There are certain professions that have earned public scorn over the years – and rightfully so. Deep down, we all hate lawyers, realtors, drug-peddling doctors, used car salesmen, mimes, politicians, the talking heads at Fox News, mortgage bankers, and those bitches who work in a high-end retail stores for ten bucks an hour, but still look down their noses at you when you walk in wearing frayed jeans and flip flops. Having been an attorney and a realtor, I’m a bit of an expert in the field of despicable professions and, hence, I’d like to add one more to the list: grocery store cashiers, hereinafter referred to as “cashiers.”
Before I get into the nitty gritty of why these seemingly innocuous people who merely slide food across a barcode scanner thousands upon thousands of time a day should be lumped in with the scum of the world, it’s essential to understand why we hate people who are employed in legitimate, yet contemptible, professions.
Attorneys have long topped the list of most despised people in the professional world. After all, it was Shakespeare who wrote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” But what it is about the men and women whom we also refer to as counselors that irritates people more than Gilbert Gottfried’s voice? Is it because we perceive them as dishonest? Is it the scandalous fees they charge for services billed in six minute increments? Is it because they act like they were born with an encyclopedic knowledge of everything in the entire world and the rest of us weren’t? More likely, it’s because they pepper their conversations with words like hereinafter and quid pro quo. I know, I know – I’m the absolute worst offender. I did say I was an expert in this field. In fact, I have an encyclopedic knowledge about it…and a few other things.
Realtors – talk about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Dressed to the nines, they’ll drive you around in a glossy Mercedes or Lexus, show you the home of your dreams, buy you lunch if you’re lucky and conveniently forget to mention that the shambling building next door to your new place is a half-way house; that the odor you smell is not the realtor’s fart as she claims, but the nearby landfill; and that US Airways’ flight path passes directly over your house – and will rattle your windows, send the fragile salt and pepper shaker collection your grandmother left you crashing to the floor and cause you to miss half the punch lines when you watch The Big Bang Theory.
Physicians are one of the only professionals who are regularly rewarded for being mistaken. Thus, we dislike them because they keep their exorbitant fees – even when they misdiagnose us. Hell, if Dr. Gregory House was a real doctor and not a television character, I’d avoid the dude like the plague – even if I had the plague. He spends the first 50 minutes of each show being wrong. If an attorney was wrong that often, they’d be disbarred, forced to watch every episode of Matlock at gunpoint, drawn and quartered, then their body parts would be displayed on spikes outside the courthouse. Granted, I might survive if I let House treat me, but before he cured me I would likely: (1) bleed out my eyes; (2) have my head shaved for unnecessary brain surgery; (3) be accused of infidelity with a monkey in a foreign country; (4) suffer through at least one round of chemo; (5) become so jaundiced that House begins to call me “banana head”; (6) have my home illegally rifled through by Chase and Foreman looking for an “environmental” cause for my illness, but the pervs are really just sniffing my panties; (7) be prescribed high doses of steroids so that my face bloats up and House begins calling me “spaghetti squash head” instead; (8) have a kidney, my appendix and gall bladder removed; and (9) tell House to fuck off, at which point he’d refuse to treat me, so I’d stomp out of the hospital, my bare, yellow butt on display to the world as my flimsy gown flaps in the wind. The following day, the nurse practitioner at the walk-in clinic would correctly diagnose me with the common cold, but I’d die anyway because my immune system would be shot from the chemo I didn’t need in the first place. So that’s why people hate doctors. That and the fact that they’re just so damned smug.
Mimes offer a unique reason for our loathing – they’re just so annoying. Yeah, we get it. You don’t talk, and yet you’re communicating with us. Sort of. Whoopdee doo. Most deaf people don’t talk either, but I don’t pay them for keeping their mouths shut. You don’t see them out in the park with a jar in front of them, signing to me a plea for my spare change with their rapidly moving fingers. And they don’t feel the need to paint up their faces like an effeminate goth to make sure I know that they aren’t going to talk to me. And what’s up with you guys getting stuck in clear boxes? What’s wrong with you? I’ve never been stuck in clear box. How stupid can you be? Maybe if you got a tan, ditched the striped shirt and the beret, and used your words, the people manufacturing the clear boxes would stop trying to capture you.
Now that you have a general understanding of the reasons we abhor those employed in certain occupations, I again suggest that we add cashiers to the list. Why, you ask? They’re underpaid, forced to stand on their feet all day, and are often completely ignored by grocery store patrons – we should feel sorry for them, you say. I don’t think so. I agree that cashiers have a fairly menial job. It’s repetitive. It’s boring. There’s only so many times they can say, “So, did you find everything you were looking for today?” without gritting they’re teeth and suppressing the desire to jump across the register and rip our heads off. Still, when employed in profession so simple that you could, potentially, do it in your sleep, it really chaps my ass when cashiers do it poorly. And when it comes down to it, cashiers are as annoying as mimes, incompetent as doctors and deceptive as attorneys.
