Beth got Ms. 24’s provolone order right and turned her attention to Ms. 25. Jenny handled Mr. 23’s cheddar cheese request with no issues. He gave me “the look” as he walked away.

  I didn’t care. It was my turn. I neglected to mention that all I wanted was three Margherita pepperoni sticks, which were sitting in a bowl directly in front of me. No slicing required. It would take about two minutes to bag them, weigh them and add a price label. Except for one thing: the Jenny factor.

  “How can I help you?” she asked, sweetly

  “I’d like those three Margherita pepperoni sticks, please.”


  “Those three long sausages, right there,” I said, tapping on the glass in front of the bowl holding the pepperoni.

  “Oh, those,” she said.

  It was clear she was unsure how to proceed so I said, as sweet as corn syrup: “Just put them in a plastic bag and I’ll be good.”

  Which is what she did. She then placed the bag on the scale and got stuck again. Jenny didn’t know the code. And she couldn’t spell Margherita. About 30 seconds went by before I interceded once again.

  “Beth! Jenny needs help with the scale,” I shouted, louder than I had planned.

  Since I already had been certified a dreaded HMC [High Maintenance Customer], I was unmoved by the seemingly dozens of bulging eyes honing in on me from all over the store. I noticed that the stock boy’s pimples had turned a brighter shade of red as he looked on in disgust.

  Beth punched in the code. I got my pepperoni sticks. I grabbed a box of crackers and a jar of hot peppers and, with a bounce in my step, headed to the checkout.

Checking Out

  My glee was short-lived. I noticed that two of the three counters were closed. This being a small specialty store, it lacked a self-checkout. That left one option. As I got in line – I was No. 4 – I studied the people ahead of me and the quantity of items in their carts, a universal habit, right?

  No. 3 didn’t appear to be a problem. In a hand basket, he had around five items.

  Ahead of him was potential trouble. No. 2, a non-descript woman wearing a long, green raincoat – it was a sunny day – had a cart filled almost to the top with, seemingly, one of each from the store’s entire inventory. That’s 10 minutes, at least, I thought.

  In front of her was an even larger issue. No 1. was on the plus side of 80. Narrow black reading glasses were perched on the bridge of her small, pointed nose. Her thick white hair was pulled back into a tight bun, held in place with what appeared to be a darning needle protruding out of each side. On the counter were three items - a loaf of white bread, a half-gallon of whole milk and a dozen eggs.

  As Granny chatted pleasantly with the cashier, I noticed her digging into her purse. At that moment it dawned on me what she was looking for.

  “Please, please, please, not that,” I said to myself.

  But out it came. Followed by:

  “Mind if I write a check, dear?”

  Apparently, my anguish was audible as the guy in front of me turned and said: “You OK?’

  “No! I am not OK. Didn’t you notice? The lady in front is writing a check. Who does that anymore?”

  “So?” he said, obviously repulsed by my comment.

  I ignored him and set the timer on my phone. It took Granny three minutes to fill out the check, two minutes to find her driver’s license, and three minutes for the cashier to fill out some sort of form and run the check through a validation machine. A couple of minutes later, Granny mercifully headed out the door.

  No. 2 checked out much faster than I expected and No. 3 was a breeze. My turn.

  Cashier: “Hello. Did you find everything you were looking for?”

  Me: “You have no idea.”

  She ignored my comment and asked: “Are you a member of our rewards program?”

  Me: “Not interested.”

  Back in my car, I tried to process what had happened in the 37 minutes it took for me to buy three items. Even though it was a cool day, I saw that I had sweat marks on my shirt front. My hands were shaking ever so slightly and, for some unexplained reason, my eyes were blinking, uncontrollably.

  I considered going next door to Bubba’s Tavern for a couple of shots of frayed nerves relief and Ubering home, but ultimately decided against it. I began to calm down.

  I pulled my keys from my pocket. Out came my grocery list as well, which fell to the floor. As I picked it up, I noticed for the first time a fourth item, below the pepperoni, crackers and hot peppers. It read:   One pound Virginia baked ham. Sliced thin. There were two exclamation marks next to it.

  In wife speak that means: “Do not come home without it.”

  I’m not sure how long I screamed and ranted. I pounded on my steering wheel so hard my hands hurt. I did get the attention of a squirrel directly in front of my car. He stopped munching on his acorn and gave me a curious look.

  I then looked to my right. Mr. 23 was loading his groceries into his truck when he stopped to observe my meltdown.

  To my left, Ms. 24 was doing likewise.

  Simultaneously, they both smiled a smile of satisfaction.

  They knew.

  And, I knew what they were thinking:

  “Payback is a bitch, isn’t it?”

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