Today on the way home from a long walk on a fairly hot Seattle day, I stopped at Safeway to get some lunch items and dinner items. I needed sandwich supplies for lunch and burger supplies for dinner. By the time I was done, I had shopped for about 20 minutes and in my basket I had
- 1 pack of sandwich buns
- 1 Roma tomato
- 1 red onion
- 1 green pepper
- 1 package of 50/50 lettuce
- 1 package of turkey
- 1 package of burgers
- 1 block of cheese
- 1 bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial Margaritas
- 1 container of guacamole
- 1 bag of tortilla chips
- 1 package of bacon
- 1 package of Crystal Light packets
I stood in line, and to my left was the normal checkstand, and to my right were two express checkstands with 15-item limits. Both of the express lanes were open with one customer being checked out in each, but the normal checkstand had one customer being served and one waiting in line with a cart full of stuff (all checkstands had human cashiers - there is no self-checkout at this Safeway). My basket looked relatively full, and in my left hand was the margarita bottle. I waited in the middle of the two sets of checkstands, thinking I probably looked like a “normal lane” customer with a full load. But, knowing I actually had 15 items (or less) and knowing that the express checkers may call me over, I was prepared to wait in the normal line because this was 12:30pm and many people at that time of day get 1-3 things for lunch, so I’d let them go ahead in the express line if that occurred. However, no one else came except a man with a cart full of stuff behind me, and one of the express checkers took the last of their customer’s groceries off the belt, so that’s where I went. I started unloading, and the checker scanned my margarita bottle when all of the sudden I remembered my last item: hamburger buns. I apologized to her, packed up quickly, and went back for the buns.
When I got back in line, the exact same checkstand situation as originally presented itself confronted me again; 2 moderately full “normals” in the normal lane, and 1 person finishing up in each of the express lines. As I waited, an older man (65ish) in casual clothes and a full-size cart sidled up to my right. I couldn’t tell if he wanted through to go over to the left side of the store, if he wanted to cut in front of me to the express line, or if he was waiting there to go after me due to lack of space. He stayed where he was at, so I assumed he would go after in me. In his (again, full-sized) cart, on the child seat section of his cart, were two pre-packaged plastic produce containers of pre-cut seedless watermelon (seedless only of its black seeds - it obviously still had the clear/white watermelon seeds).
As I had spent 2 hours in the hot sun, 25 minutes now in the store, had 15 or fewer items, and had already been at the express checkout, I returned to the same stand and the cashier looked at what again appeared to be a large pile (but was not, really) and nicely asked, "Paper or plastic?" I chose paper, and she was kind enough to begin with a double-bag because she thought the load would be heavy (it actually was). Before she even began bagging, though, the older man behind me casually, flatly said aloud to me, “Feel guilty?”
The utterance did not catch me completely off-guard. As you've read so far, I gave a moderate degree of consideration for which lanes I should use, and in similar situations at the grocery store, when a person has more items than the limit in front of me, I have considered asking such people a similar rhetorical, passive-aggressive question. Typically, in my head I usually come close to asking, Did you think to count before dumping your load in this lane? Or, Do you see the people behind you with the correct number of items for the express lane? But in the end, almost always, I’ve never said such things because I’m generally a considerate human so I want to give others the benefit of the doubt and typically I’m never in a big enough hurry or value my time enough to waste it being an asshole for very little reward. As much as I may be a younger, gentile version of Larry David’s character on Curb Your Enthusiasm, I don’t find satisfaction in fighting and public shaming, especially with strangers, because I don’t think calling them out makes them a better person, and I wouldn’t get much satisfaction from it. I know other people (like Larry David) believe they are crusaders for decency and common sense, and their ego is stoked by making a scene and making a “stand,” but it’s rarely worth it to me.
But today, this gentleman didn’t have and/or didn’t choose to be stopped by any such hangups. He had his containers of watermelon and he decided everyone in the lanes around us needed to know that he believed I should feel guilty.
“No, I’ve been waiting in line for a few minutes (twice now), I don’t have that much, and I was in line before you,” I responded. I was direct, straight-forward, and said this only to the man (though my cashier could hear and she looked a bit scared). I thought I could pay and be done and this would be quickly forgotten, but no, he had more to say, dangnabbit.
He smirked (his self-righteous smirk is what infuriated me the most) and replied with his dumb smirk, “So, you don’t feel guilty, huh?” At this point the cashier was loading the second bag, which in fact did make me feel guilty, but only because it looked like I had more than I actually did.
“No! I already told you I’m fine, I’m almost done. I waited in line just like everyone else.” I was visibly agitated and quite loud at this point. I was pretty tired and should not have snapped back at him the way I did, but I was damned if I was going to be shamed by this old prick for nothing - a normal, grocery store express-lane purchase. I also was catching the eyes and ears of everyone around us, which helped raise my frustration level even more.
“So, you’re sticking to your guns are you? Doubling-down on not feeling guilty. Okay. So that’s the way you are.”
I was probably shaking just a little bit by this point, which I do when I get overwhelmed. I was so angry and upset by this point that I hadn’t started entering my phone number and scanning my debit card yet, and when I realized that it made me more pissed because I had to stand there even longer. As I entered in my phone number the cashier leaned towards me and said, not quietly, “I’m really sorry.” I wanted to tell her it wasn’t her fault, but I don’t think I even verbalized my dismissal because I was focused on the debit card key pad and getting out of there. Maybe I shook my head or shrugged my shoulders so she knew it had nothing to do with her and she was fine; I hope I did so she doesn’t worry.
The other reason I didn’t verbalize my thoughts to the cashier, besides my raging irritation with the whole situation, was that internally I had to decide how to finish the exchange with the old man. My main options were to turn my back all the way away and just ignore him and walk away in a huff, or as I left I could get in a very loud and disdainful jab at him and his express-lane piety. But in the middle of the cashier apologizing and me finishing my transaction on the keypad, I had a revelation of how to tell the old man to screw off in the best way possible.
My transaction was done. I grabbed the margarita bottle in one hand and the two paper grocery sacks in the other, and the cashier set my receipt and $15 (cash-back) on the counter in front of me.
“No!” I exclaimed to the cashier, the old man, and the others in line, pointed at the cast, and said, “No, this is for him and his dumb melons.” I strode out past the checkstands and out the door feeling like a million dollars and I glided home in the hot sun filled with energy and satisfaction, looking forward to that margarita.
*This post arises not out of boredom but out of anger, FYI (in case that wasn't clear by the end). I think the moral of the story is that if you fuck with me at Safeway, I'll give you cash out of spite. Because I want to be very clear: I did not have nor do I now have any guilt; only spite for that man, his self-righteousness, and his public assholishness.