Almost all of my shifts at the supermarket are six hours. To kill the time I regularly engage customers in conversations about a variety of subjects – music, dating, the stock market, and, sometimes, food. Doing so has helped me gain a reputation for being one of the nicest cashiers at the store. Besides praising me for being good at my job, some customers – both male and female – will compliment me on my looks. This doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m grateful that people of different ages, races and sexes find me attractive. On a crappy day, having some old lady tell me I look “like a movie star” makes me feel like a million bucks. However, when customers cross the line, it can get creepy.
One night, several years ago, I was in the express lane ringing up countless customers. My line stretched all the way to Egypt, and I was doing my best to get them in and out as quickly as possible. Even though I get paid by the hour, and not per customer, I still take pride in being efficient and establishing a quick, rhythmic pace. This results in me getting lost in the moment and time slipping away like grains of sand.
After the rush of customers had gone home to have dinner, I let out a sigh of relief and took a swig of water. When my eyes landed on my next customer, I instantly recognized him; he lived in the neighborhood and, based on the scrubs he always wore, worked at a hospital. We’d never spoken outside the store and I didn’t know his name, but I still “knew” him. However, this time he was accompanied by another man, whom I didn’t know.
After placing his items on the conveyor belt, I greeted him and he drunkenly slurred, “Hello handsome.” His friend, who I quickly deduced was his partner, yelled at him: “Jack, stop that!” Jack continued by saying, “I’ve seen you outside the store. You look good in regular clothes.” Needless to say, I was mortified. This customer was drunk and hitting on me, in front of his boyfriend no less – who kept yelling “Jack!” every time he said something inappropriate. All I could do was say, “Do you have your savings card?” and get him out of my line as quickly as possible.
After he left, I never saw Jack at the supermarket or in the neighborhood again. Either he and his partner broke up and he moved away or his partner killed him; I’m not sure. I’m just thankful there wasn’t a sequel to that incredibly awkward experience. One encounter with Jack “Daniels” was more than enough for me.
This past weekend I rang up one of the strangest customers I’ve encountered during my time at the supermarket. For the purpose of this post, let’s call him “Rubber Band Man.”
Sunday is typically the worst day to work at the supermarket because it’s when most people take care of chores such as cleaning, cooking and shopping. Considering shopping and cooking go hand in hand, the odds are against me every Sunday.
After working for several hours and ringing up what felt like hundreds of customers, I was hoping the end of my shift would be relaxing and free of crazy customers. To my dismay, Rubber Band Man foiled my plans.
The first thing I noticed about this curious individual was that he was sweating profusely. Beads of sweat the size of raindrops were all over his face. This was startling because it wasn’t hot outside or inside the store, and what made it more disturbing was they just hung there, not moving.
Once his items were rung up, I told him the total and he pulled out a money clip secured with at least 10 rubber bands. Then, he reached into his pocket full of dirty, wrinkled plastic bags and pulled out a blue one wrapped in – what else – rubber bands. After purposefully removing each rubber band from the bag, he pulled out four dollars. Considering his bill was $3.75, this was his lucky day.
While this plastic bag and rubber band show was going on, a woman that works in the meat department got into my line and gave me a frightened look after observing this poor, rubber-banded soul. The good news is, other than shocking me with his copious amounts of sweat, rubber bands and plastic bags, Rubber Band Man was harmless. I’ve never seen him before, and I have a feeling that I’ll never see him again.
There’s an old man that comes into the supermarket on a regular basis, and his most distinguishing feature has been his awful-looking toupee. That is until today, when he came through my line wearing uncomfortably tight, hot pink jeans. It was disturbing. Unfortunately, Hair Piece Harry’s personality is just as bad as his “taste” in fashion. He has a grumpy demeanor and barely speaks. When he does utter a word, it’s usually nonsensical and barely audible. You’ve been warned: If you see an older man walking down the streets of Philadelphia with a toupee that would offend Donald Trump and jeans that are definitely not pretty in pink, head the other way.
There’s one customer that’s been regularly coming through my line at the supermarket for the past 11 years who I’ll never forget. Let’s call her Meat Loaf. Why Meat Loaf, you ask? Why would I besmirch this legendary rocker’s good name by comparing him to one of my certifiably insane customers? Well, one day I was talking with a manager about her and he said, “Oh yeah, I know who you mean. She looks like Meat Loaf on a bad day.” Needless to say, the phrase “bat out of hell” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. So what makes Ms. Loaf so crazy? Read on my inquisitive friend.
The first time I met this woman she told me that I looked like her son, who was taken away from her by Children and Youth Services. Then she proceeded to hit on me by saying in her gravely Joe Cocker-esque voice, “Do you have girlfriend, honey? When it comes to me, you can look but you can’t touch. Ha, ha, ha!” After being disturbed and feeling violated, I did my best to get her out of my line as quickly as possible.
Since this first meeting, I’ve run into her many times inside and outside the store. I’ve had the misfortune of bumping into her twice while on a date. The first time we made eye contact and she said, “Look at you! Reeled in another one, huh? Ha, ha, ha!” The second time she yelled at me and my date from across the street, “She’s a hottie! You better hold onto her.” The most embarrassing part is trying to explain to my date just exactly who she is. Lord knows I don’t want them thinking I had a romantic history with this woman.
