Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fun at the Grocery Store

This afternoon, James and I went to the Kroger grocery store we've visited several times in suburban Toledo and had a rather amusing experience at the check-out counter.

Our groceries are mostly fresh vegetables, which have item numbers that the clerk needs to enter. The pleasant-faced, middle-aged woman clerk was apparently new to the job, because it took her a long time to find each item number for the veggies. She asked the help of a much younger, sort of punk big gal with darkly-dyed magenta hair and sporting a nose-ring (who must have been an experienced Kroger clerk, maybe even a manager) for the item numbers. Miz Punk barked them out while glaring at the clerk along with James and me, because we were engaging the clerk in conversation and possibly distracting her.

The fortyish sour-faced woman behind us in line had only a few items, mostly cosmetics and what used to be called "sundries" -- oh, how old-fashioned this makes me sound! -- and she became more and more impatient for the clerk to finish ringing up our groceries. Her face became increasingly sour as our transaction proceeded to lengthen into a full-fledged "visit", as James chatted up this clerk.

Meanwhile, I went to my usual "post" at the foot of the counter with my own canvas bags, to stow the groceries myself. This in itself is considered "weird" in most stores. I usually encounter resistance from the baggers, and at the very least, surprise. Sometimes it's fun to tweak them and other times it's tiring to deal with their hostility.

Miz Punk shot me an exasperated look when I said, "You really know your vegetables!" as the new clerk asked her for yet another item number.

I don't think that these clerks are used to "socializing", as James and I always try to do with such people. He tries to lighten things up and add a bit of personal interaction to an otherwise robotic, frantic world.

I guess we're really weird.

This new clerk was clearly taken with us, asking the usual question if we were twins or at least related. "No", we told her, although sometimes we lie and say "Yes, how nice of you to notice".

She made the observation that we looked "fashionable and unusual, like movie stars from Beverly Hills!" and James told her that we tour with Phantom.

Then James told her the story of being in a grocery check-out line at Straub's in St. Louis, when (another) black clerk asked the same twin/brother question, and James quipped, "No, we're not, but you know we white guys all look alike!" Everyone within earshot had cracked up.

But today in Toledo, the sour-faced woman behind us flinched after hearing this story, and shifted one impatient foot to the other.

The clerk seemed to find it faintly amusing, but she didn't know quite how to react. Miz Punk manager, however, did not find it funny at all.

As the veggies made their leisurely way down the conveyor belt and I put them carefully into the two canvas bags, I made a point of smiling at the impatient woman as well as Miz Punk. James also included them in his witty repartee, which served only to irritate them further.

This in turn amused me all the more; the whole thing began to assume truly comical proportions as well as surreal ones.

James apologized to the woman behind us for taking so long, and her glare imperceptibly softened, but only for a fleeting instant. She stubbornly held onto her impatience and irritation.

Oh, what a cold world we have become! Most of us are in such a HURRY these days, getting bent out of shape at the least delay. People forget to breathe.

And heaven forbid that one should try to engage them in any personal interaction! I'd say that at least half the store clerks don't know how to respond to our pleasantries.

I almost burst out laughing when the clerk messed up James' credit card transaction and had to begin again. I flashed a smile at the woman behind him, shrugging my shoulders. Her glare deepened.

As we finally took our leave, I said to the woman, "Thank you for your patience" and she nodded her head curtly, while the clerk looked rather surprised.

At least we brought a little joy and entertainment to this new clerk on the job, and diffused whatever "angst" that may have existed in the situation of fumbling for item numbers. Perhaps she felt pressured by the manager who was standing impatiently at her elbow. And the woman in line behind us was NOT amused, but that was her issue, and her choice.

As James and I pulled out of the parking lot in our (equally weird) Scion XB, I waved at the impatient woman who had just emerged from the store, while James smiled at her.

This little scenario makes me yearn for the relative grace and laid-back atmosphere of our beloved town of Bisbee, Arizona, where folks are not such in a hurry and are more friendly. It won't be long before we're back home, thank God!


  1. This is one of the best things about my life south of the border. People are so relaxed and warm here, and it has really rubbed off on me. Although it may be hard to move back to the more frigid north in comparison, I am grateful I've had a chance to be surrounded by this attitude. Keep spreading your "weirdness"! It's fantastic!

  2. Ah, Ohio...yes, people can be rather curt and surly. Think about Toledo - the housing market is awful there, and Ohio is generally going downhill because of all the tax cuts. I noticed a big difference in peoples' friendliness when I moved to the upper midwest.

    And I love the word "sundry" - there's a little convenience store caddycorner from the hall that's called "Downtown Sundries". :)

    You and James sound lovely. Keep passing along those warm fuzzies whether people want them or not! ;) (They want and need them deep down, but their bitterness helps them feel shielded from the world, more safe.)

  3. I don't miss living in a city one tiny bit. Even if my little mining town doesn't have a good opera company and the concert life is restricted to the jule box at Bea's bar and grill. It's the kind of place where people can "just drop in" and visit.