Supermarket Stories: The Legend of Bagger Vince.

Supermarket check out, London January 2005 Aut...Image via Wikipedia

A fictional story based upon my reality.

This is a tribute to people that believe in perfecting a skill that for many may seem irrelevant, the people who we rarely look in the eye when we pass them by. They are the shadow people who add an important element to our society and deserve to have a light shined upon them from time-to-time.

Christmas day eve during the crush of last minute shoppers.

I traveled through the throngs of humanity that mingled in the paper towel aisle with their shopping carts strategically parked dead center, thwarting passage from the right, or left side.

This time the squeaky wheel didn’t work. It just annoyed the hell out of me, grating against my eardrums with each turn of the cart, especially worse when backing up – the inevitable solution to the cart dead-center in the aisle problem. One problem circumvented in the paper towel, facial tissue aisle. Why don’t they call them Kleenex anymore?

Luckily, my cart was already half full at the paper goods juncture of my shopping expedition on Christmas Eve, an expedition I came to believe was likely far worse than negotiating the lushly lined trails of the Amazon with predatory creatures hiding in the foliage. In the supermarket, the predators were easily spotted not hesitating before making a turn at the end of an aisle or cutting someone off at the produce-pass, where the lettuce and carrots forged a salad alliance.

I just needed to scoot down the pet aisle to grab a bucket of cat clumping litter and some doggie treats, which turned out to be trouble free, until I coasted into the check out station. I put on the brakes and waited for the woman in front of me to finish separating her stash into groups of four, each regarded as a separate entity and purchased with a credit card.

As she dealt out the frozen dinners, sack of potatoes, and chips with dip onto the conveyor belt, I noticed the elderly bagger at the end of the ramp eyeing the woman contemptuously. She was so engrossed with adjusting her food groups that she didn’t hear the Bagger say, “Why couldn’t you do this before reaching the register?”

He was quickly admonished by the cashier twenty-years his junior with a sharp look and an, “Oh, Vince.”

Ah, it was whom I had thought. Bagger Vince; the most cantankerous, yet meticulous bagger the Stop & Shop had in their packaging arsenal. They keep him in mothballs and take him out at the busiest times because Bagger Vince can pack a bag like no other.

As the line behind me started growing longer, Bagger Vince became increasingly irritated. I could tell because he started a monologue about the perils of last minute shopping.

“Don’t’ they know that it’s Christmas Eve?” he grumbled.

The cashier just rolled her eyes.

The woman continued counting her food groups and moving them around like a shell game.

“Why do people wait until the last minute to shop? Vince lamented. “They had all week to do this.”

The cashier took the card from the woman and swiped it in anger. Food group number one had completed a round. It was now Vince’s turn to take the reigns. Approaching the counter with grace and ease, he removed a plastic bag and gently loaded it, pushing and prodding then slipping items in with the adeptness of a surgeon, before lowering the bag into the cart.

Food group number two was now ready for processing.

“It’s Christmas Eve for Christ’s sake,” Vince said incredulously.

The cashier swiped the card and let the food group 2 items roll into Bagger Vince’s corner, where he once again performed his bagging virtuosity with style and grace.

Food group 3 followed and then food group 4 with eggs, meat, chicken, and produce.

“Pack the chicken and meats separately, please,” the woman piped.

Vince just glanced at her with a look of disgust in the lack of trust that was exhibited by this obviously naïve shopper, unaware of the reputation that preceded him.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Vince, as his finished bagging and gingerly stacking the four separate bags of food groups harmoniously side-by-side in the cart.

The woman nodded and pushed the cart away, while Vince watched then scratched his head and turned my way.

“Why do you suppose people wait until the last minute?” he asked.

“People are busy.”

“Why did you wait?” he prodded.

“I was sick all week.”

“Ah,” he said. “Well, I guess you had a reason.”

I smiled and admired the finesse of his movements, as he filled my cart of plenty into the ten plus bags with just enough room and weight to make them manageable.

“Thank you,” I said, as I pulled away, catching the twinkle in his light gray eyes.

