Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Am What I Put in My Basket

I waited in the long line at the drug store patiently, clutching a pregnancy test and some toothpaste. When it was my turn the next available clerk beckoned me to her register. Recognizing my item, she exclaimed, "Congratulations!" I paused and laughed nervously. "If," she added, "you know, you get the outcome you desire."

Whoah there, Nellie. I'm pretty sure commenting on the merchandise, particularly personal products, is against the rules.

I've assumed over the years that there must be expectations laid out for clerks concerning the subject matter of their small talk as they ring up our items, having grown accustomed to prolonged silence and birds chirping as my personal items make their long journey down the conveyor belt while I fumble for my club card. I'm grateful that my box of ultra-super-plus tampons becomes the elephant in the room when I am spared comments ranging from the benign ("Stocking up, huh?") to the inappropriate/obvious ("Suffering from heavy flow, I see...").

Perhaps it is okay to inquire about recipes and food combinations, though, because cashiers have asked me, "Whatcha gonna do with this here pork butt?" and "Are you going to marinate your chicken with those limes?" I'm more than happy to swap cooking tips and have talked carnitas, curry, and kale smoothies with curious clerks.

Last night was our daughter's elementary school fundraiser at the new Fresh & Easy grocery store in our neighborhood. If you aren't familiar with "Stale & Difficult," as we in our small family jokingly dub it (they're not! Thanks for supporting our schools!), I would characterize it as similar to Trader Joe's--their specialty is fresh prepared meals. They keep prices down with self check-out and concrete floors.

Self check-out makes me slightly anxious (I fear that I am holding up the line) but Big Sis loves trips to F&E, where she can methodically scan each item. If there were only a keypad, I would be able to live out my childhood fantasy of working the cash register. With long fingernails. Clackety-clack-clack-clack. Ching.

Volunteering at Fresh & Easy on behalf of the school during Monday evening rush hour meant Big Sis got to do some sign twirling on the corner and I got to bag groceries. For these efforts, the store was offering our school 5% of donated receipts.

Bagging others' groceries permitted me to assess the contents of my neighbors' carts, sort and stash their groceries imposing my own organizational structure and underlying philosophy, and maintain an internal commentary on their purchases.

First of all, I have none of this three-items-per-plastic-bag and double-bagging nonsense. Whether or not you bring your own bags, I'm filling them up, within reason.

Cartons of eggs, for example, don't need their own separate sack; they can handle light fare like crackers and bags of lettuce stacked on top. I just let the customer know which bag is which so they don't use the egg bag to slam the car door.

I'm a little lazy: if I can't carry all my grocery bags from the car to the kitchen in one trip (and I am willing to cut circulation in fingers and arms to this end), then I want to leave some sacks in the car to retrieve later. Therefore, I would like my freezer and refrigerator items grouped unfailingly together. This strategy helps lazy grocery unpackers prioritize AND keeps cold groceries icy.

Only one guy asked me to double-bag his heavy sack. I am left wondering about others' intact eggs and whether or not I earned appreciation for separating goods by temperature.

I do know it was hard to stifle my commentary. Like when that gentleman sent one small single-serving prepackaged cup of caramel rice flan down the conveyor. Only one, really? A whole trip to the store for that? I admired his resolve and his restraint. And then mine, for not saying anything.

I wanted to high-five the couple who bought buffalo-chicken pasta in cream sauce. Never even heard of it! Good for you for finding it! Yum! (I think).

You want to buy something weird? I suggest buying a full cart of food. Strange stuff gets lost in there. If you purchase only two items and pig knuckles are one of them, you're asking for raised eyebrows. Okay, so Fresh & Easy doesn't sell pig knuckles. But what's up with the guy who chose diced red onions and frozen dessert? Was he sent to the store for the onions and then detoured for sweets? Just how essential were those onions? Intriguing.

I recall a writer friend feeling inspired to fashion a story around a grocery list she found on the ground in a supermarket parking lot. The contents of our cart provide a glimpse of our culture, our habits, and indulgences.

I have renewed admiration for the cashiers out there who respectfully stifle analysis of our items. One hour of withheld observations had me bursting with inappropriateness.

At the end of my shift I took a whirl around the store to restock our own fridge and pantry. Big Sis's school principal bagged our goods, refraining from commentary on individual items but noting that I had "some cool stuff in there."

Sweet. Thank you for shopping, Fer. You saved $5.46 this evening and your dignity, too.


Heather PC said...

Um...you can't leave a bomb like "pregnancy test" just lying there. Readers (such as myself) will inappropriately comment and say, "Congratulations--that is, if you get the result you desire." (Fingers crossed for you.)

fer said...

Not pregnant, Heather! And not taking it all too seriously, either :)

Mama Deb said...

Thank you, Heather. I was thinking the same thing!