Rick's Space: An adventure with the Checkout Guy from hell

The Big Shop

I used to love going to the supermarket the day before a big holiday, even though everyone warned me not to. Yes, the crowds are going to be insane — you know that going in. But Wednesday was the last time I’ll ever do it.

I had a few things to do, but I put aside an hour to shop, which I thought was plenty of time. I grabbed a shopping cart and hurried in.

We live in a world where we’ve created cars that go 200 miles an hour. We’ve made trucks that cross streams and climb mountains. But we can’t make a grocery cart with four wheels that point in the same direction — at least that’s the one I always end up with.

There’s always that one wheel, the crazy one, that spins around like Linda Blair’s head. It spins left, right, and when it finally stops, it’s pointing sideways.

This can be tricky when you are in a crowded aisle. There’s a little old lady coming the other way. You try to swing out of her way and bam! Tardo wheel says no. Tardo wheel, which has been spinning wildly, suddenly plants itself in such a way that the entire cart is immobilized. You can’t even pick the cart up.

You can either call a tow truck or drag it around until it straightens out.

So, I’m already running behind when I finally finish shopping and, of course, I run into the Checkout Guy from hell.

Most of them are pretty efficient. They scan each item rapidly without hesitation. Some scan and bag, simultaneously, in one fluid motion.

I always get the other type, the one who is in no hurry. He stares at every item, and then scans it in slow motion. It’s as if he is studying the ingredients. Wednesday the guy in front of me was checking out and I was fuming, because he bought like, $1435 worth of crap, none of which he needed for Thanksgiving.

The checkout guy is casually perusing each item as if there is going to be a quiz. He held a jar of green olives up for a good 30 seconds. Finally, I snapped. “Dude, it’s a freaking jar of olives. Why are you reading the ingredients?” Is he hoping to learn what the red thing in the middle of the green olive is? Hell, no civilian on Earth knows what that is. It’s like Soylent Red. If they tell you, they have to kill you.

When he got to the produce, things hit rock bottom, because there is no code to scan . . . the checkout guy needs to know the name or the code number of the product.

“Hey Shirley,” he yells to the woman at the checkout next to ours. “What’s this?”

“A tomato!”

“What kind of tomato?”

“A tomato!”

“Is it a plum tomato?”

“No!”

“Is it a cherry tomato?”

“No!”

“Is it an heirloom tomato?”

“No!”

“So, it’s just a tomato. Why didn’t you just say so?”

At this point, I’m boiling over, but the torture continued. It was time for the excruciating process known as store coupons. The guy ahead of me had a pocketful. It looked like a pile of tissues belonging to someone trying to corner the mucous market.

“Hey, it was supposed to be $1 off the Dannon yogurt!”

“That was only the low-fat peach Dannon yogurt!”

“But it doesn’t say that!”

“You’ll have to see the manager!”

Oh no.

Once they say that, you know you’re screwed, because the manager is inside that cage behind the steel bars and 800 cartons of cigarettes. There are 40 would-be terrorists on line waiting to wire money to the mother land and a lady with a bad hairdo telling you, “You have to wait your turn!” She always — always — has a chain attached to her eyeglasses. They hang from around her neck, though she has never actually been seen with her glasses on.

The manager hardly ever comes out. He’s like Big Foot. Every time you think he doesn’t exist, some crazy hillbilly with a beard swears he saw the footprints in the snow. “Yep, I reckon that was the store manager.” So, you wait until he finally shows and clears the Dannon. Was it worth a dollar?

Finally, my turn. When we’re done the checkout guy gets his ultimate revenge. They all do this. You’ve all seen it. You scan your credit card.

As if on cue they say, “Hit the green button.”

I know that. I went to Catholic school, for Christ’s sake. But it’s his checkout counter, and he gives the orders.

Suitably chastised, I limp away, defeated and bowed and $300 poorer. Then, the final indignity: The cart won’t move. It has a stiff wheel again.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com