“You are welcome,” he responded with a smile. “You had a reason, and I can live with that.”

Then Bagger Vince turned to receive the next items that slid his way on the conveyor belt.

His last words, “Why do people wait until the last minute,” caught my ear, while I guided the cart toward the door.

I don’t know I thought. I just don’t know. At least, be comforted by the fact that you can handle anything they push your way.

“Good night, Bagger Vince,” I said, proud that I had shared a moment with a legend, the folk hero bagger of the Stop & Shop mega-size food store.

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WTF Friday: Stand-up Comedian/Cashier

I love a good laugh, especially after hauling around a cart, with one stuck wheel, filled with perishables (short-shelf lifers) and canned goods (long-shelf lifers).

Long-shelf lifers are typically heavier than short-shelf lifers and weigh down the cart. One long-shelf item, a 48-pack of beer, elicited a wry comment from the cashier when I started to check out.

As the bright silver-colored carton glided along the conveyor belt, the glare from the package forced the male cashier to shield his eyes, before gazing at me with a cold-calculating stare.

“Hitting the booze I see,” he mumbled underneath his breath.

“What did you say?”

“You must be confusing me with someone else,” he said.

By now, I knew my face had turned all thirty-six variations of red on the color spectrum. “It’s a 48-pack, not a 96-pack,” I blurted. “And it’s only light beer.” Nicely played, I thought, realizing I just had an, “I’m rubber and your glue” moment. That’s it! Keep giving him more ammo to fire my way.

He cocked his head, as his lips curved into a 38-caliber grin. “Do you think I should ask you for I.D?” he said.

I narrowed my eyes while glaring at him, which further deepened the lines that stretched across my forehead, like ancient cryptic markings.

What an a-hole. Even someone looking down at me from a bird’s eye view, could clearly see I was over twenty-one, even the bird.

“It’s your call,” I said, and grabbed a can of LYSOL, my weapon of choice for eradicating germs. I pulled off the cap and thought, go ahead. Make my day.

He licked his lips, as the color drained from his face. “Do you have a card?”

“What kind of card?” I pressed, while glaring at him with the razor sharp penetration of a Ginzo knife. Could this be the moment when I’m IDed and then categorized in the supermarket database, as “almost, but not quite dead?”

His eyes averted my gaze. “Your store card.”

“Oh. But of course,” I grumbled, put down the LYSOL and dug through my purse for the store key tag card amid dental floss containers, broken pens, and expired coupons, While I searched, I heard a distinct clicking sound emanating from behind the register. I turned to see an increasingly fidgety cashier tap his pen against the check out counter rack. Impatience was not another of his virtues, along with disrespecting the elderly.

After I located the key ring, I tossed it onto the conveyor belt for processing.

He crossed his arms against his chest and waited for the key ring to reach him. Then he swiped the card on the register, and plopped it onto the platform on the other side. I would have to wait just as he did.

As soon as I reached the other side, and stepped beneath the overhead light, I swiped my credit card in the machine several times to no avail.

Once again, he looked at me with contempt.

“You’re swiping the wrong side,” he said.

“Right!” I replied, then swiped it again, and waited while the elderly gentleman bagger educated me on the finer points of packing produce.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

“Here,” said the cashier, as he thrusted into my hand a foot long receipt with bonus coupons I’d forget to use.

With a grunt, I gave the cart one last push, then stopped at the sound of the cashier clearing his throat.

“Oh,” he said, while flashing a grin. “Have a nice day!”
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Death by 1,000 haircuts.

Worst haircut EVER

Shear Torture.

If hair could talk, mine would be speaking its last rites.

An inch off is what I said.  Two to three-inches off is what I got. A great bang for the buck. I don’t think so. More like getting banged by a buck, in the monetary sense.

The hair-grazing experience began with seven words.

“I part your hair in the center,” she said, in a dialect reminiscent of Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blücher – horses whinny – from “Young Frankenstein.”

