Alternate Title: How to Ruin a Trip to the Grocery Store for Everyone Else

1 10 2011

­ How to Leave the Grocery Store

            Proceeding through a grocery checkout line reveals no more about our character than any other of our society’s frequent and mundane actions; which is to say that it reveals quite a lot.  In this labyrinth of suburban sustenance, your mettle is tried and your hidden frailties brought to light[1].

The nub of the issue is which line to choose.  Like all patriotic Americans, we look at the signage in order to understand the benefits and downsides of each path, then decide that we know better and proceed oppositely.  Next, we evaluate the checkers based on brief first impressions and instantly determine their individual aptitudes.  At this point, a sly patron will have whittled the choices down to one of the following:

First, the Express Line.  Consistently and ungrammatically restricting its passengers to those holding ‘fifteen items or less’, the express line is a supermarket’s way of helping busy (read: impatient) people to get on their way quickly and without hassle.  If you are such a person, here’s a handy tip about express lines: Do not take the express line.  While the concept may seem sound, these rather less-than-eponymous lanes are notorious for attracting people with two distinct traits: 

1. They cannot count to fifteen

2. They have nowhere else in the world to be for the next hour.

On the plus side, the express lane is a great way to go if you enjoying hearing stories about ‘the time I found this nickel in Chatsworth’ or if you enjoy the age-old tradition of Waiting To Fill Out Any Part Of Your Check Until Every Item Has Been Scanned.  The latter of these entertainments gives great consternation to my father, the grocery guru if ever there were one.   Dad faithfully fills out every possible field on his check while waiting in line, then plugs in the amount as soon as it is given to him by the cashier.  It is unfortunate that those in a hurry will never benefit from this consideration, because my father does not take the express line.

Additionally, you should be aware that the Express Line is more or less the equivalent of solitary confinement for checkers.  Because the line is theoretically filled with customers holding only a few items, a courtesy clerk (also known as “box boy” or “bagger” or “helper” depending on which group you would prefer to offend) is rarely allotted to the express line.  This means that when the inevitable cart with 36 various and unlabeled vegetables pushed by the oblivious guy that everyone scowls at but will never say anything to arrives in line, the cashier is effectively in no-man’s land.  They can either infuriate the other customers by not mentioning the oblivious fellow’s faux pas, or they can mortify the offending customer who, by the way, happens to be giving the store more business than all the other people combined.  (This is colloquially known as a Hobson’s Choice, a phrase that originates from a guy named Mr. Hobson who probably got a job as a grocery checker and asked all the customers too many questions and got fired.)  Bottom line: the checker in the express line is never going to be as personable as Tammi[2] in line six who always asks how your kids are doing.

Your second choice is the Shortest-Looking Line.  This is the line that, based on all discernable factors, should prove to have the shortest wait time.  Once you get into this line, you will develop a strange symptom that medical terminology calls “that sinking feeling.”  You look at your checker and see that his nametag reads Murphy.  You see that the guy in front of you is holding four lottery tickets, which will have to be run through the ostensibly steam-powered lottery ticket scanning machine.  You see a perturbed customer holding a leaky bottle of milk standing at the end of the check stand, and you realize that she will be requiring full compensation by making the unfortunate clerk run to the back of the store to get a fresh gallon that – unlike the previous gallon – will be impervious to the laws of gravity.  Now you know, dear friend, why this line looked so short.  That’s okay.  Rookie mistake.  Hey, maybe you should try the…

Longest Line.  This is nothing more or less than a calculated risk.  One the one hand, you may make your way to the third or fourth spot in line just as the backup cashier arrives to start a New Line and be promptly summoned to your destiny as the Lucky First Customer of said line.  Everyone else will stare enviously as you walk to the front of the unblemished queue, victorious.  It’s a glorious achievement, but a rare one indeed.  There’s also the risk that you will not be summoned at all, or worse: you will be too deep into your current line to be summoned to the New Line when it appears, and you will have to watch as the undeserving scumbag behind you is welcomed into the promised line.  This is agonizing, but you will have the inestimable self-satisfaction of having served your time honorably.  This is also known as “immediately deciding what you disliked about that person anyway.”

There is another circumstance that pops up every now and then.  Scenario:  You have just arrived at the back of the Longest Line when the Grand Welcoming to the New Line is taking place ahead of you.  Once this oasis has appeared you have the option, if you dare, of following the just-summoned customer into the New Line.  Yes – you can do this.  But you’d best not look behind you while you take your wonderful new spot, or you’ll be facing the visual daggers, lances, broadswords, javelins and trebuchets of those too slow or too honorable to make the same maneuver.  This is truly one of the biggest struggles in navigating all checkout lines, because like many of the most advantageous moves in life, jumping into a new line requires complete forfeiture of one’s grocery dignity and the presumption that you are more deserving than The Other People.  This tactic is commonly referred to as “Pulling a J. Edgar Hoover”[3] by seasoned checkout veterans.

The final step in whatever line you have chosen is always the same:  Greeting the checker[4] as you pay.  An ancient tradition that traces its roots back to general store gossip and telegraph office makebates, this ritual is generally the most odious task of the entire process, primarily because it requires you to acknowledge the humanity of someone else in the store.  After all, you are here to get groceries for you and your family.  That is all.  You are well-aware of the weather conditions outside, and you need no cursory analysis of your buying habits espoused from the glazed eyes and slack jaw of whatever Local 36 member you find in front of you.  In this situation, there is but one semi-humane way to head off most banter/chitchat/hobnobbing/canoodling[5] before it has a chance to germinate, and that is by responding to the questions actually being asked rather than the words you hear.  A brief explanation:  If the checker asks, “So did you find everything all right?” you answer, “Fine, thank you.  And yourself?”  This serves the dual purpose of meeting the bare obligations of the query and (more importantly) of putting the inquirer off-guard, which should silence them for the time being.  You hand over your already-completed check and smugly wallow in your vat of cynical bliss while the admiring populace looks on.  If you so choose, you may at this time proclaim something along the lines of the following:  “And this, my mortal companions, THIS is how it is done!”

As you stride through the automatic doors, you are fully aware of the scene you’ve set for those admirably witnessing your exit:  With the setting sun lending an almost reverent glow to your full cart of groceries and your man-about-town gait, you effortlessly propel your cart towards the parking lot, and freedom.[6]



[1] Also, candy!

[2] Tami’s name has been changed from “Tami Aanerud” to “Tammi” to protect her privacy

[3] Not the one played by Matt Damon.

[4] Some foolish shoppers will also attempt to greet the courtesy clerk, but don’t waste your time.  They can’t accept tips, and they’re paying dues out of each paycheck to a union that barely gets them one paid holiday a year.  Your cheerful hello will ring hollow in their cold, dead ears.  Save your breath.

[5] Anyone whose fingers have been involuntarily brushed when receiving their receipt can attest to this odious potentiality.

[6] And more importantly, candy!


Traveling in Style

28 06 2010

So I’m going to D.C. this weekend.  It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be incredibly muggy (I’m sure), and it’s going to be awesome to see a buddy I haven’t for a while.

As with all trips, however, the main question isn’t about what to do once I’m there.  We grew up together, and we’ve never really had a problem finding things to do, whether it was riding our bikes into the bay muck (ill-advised) or having full-blown Nerf wars (still advised) in the gas chamber.  So to speak.

No, the question is about getting there.  What do I do, what do I wear, and how do I become one of those people that you want to sit next to on an airplane?  Personally, I love flying.  Give me a good book and some headphones, and I’ll sit in a coach aisle seat for hours on end without complaining.  Keeping myself happy is not an issue, but traveling should be (on some level, at least) a communal experience.  Swapping entertaining stories with a seat buddy can be a great way to spend a trip, especially if they are one of those people you want to sit next to on an airplane.

Since I can’t really control whom I sit next to, I’ll have to settle for controlling my atmosphere.  I believe in dressing well for shared transit (no one wants to sit next to the hairy old guy in the tank top) and airplanes most of all.  Not only do you feel important (and increase your chances of being given free pilot’s wings by the stewarde– excuse me, flight attendant — but you also get quizzical looks from your fellow passengers as they wonder where that ever so dapper young man could be traveling.  France?   French Guiana?  The Franco-Prussian War museum?

Above all, however, one simply must have something that will make you stand out.  Why is this?  Simple:  You want people to remember you in case you tackle an underpants bomber.  Usually this isn’t a problem, but nowadays, one can’t be careful.  Who’s to say that you won’t emerge from the pile of bomber, flammable underwear and heroism only to find yourself shoved aside as some obnoxious guy in a San Francisco Giants Hawaiian shirt takes the credit for your deeds?  No sir, you have to make sure people will instantly recognize you, standing off to the side, dazed and confused, so they can look into the news camera and proudly say:

“Yeah, I saw him stop the guy.  He was wearing a huge blue cowboy hat and a Ronald Reagan tank top.”

The Spoken Words

19 11 2009

We had one of our better Two Stories Tall nights yesterday, as a couple dozen people graced our apartment with their presence and voices.  The gist of the thing, which we have held sporadically over the last 18 months that I have lived here, is that people read something aloud for the collective enjoyment of those present.  In college I had a few experiences of reading through plays, narratives and dialogues with friends and classmates, and I always enjoyed it.

This likely stems from how my dad used to read my brother and me Hardy Boys stories at night before bedtime.  I remember begging for another chapter, Skull Mountain (Dun, da-da-da Duuuuuuuuun), and the mud-covered license plate in the story about the signpost.  I remember my Dad reading other stuff too, but the Hardy Boys stories stand out to me a lot.  I hope I someday have kids that enjoy doing that as much as I did and do.

So, Randall transcribed (it took him hours) a Peter Wimsey mystery and delineated the various characters’ lines enough to be read by at least a portion of the people present.  It was a lot of fun.  We’ve had some fun TST nights before, but this one probably had the most people that actually wanted to be involved with it.  We had to draw names out of a hat to see who would get to read the parts, and people were noticeably disappointed and forlorn when they received none.  Thankfully, Randall also thought ahead enough to break up some of the narration, and others shared with those less fortunate.  And, when you add in the fact that one of our friends from the spring play Randall and I were in showed up from West Covina, you know it had to be a blast.  We heard voices and accents that probably should never see the light of day (most of those by me), but I think listening to a story with an audience is a commonly-enjoyed human experience.  We just don’t give it much of a chance these days.