Example 1: Magazine Browsing
If you read my earlier post, Salman Rushdie Will Never Write For Cosmo, then you know that when it comes to magazines, any whorish rag with the skinny on Lindsay Lohan’s recently inflated face or the nookie that got Snookie knocked up will leave the grocery store with me and end up in my bed later that night. And I know I’m not the only one. By 2011, People was ranked the 11th most popular magazine in the country and had a U.S. circulation of over 3.5 million readers per issue, with US Weekly trailing behind with a U.S. circulation of over 2 million per week. Despite this fact, any cashier I get – brand new, experienced, young, old, male, female, black, white, mime – behaves as though no one has ever purchased a single trash mags from them. Ever. In fact, they act as though they have never seen one of these magazines before. It’s as if by buying a copy of Life and Style, I’ve opened up an entirely new world of pop culture for them. Suddenly, Earth is populated by starlets and boy bands and plastic surgery and reality television, when before it was a dull gray place, infested with dusty books to be read by candlelight.
Let’s take my most recent visit to Publix. I carefully place my four magazines on top of my BOGO cans of corn and watch patiently as they make their way down the conveyer belt, towards the mechanically moving arm of an experienced, middle-aged cashier I recognize from several previous visits. She slides my ice cream across the glass plate without even looking. Then my sour cream. A gallon of milk. Four boxes of Skittles. A bottle of KY Intense. Okay, three bottles of KY Intense. Not once does she pause. Not once does she look at me. In fact, her eyes have the same glazed look to them that I know mine take on during an episode of The View. Then her fingers graze the cover of Us Weekly and it’s as though she’s received an electric shock. Suddenly, she’s pert and interested. Instead of sliding the magazine across the glass, she holds it up and pores over the cover intently.
“Who’s this?” she asks, turning the front of the cover towards me and pointing at the raven-haired woman with her arms wrapped around her three younger girls on the cover, directly under the headline “Scary Skinny Demi Moore To Divorce Ashton Kutcher.
Hmm. That seems self-explanatory. “Demi Moore,” I say.
“Oh. She’s pretty, “ she responds, “but a little on the scrawny side, dontcha think?”
Really? Was it the photo of her drinking straw thin arms or the headline proclaiming her “Scary Skinny” that gave Demi’s emaciated figure away? “Umm. Yeah. I guess it’s all the stress from the divorce.” I desperately want to jab at the words on the cover and say, through gritted teeth, “It says, right here, that she’s getting divorced. It’s all in the headline. Everything you need to know is right here in one convenient location.”
A look of concern crosses her lined face. She shakes her head in disappointment. “She’s getting divorced? What a shame. Kids just don’t know how to stay married these days. I hope it won’t get dragged out. It’s so hard on children. She does have children, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah. Three.” I stare at her hard. Maybe she’s illiterate. But don’t you have to be able to read to get a job as a cashier? I mean, how do you fill out your application or read coupons? Just ring up the fucking magazine, I think, wishing I could reach across the space between us and perform a Vulcan mind meld on her.
“I wonder if she’s got a pre-nup. I sure do hope she gets to keep her kids.” She presses her lips together and furrows her brow, shaking her bleached-blonde do again. “She definitely needs to eat though. Can’t keep your energy up if you don’t eat. Poor thing.” You’d think she was talking about her neighbor or some lady she knows from church. Two seconds ago, she didn’t know who Demi Moore was and now she’s worried about the star’s weight and whether or not she’ll get custody of the kids. Finally, she drags the cover along the glass plate and I hear a satisfying beep come from the register. One down, three to go.
Of course, not all cashiers have been living in the Dark Ages, which makes buying my rags an even more arduous process as some of these men and women insist on discussing – ad nauseum (yes, I realize that is another obnoxious lawyer word) – their opinions about everyone on the cover. If I had a dime for every time a cashier said to me: “Insert Female Celebrity Name Here is one hot mess!” or “Now Insert Male Celebrity Name Here is all that and a bag of chips,” I’d have enough money to buy Time, Inc. and make the editors of People report all the celebrity news to me first – in person – while a masseuse rubs my feet as I lounge by my infinity pool situated behind my massive, ocean-front estate.
These are the same cashiers who possess the audacity to actually thumb through the magazine while I stand there. Waiting. Hello – that’s my magazine you are bending and creasing and (ugh!) licking your fingers in order to make the pages turn more easily. I am cautious to select virgin periodicals. If the cover is curling or has the tiniest of rips, I choose another one – usually from the back of the stack. And after watching a cashier rub her saliva all over the corners of my magazine, all I want to do is pluck it out of her fingers, toss it in the closest garbage bin and select another pristine copy to take home with me. To be clear, no one pops my magazines’ cherries but me. I love the crisp sound of the pages and the creaking of the stapled binding as I crack my copy open for the very first time. If I want a germy, beat-up-like-you-sassed-back-Chris-Brown copy of Us Weekly, I’ll steal it from my doctor’s office like everyone else.
Annoyance factor: 8. Incompetence: 3. Deceitfulness: 5 (By mangling my magazines, they are encouraging me to steal from the doctor’s office).
Example 2: Bagging Is Not A City In China
I have never been a cashier at a grocery store, nor have I ever bagged groceries professionally. However, I used to work in retail and there are basic rules to bagging any product that are just common sense. Cold, wet items are to be bagged with other cold, wet items. Canned items with canned items. Produce with produce. Heavy items shouldn’t be bagged with soft, squishy items.
For the record, I am an awesome grocery cart loader and unloader. As I shop, I cluster dairy items together, canned and boxed items together, vegetables and fruit together, frozen items together and meats together. I unload them in the same way to make bagging my groceries as idiot proof as possible. In fact, it surprises me that not a single cashier has ever commented on this fact. I know other shoppers don’t unload as carefully as I do. I’ve seen how they plop a package of hamburger meat right on top of a box of laundry detergent or mix canned foods in with their dairy. I take the extra time to make the bagging of my groceries as easy and simple for the cashier as possible. Still, week after week, I see bagged combinations such as this:
1) Sweating gallon of Breyer’s ice cream next to my mother’s Valentine’s Day card – make that stuck to my mother’s Valentine’s Day card
2) Gimongous cans of stewed tomatoes on top of my Pepperidge Farms loaf of bread
3) My untainted copy of People literally wrapped around a quart of milk like a Snuggie
4) Oozing package of raw chicken on top of celery because who doesn’t like a little salmonella while dieting
5) All fifty cans of cat food in a single, bag weighing approximately 18 pounds
6) Four bottles of relatively expensive pinot grigio in a single plastic bag – with a hole in the bottom of it that won’t break open until I pull the bag out of the trunk when I get home
7) Light bulbs sandwiched between two jugs of Ocean Spray cranberry juice
8) Can of Raid roach spray packed with fresh produce (I rarely buy organic, so my veggies already have enough insecticide on them already, thank you very much!)
9) Bakery department cake thrown into a bag sideways
10) Ripped open bag of baby carrots (the cashier actually picked up the few loose pieces that had found their way onto the conveyor belt and threw them into the grocery bag), two basil plants and a bottle of bleach
Are cashiers not trained in the fine art of bagging? I mean, if you are skilled enough to remember the codes for hundreds of produce items, shouldn’t you have figured out that a gallon of milk is fairly heavy and, that while bread may have iron in it, it isn’t actually made of iron and, therefore, should not be placed beneath the milk? Perhaps they aren’t tutored in this skill because it’s assumed that every idiot knows the basics of bagging. Last I checked, a degree in physics isn’t required to obtain a cashier position, so bagging can’t possibly be all that difficult. After all, I know how to bag properly and I’ve never even studied physics. Heck, I haven’t even mastered the metric system and I’m still a little fuzzy when it comes to multiplying numbers above 10.
Annoyance factor: 10. Incompetence: 10. Deceitfulness: 3 (Now they are stealing from me because I have to return to the store to repurchase items that were smashed or contaminated).
Example 3: What Knot To Do
Plastic bags are not sneaker laces. Do not – I repeat, do not – tie the handles of my plastic grocery bags into little knots to prevent items from falling out. Why? First, if you didn’t overfill the bags in the first place, you wouldn’t need to knot them. Second, do you have any idea how long it takes to untie 17 knots in 17 plastic bags – all of which were tightened into locks by the extreme weight of their contents? For-fucking-ever.
Third, after I struggle to untie the first few bags, I become frustrated and begin ripping the bags open. This is a bad thing because I actually reuse my plastic bags to dispose of kitty poo and litter each night. When you force me to throw away over a dozen bags that could have been recycled as poo holders, it makes me want to take the torn bags back to the store, place all of them over your head and tie them into a big knot. Have fun getting it untied in time. Fourth, by tying the handles into knots, you negate the purpose of the handle – to be large enough for me to utilize them as a carrying device. How can I slide the handles of the bags up and down the length of my forearms so that I can minimize the number of trips between my car and my kitchen when you’ve created new handles that are effectively the size of the eye of a needle? I am not Demi Moore and, thus, my arms are not that skinny.
Annoyance factor: 7. Incompetence: 6. Deceitfulness: 5 (Clearly, they are also working for the manufacturers of small animal poo bags and this is why they knot my plastic bags up so that they can’t be utilized for kitty poo disposal purposes).
Example 4: Forgotten Coupons
I am not a coupon clipper. Hence, on the rare occasion when I do manage to make it to the store with a coupon and present said coupon to a cashier, along with the appropriate item, I expect to actually have the amount indicated on the front of the coupon deducted from my bill. It’s a proud moment for me. I remembered to bring a coupon to the store. I can’t wait to see that small portion of a dollar with a minus sign in front of it on my receipt. I shouldn’t have to ask, “Did you remember my coupon?” Nor should I have to remind the cashier to remove coupons from the tops of cans or the sides of boxes. It’s his or her job. And when the cashier forgets to ring up my coupon, being sent to the front desk to stand behind a long line of lottery ticket and cigarette buyers in order to collect my 35 cents really pisses me off. Waiting in line is right up there on my list of favorite things to do, along with peeling the cover of my magazine off a wet milk carton, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on bread that’s been squashed to the height and width of a kid’s plastic ruler.
Annoyance factor: 5. Incompetence: 10. Deceitfulness: 5 (Do you really think that they truly forgetto use those coupons or are they just saving them for themselves or cheating the poor consumers as a whole?)
The other day, I was shopping at Walmart and, low and behold, I encountered an amazing cashier. She didn’t flip through my magazines or waste precious minutes lamenting the loss of Whitney Houston. Everything was bagged perfectly. I watched in amazement as she grouped my cheeses and dairy together in one bag, deli meats in another and vegetables in yet a third. I didn’t strain my back lifting the bags filled with cans because she didn’t overfill them. My wine bottles were first placed in slim brown bags before being double bagged and handed to me so that I could set them in the child seat portion of the grocery cart. Not a single plastic bag was knotted – and she removed the $1 off coupons from my wine bottles without me reminding her and successfully subtracted the appropriate amount from my total. I could swear that the exposed beams above me opened up to reveal angels singing a beautiful melody and a golden beam of light shone down upon this plump woman wearing a blue Walmart vest.
“Wow!” I cried. “You really know how to bag. I’m so impressed. Do you have any idea how many cashiers can’t bag for shit?” It was ridiculous, really. It was like complimenting someone for breathing well or not falling down while walking in sneakers.
The cashier smiled and nodded her head. She’d clearly been commended for her skills before. “I know,” she replied. “I try to teach the new ones, but they’re just clueless. But you made it real easy too – the way you grouped your groceries together and all.”
I knew it. Finally, the fact that I have mastered the art of unloading had been acknowledged. I cluster correctly. Cold with cold. Meat with meat. Produce with produce. And someone appreciated it. But most importantly, I’d found my perfect cashier – the Atticus Finch of attorneys, the Marcus Welby, M.D. of physicians, the absolutely nobody of mimes – and I needed to know more. Without hesitation, I asked, “Can I get a copy of your work schedule?” as I carefully jotted down the name on her badge – Shirley. She nodded her head and retrieved a Xeroxed copy from a stack at least an inch thick beneath the counter. Shirley had obviously been asked for her hours before. I tucked the piece of paper into my purse, still marveling aloud at how easy it would be to unload my husband’s favorite Yoplait yogurts directly into the fridge since she’d bagged them all together.
“You certainly have an eye for detail,” Shirley observed with a smile. “What do you do?”
“Oh, I used to be a –“ I replied, stopping myself just before I uttered the word, lawyer. Shirley wouldn’t understand that I had been to attorneys what she was to cashiers – a reason not to hate an entire profession. As a lawyer, I hadn’t cheated my clients or lied…much (I was a contract attorney – it’s called bluffing when utilized in the art of negotiation). In fact, I’d worked for the government, which meant the average grocery store manager earned a hell of a lot more than I did in a year. Finally, I grinned back at her and said firmly, “I’m a writer. I’ve got a blog.” Now there’s an honorable profession.
If you aren’t sick of reading by now, here’s the link about Denise Farley’s win as a champion Ohio bagger.
Now, before you think about writing a nasty comment below because you either are, were or aspire-to-be a grocery store cashier, keep in mind that (1) so was I; (2) I desiccated two of MY other previous professions in the post (hint, hint: I am the butt of my own jokes and you don’t hear ME whining about it); and, (3) this is a humor and satire blog. When you lose your temper in the Comments section of a humor blog, it makes it look like you don’t get the joke. It’s a bad look.