Nowadays, this customer has aged dramatically. She has fewer teeth, deeper lines on her face and her hair is tattered. Meat Loaf’s excessive “recreational” activities haven’t served her well, and it’s a shame. The good news is, her son is in college and doing well – or at least that’s what she tells me. While I love Meat Loaf as a performer and an entree, I’ll pass on Meat Loaf the customer.
As I write this, I’m enjoying a bowl of Fruit Loops. And as I stare into my bowl of colorful, crunchy goodness, I can’t help but think of the time I had a run-in with a crackhead over a box of Trix cereal.
It was 8 p.m. on a Saturday, and I was working behind the register at the food store. I was grateful that my shift had been uneventful up until that point. Then a ragged looking woman clutching a box of Trix got into my line. After I quickly ascertained that the customer was high as a kite, she whipped out a check book and started filling it out.
Unless a customer is old, old fashioned or has recently been robbed of his or her wallet, there is no reason to pay for groceries with a check. Not only is this payment method anachronistic, but it’s not advantageous to the customer; he or she must provide the cashier with a phone number and a state-issued photo ID, not to mention waste time filling out the check. And at my store, you can only get $25 cash back using a check. With a debit card, you can get $50.
Needless to say, Ms. Rocky Mountain High was adding $25 to her check, for drug money, no doubt. Knowing this transaction wouldn’t end well, I asked her for her Pennsylvania ID. After illegibly scrawling out the necessary information on her check, she handed it to me with an out-of-state ID. I proceeded to tell her we couldn’t accept the check for several reasons (i.e., the check number was too low, her ID wasn’t from PA and the address on the check didn’t match the ID), and she asked to speak with the Manager. He came over, told her the same thing and she argued with him saying, “Why can’t you just put it through?”
I voided the order, and moved onto the next customer. Over my shoulder, I noticed that she Ms. Trix was still arguing with the Manager at Customer Service. He repeatedly told her why the store couldn’t accept the check and asked her to leave. She argued with him for such a long period of time that he had to punch out and go home because his shift was over.
After he left, she tried to get back into my line. I told her, “I’m not ringing you up.” So, she went to the cashier directly across from me, and I said, “Don’t you dare ring her up.” Then she returned to my line and said, “Can I talk to the Manager?”
“You did, for 30 minutes, and he told you we can’t accept your check. More importantly, he’s not here. He went home.”
“There must be somebody I can talk to … somebody!” she said, raising her voice.
“There is,” I replied. “The police.”
“The police? Why? Will they make you accept my check?”
“No, they’ll remove you from the store,” I said. Pointing out the obvious to anyone not on drugs.
I pulled out my cell phone and called the police station down the street. I told them I had a customer that refused to leave, and that I believed she was dangerous – anything to speed up their arrival and her removal.
Within five minutes, four police officers walked in the front door and told the woman she had to leave. She flipped out and slammed the pen she wrote her bad check with on the counter and yelled, “This is bullshit!” The cops escorted her out of the store, and I was a little nervous that she might be waiting for me when I left. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
The bottom line is this: Avoid crackheads with a penchant for children’s cereal, and please pay for groceries with a credit/debit card or cash.
I just got in from a late night at the supermarket, so I thought now would be the perfect time to share another supermarket story.
Nearly five years ago, I set off to work and moved at a feverish pace so as not to be late. With the balmy breeze mussing my hair, I was in a delightful mood. My shift started off as usual and things were going well. Being a cashier, I have plenty of time to talk to customers, and this day was no different. I’d rung up a slew of my favorite customers as well as some that were new to the neighborhood. But one customer in particular caused a scene over sales tax.
My favorite line is express because it allows me to get people in and out at a quick pace, without having to spend an enormous amount of time bagging. When I saw that my next customer, an elderly man sporting a bucket hat, only had a six-pack of Pepsi, I was pleased. Such a small order would take no time at all. Boy was I wrong.
As the old man’s long, gaunt face peered up at me, he yelled, “That’s supposed to be $1.99!”
I replied, “Sir, the Pepsi is on sale, with a discount card. Do you have one?”
After failing to answer my question and staring at me suspiciously for several seconds, I said, “Here, I’ll use mine. The total is $2.12.”
“It’s supposed to be $1.99,” he barked, as spittle sprayed from his three-toothed mouth.
“Sir, there’s sales tax, which is why it’s $2.12.”
“F*%k sales tax! I’ll take you outside and kick you in the balls!”
At this point, other customers were staring at him and telling “Bucket Hat” he was being rude. Realizing I was in a no-win situation, I called the manager over to complete the order so I could walk away and calm down.
Following the incident, I came to two conclusions: First, this guy was passionate about Pepsi – although, considering his lack of teeth, he probably should have been buying Diet Pepsi. Second, his resistance to paying sales tax, more than likely, wasn’t linked to an unhealthy obsession with Henry David Thoreau. Instead, I realized, the cheese slipped of this guy’s cracker a long time ago, and there wasn’t anything I could do to help him find it.