Wednesday, 16 April 2014



Hell Is the Grocery Store


I have spent years in the grocery industry. Whether working directly for a banner or marketing and advertising the brands available on the shelves. So a trip to the grocery store is never a boring chore for me, the product placement, the permanent signage and even the week’s mixed and matched specials on the endcap displays are of interest.


Like most consumers we like to shop in a familiar setting. Ann and mine’s default grocery store is a Save On Foods in the neighbourhood. I like its scale, modest by current standards; I like the layout and décor; we know where everything is. We tend to shop two or three times a week, just looking ahead at the next few days; the trips are shorter and our lists are specific so impulse buying is kept to a minimum. Some Saturdays I pop in just to get the weekend National Post. Frequency means we often bump into neighbours and friends, and has allowed us to get to know the staff and them us, at least by sight.


A few weeks ago there was tension in our household. Unbelievably, Ann did not want to watch the Montreal Canadiens on TV that Saturday night. So we went to The Movie Studio to rent a classic like The Maltese Falcon or one of the recent Oscar nominees. Unbelievably, Ann was uninterested in films featuring Nazis, explosions and sustained automatic weapons fire. There we ran into Liz. Ann mentioned that we hadn’t encountered her at Save On lately. Liz replied that she’d stopped shopping there. ‘That cashier.’ Nuff said. We know the one.


That cashier, oh boy, she’s something. She has to lean on her checkout counter to process an order. She’s got something a sports betting book would describe as a lower body injury. She’s a slow scanner. And that’s all right. And she’s nice enough though a little less conversation might be welcome, but it’s her habit of holding up each item in your order to examine the label and the mouse type at length and then remarking upon its merits and faults before bagging it. Meanwhile you stare at your other purchases, statues on the stopped conveyor belt. There’s enough time for the frozen berries to defrost into compote muck and the romaine lettuce to wilt. The green peppers ripen into red ones. When you reach a certain age sometimes you require the balm of certain personal products. God forbid she hoists something from the pharmacy department aloft for the gratification of the impatiently shuffling line behind you.


Tuesday we went shopping. Ten minutes up and down the aisles and around the store’s perimeter. Twenty-two items in the cart. Seven goods too many for the manned express checkout till which meant the dilemma of either the irksome automated self-checkout or that cashier. A classic lose-lose scenario. My first thought was to abandon our groceries. But we have to eat.


I’ve always had authority issues, especially with the dicta of august institutions long since rendered rotten by the passage of time and the eventual triumph of inconvenient truths. But to abide the commands of a mechanical voice in any setting invokes instantaneous fury. Spontaneous human combustion. PLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA. Okay, did that. ITEM HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM BAGGING AREA. REPLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA. The bag’s full you fucking fuck! I’ve put it down on the fucking floor and started loading another fucking bag. WAIT FOR ASSOCIATE. Fuck! Whereas dealing with that cashier is more akin to a burlesque striptease. Fury builds scan by scan, product by product and remark by remark. HOT SALAMI? Uh, yeah. IT’S NICE ON RYE BUT IT DOESN’T ALWAYS AGREE WITH ME. DO YOU LIKE RYE? We do. I SEE YOU DIDN’T BUY ANY. Uh, well, there’s a bakery we like… WHAT KIND OF APPLES ARE THESE? They’re green. They’re Granny fucking Smiths. Every apple in the bag has a sticker on its skin with a four-digit Save On Foods produce department PLU number. You’ve seen them before, for Christ’s sake. Even the fucking self-checkout machine knows what they are. WHAT DO YOU USE THIS OINTMENT FOR? Oh, fuck me, saints preserve us. Can you fucking hold that fucking tube up a little fucking higher so everyone can fucking see it!? Would you mind awfully? Thank you. Fuck!

We lingered a while by the magazines, hoping another cashier might come off a break. A third way did not present itself so we opted for technology over humanity. The process went as well as it could which is to say not smoothly. Our next errand was the liquor store where I bought everything and then started drinking in the parking lot.

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