Frau Blücher: Would the doctor care for a brandy before retiring?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No. Thank you.
Frau Blücher: Some varm milk… perhaps?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No… thank you very much. No thanks.
Frau Blücher: Ovaltine?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: NOTHING! Thank you! I’m a little – tired!
Frau Blücher: Then I vill say… goodnight.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Goodnight.

After the ceremonial parting of the hair, the radical hacking of the hair began – snip – a clump here – snip – a clump there. At the foot of the chair, all the beheaded strands of hair fell into one mountainous clumpage of hair-don’ts, all victims of la filament guillotine.

Poor frizzy dead-enders, lying lifeless and stranded with other frivolous fibers cut off from the pore of their very existence. That’s what happens when you fall to the end of the hairline. Some call it fate. “It was just their time.” Others pretend not to know me. They shake their heads and mutter, “It’s just hair.”

“Just!” I cry out. “They’re dead. I tell you. Dead!”

Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch:

“He’s not pining, he’s passed on. This parrot is no more. He has ceased to be. He’s expired and gone to meet his maker. He’s a stiff, bereft of life, he rests in peace. If you hadn’t have nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies. He’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot!”

Follicly speaking, hair is the root of all evil. Case in point, Samson lost his immortal strength after Delilah shaved his head while he slept. Frankly, I’m surprised he could sleep through all the snipping and scraping, as a cold front rolled in, chilling the circumference of his unprotected bald head.

Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, didn’t even pretend to take a little off. Although he did provide a service of sorts, saving his customers precious time by preventing the need for any future appointments.

I guess psychotic-leaning folks gravitate toward businesses that require the use of sharp objects.

At least, I survived my haircut. Can’t say the same for my hair. Audible sobbing and one loud purging sigh. Time to say a prayer for the dearly departed and wait for my hair to grow back, so I can regain my strength in order to go through the entire ordeal again in several weeks or less.

R.I.P. my fine fringed brittle-ones.

Do you have a hair-razing tale?

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WTF Friday: Thinking Outside the Boxes

Being boxed in hinders artistic freedom, as well as restroom access.

Previously published in The Front Porch Syndicate.
Written while still gainfully employed.

I work in an office with middle-aged men still capable of slogging around a box or two. That is, if the box is intended for them and contains a pair of shoes or the latest electronic gadget.

However, when boxes of magazines arrive and are stacked in several piles in the storage room, the males quickly attend to important matters like choosing unique ring tones on their cell phones, leaving the boxes for me to handle. I, the lone female, am the V.I.P. in charge of boxes. I lug them, open them, and then stack the contents of each box on the appropriate shelf. The men in the office will use the box as a footstool for tying a shoelace or as an end table for resting a coffee mug.

Lenny, my boss, is always courteous. When passing through the filing room, he stops by to offer important advice on how to lift a box without straining the back. He will take time from his busy schedule to show me how to bend and lift without actually touching a box. He doesn’t believe in using props. He fancies himself a mime and lifts air, instead, while teaching me the finer points of “the bend,” “the grab,” and “the lift.”

“Don’t hurt yourself,” he says before trudging out the door. Other males, who stride in and out of the room, will stop by to say hello or tell me the latest joke they read in an e-mail. After they offer a moment of levity or a word of goodwill, they too will step away.

Sometimes a coworker will say, “Can’t get my suit dirty or crease my pants. Got an appointment. Sorry.” Then he will go out to lunch and return three hours later with ketchup stains on his tie and wrinkles on his suit from sitting too long in the restaurant. By then, all the magazines have been stacked on the shelves; I have broken most of my fingernails, leaving them in a cup by the water cooler, and am too dizzy to stand due to loss of blood from all the paper cuts.

When I finally return to my cubicle, a coworker will inevitably buzz me on the intercom and ask me to stop by his office for some dictation. “Sorry,” I say. “Due to the loss of several fingernails, the weight on my hand is no longer evenly distributed, making it impossible to write” and slam down the receiver. If I want them to leave me alone, I simply place a sign on my cubicle wall that says “package adjustment” and then go upstairs to the luncheonette for a cup of coffee.

V.I.P. in charge of boxes does have its advantages. