For the past couple of years (read: COVID-years), Saturdays have been home made pizza/panzo and movie night around here. After I make everyone his/her dinner, I head down to Newmarket to do “the big” grocery shop at 2-4 stores, while my youngest four smalls (all now bigger than me) eat dinner and watch a movie with daddy.
This past Saturday night, I toured the first of two planned store stops, followed my list, and filled my cart. I had three free product coupons that I was planning to use, one for milk (mailed from the company because a bag of milk was sour long before the date on the bag, so I called to report it), one for Pringles (never buy these, but “free” is my tipping point) and one coupon for a free box of Special K. I was also price matching a few items, namely four loaves of Country Harvest bread (2/$5 at Giant Tiger, $3.49 each at No Frills).
As I approached the checkout, scanning for an open cash, Lane 3 had the light on and no other customers checking out. I hadn’t seen the cashier who was standing behind the plexiglass barrier before but since she didn’t have a queue, I navigated my cart to her lane. I should have known better, but, no. In hindsight I don’t know if she was having a bad day, found my mask-wearing objectionable, resented having to lift the (5) 6-lb bags of apples I was buying (looking at mostly at Paxton for that expenditure), hated price-matchers, or just thought I was a jerk for wearing skinny jeans with running shoes (no argument here), but Grumpy Gertie (herein known as “GG”) was sour from the onset. She appeared to be annoyed when I declined to buy plastic bags and instead showed her the cooler bag stuffed with bags that I brought with me. Maybe she thought I was bragging? Considering my grocery cooler bag is half-torn from the strain caused by me regularly stuffing it beyond capacity with 4-5 bags of milk (20-25L) and forcing the zipper closed, it is hardly what I would lead with, were I trying to show off my bounty of riches. ?
Onward we push. Past the apples, through the cheese bars and the black beans (burritos this week, yum!), over the cucumbers (on sale, $0.69 each, yay!) and then, full stop. We had reached the lone bag of milk. She lifted the coupon from where I placed it on top of the bag and breathed out loudly. Almost as though she was trying to balance her chi or find her patience and resist the urge to thrash me. She looked at the coupon for a long time. An uncomfortably long time. I began to feel a bit warm, a mildly prickly heat down my back, despite the fact that I was wearing a lightweight shirt and long cardigan, no coat, and had done nothing more strenuous than lift groceries onto the belt. She looked up and off, far into the distance, perhaps looking to call someone? Maybe she was new to the job and was uncertain how to process this type of coupon? I was about to say something friendly and reassuring when she looked at me with barely concealed contempt, “can I see your i.d.?” This surprised me a bit, but since the coupon had my name printed on it by the company that mailed it to me, I unzipped my wallet “um, yes, sure. I mean, you shouldn’t need to, but it’s fine.” I showed her my drivers license, feeling my cheeks grow warmer. She looked like she’d like to spit on it, but she doesn’t. She scanned the milk into the system and then keyed in the coupon, just like any other coupon. I looked at the Pringles and cereal sitting, oblivious, on the belt and started to feel a bit sick. I’m not one who enjoys confrontation with strangers. With family I’m all over a good argument or debate and am willing to die upon whatever hill I have chosen as mine to defend, but with strangers I begin looking for escape routes at the first sign of battle. On this particular occasion I took a minute to remind myself that I had done nothing wrong, the coupons were legitimate and valid and I was not wrong for using them.
She plucked a loaf of bread off the belt. I showed her the competitor’s ad on my phone. She objected because I had chosen a raisin bread “Not this one. It’s not included. It costs more.” She looks triumphant. “Um, I think they are all the same price? $3.49? And they all weigh 600g?” My words splutter out, making everything I say a question. She scanned the raisin bread. $3.49 appeared on the screen. She scowled deeply and almost growled. She completed the price match with all four loaves. She doesn’t appear to have any issue with the packages of chicken breast that I had chosen, so I started to relax and feel a bit better. She reached for the Pringles. I handed her the coupon. She doesn’t make eye contact with me and spent the next two minutes reading the coupon, reaching out a hand for the phone and jerking it away again before picking it up. The Ghostbuster theme song played in my head. “Who you gonna call? Ghost…” Stupid head. Shut up. Ugh. I could almost see an angel and a devil, one sitting on each of her shoulders, arguing about what to do with my milk coupon. Another, younger cashier appeared beside her. Startled, GG scans the Pringles and punched the coupon value with her index finger held rigid. The other cashier asked to empty the garage and GG looked relieved. I wondered what GG thought the girl was there to do, was she worried that she was about to be told off? Maybe something like “just scan the lady’s groceries and get on with your life, GG!”? But, probably not and in any event, our time together was not quite done. There was still the matter of the cereal.
She scanned the cereal and I handed her the coupon. “Another free one?” She’s barely able to push these three words out past her clenched teeth. “Yes, ma’am. Last one, I promise.” Smiling. I was almost certain at that moment that if she had a vaporizer and didn’t need her job, she would have ended me there and then. As it was, she didn’t and she did, so after she entered the coupon amount and told me the total, I paid and started to pack up my offensive groceries as quickly as I could.
An older mother and daughter pair were next to be served and while I packed my bags, I was mildly aware of the conversation going on between them and GG. It sounded friendly and congenial. They were talking about the 30lbs of apples I had yet to secure in my mess of cloth bags. I looked up, surprised because GG sounded nice and conversational but not surprised by the topic of their chat. It’s a given that my weekly apple and produce haul always elicits commentary, guesses and judgement from cashiers and other shoppers about what I’m doing with it all. Am I baking pies? Running a daycare or school? Am I a hoarder who can’t stop herself? I’ve heard just about every guess people have. I have given up trying to justify my shopping to strangers so I usually just smile and shrug apologetically and say “the apples are for one of my sons. He goes through about 30lbs of apples a week.” The shock value along usually gets me out of the conversation fairly quickly. This was the explanation I offered GG and the other two women that night. GG’s jaw dropped. Success! Instantly I could see she thought I was probably enabling some 700-pound grown man to eat himself to death. She didn’t say a word. I continued with “well, it’s better than endless bags of chips or junk food, right?” I sounded about as perky Elle Woods and I made sure to smile sweetly. GG let her mouth to close while ever so slowly she nodded her head in agreement. I loaded my final bag into the cart and began to push it towards the exit. I could feel GG’s eyes on me until I got outside into the parking lot.
My first job, as a young teenager, I was a cashier at IGA. I know what the job is like. I get it when you have customer after customer being ugly or unreasonable, taking frustration out on you over things that you, as a lowly cashier, have no power to change or control. Allowing those people to change the way you approach and serve all customers is a lose-lose situation. It causes bad feelings for the cashier and the customer. In that spirit, I hope that GG is having a better day today and that she can find some tiny morsel of hope or goodness that will help carry her through her future shifts. I will shop there again because they tend to have what I’m looking for, and if GG is working again next week, I’ll go through her cash again. Even if I’m price-matching or using coupons. And I’ll be friendly and ask after her day and wish her a good evening/weekend. If I do this every weekend, week after week, eventually she’ll like me. I just know it. And no, there is no end to my pathetic need to feel like people don’t hate me. It’s on my list to work on. Right after finding my six-pack abs and mastering the art of baking the perfect baguette (and yes, I’m aware that those two goals are counter-intuitive).