And, speaking of things our society classifies as “just for children,” we also followed up the “Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag” story with a Grimm Fairy Tale:  The Girl with no Hands.  (Or something like that)  You can find it easily enough online (it’s public domain), but the thing is just horrifically violent.  I mean, this poor girl has her hands chopped off by her Dad because the devil made him do it.  It’s ok, though, because she is pious.  Man, stories were different back in those times.  And, by “different,” I mean awful.

Of course, anything can become awesome when read aloud by the right people, and it’s safe to say that the right people were picked.

You just had to be there. (Mostly to taste Cory’s Cornbread and Randall’s brownies, the girls’ sweet potato bread, the other girls’ brownies, Cream Soda, more food……)

And, unlike that ghastly story, mine has a moral:  Go read to someone.  You should read to kids, friends, spouses, fiancees, financiers and chancellors.  Just don’t let the timeless tradition of oral regaling die out.  (I blame stupid internet…)


28 09 2009

If my number isn’t called within the next five minutes

I will take what is to be mine.

Having served my time enough, I can’t serve any others

So I will find what should be mine:

My cellular divisions have advanced quite far since then

And my molecular makeup has made itself a name

Although my fellow diners have already, mostly dined

I do not envy much their meals of such and such regard

And if I only wanted food itself I could be full

But appetites are hardly slaked by appetizers alone.

Bring it on, and bring it whenever and ever, ahem–

I think you called for seventeen when I am holding ten.

Man to Man

10 08 2009

After a rousing weekend of paintball, steak, steak and birthdays, this is from my friends Matt and Kayla said Saturday.

“Women stand face to face with one another; men stand shoulder to shoulder.”

So, basically, stop hugging me, people.  I have a select few friends that I feel close enough with to hug them; in fact, those occasions are pretty rare themselves.

In other words, this quote is my new and improved way of telling people not to touch me.

What are you doing these days?

23 03 2009

I had a few awesome conversations this past weekend.  I also had one or two of the so-so conversations that we all dread.  For your convenience, I’ve listed a few basic tactics you can use to respond to the dreaded catching-up conversations we all face.  I’ve tried all of them, and there are certainly some that I have forgotten to add.  Either way, it’s well worth your time to peruse the list.  My time, I mean.

  1. The Brush Pass:  Named after the staple tactic of CIA and Google agents everywhere, this method involves subtle but clear communication of the desire to remain silent.  No real interaction or conversation is desired or even prudent, and a quick “not much, just working and hanging out” usually fits the bill.  If the person making conversation persists in their search for details, you may have to move on to a different tactic.
  2. The Norm MacDonald:  Needing no real explanation of its title, this approach usually has the effect (ala Dirty Work ) of completely repulsing any decent person through an outlandish and abhorrent claim.  For instance, “Where are you working now?”  “I work at the baby meat processing plant.”  “The…what?”  “I kill and process children for mass consumption.  I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.”   If your aggressor insists of laughing this tactic off, you will then need to move on to yet another step.
  3. The Chuck Norris:  While actually punching and kicking people has a good success rate, this one is a little more metaphorical.  One must karate chop the annoying conversationalist with umistakable hints about how painful this conversation has grown to you.  “Do you enjoy your job at the…”baby processing plant” ha ha ha?”  “Yes.  I do.  It’s the only place where I know I won’t have to waste time making small talk with random people all day.”  Then you just stare them down and continue to answer any further questions with an increasingly painful delay.  Which leads me to…
  4. The Deep Blue:  Just like a chess computer, you must know your move before the opponent has finished their part of the conversation.  The greatest part of this strategy, however, is that you can use your preparedness to pretend like answering their questions is extremely difficult for you.  Four to six seconds of blank staring before firing off an intentionally labored response can really weaken their defenses.  Just make sure that you don’t overact, as some simian-types may mistake your pauses for thoughtful intervals, and be flattered by your intense effort to come up with worthy conversation fodder.  However, if they insist on carrying the conversation despite your signals, you will have to launch the peacekeeper missile of conversational tactics…
  5. The iPhone:  You know who they are.  They’re always looking something up, checking their email, or updating their status on the Facebook.  While we all resent these obnoxious people for their mindless tapping and sliding, the basic principles of the iPhone forcefield are there for the taking.  Simply put, one must always show blatantly greater interest in anything at one’s disposal other than the conversation partner.  If you have some change, not-so-surreptitiously jingle it and inspect the quarters for interesting state mottos.  If you have shoelaces, immediately un-tie and re-tie both of them.  Read any inscriptions or food labels in your immediate vicinity and check any accessible clothing labels (yours or not) for possibly intriguing combinations of cashmere and polyester.  While the offender will undoubtedly be insulted by your ostensibly rude behavior, they will think their time too valuable to be wasted on someone as petty as you.  In other words, mission accomplished.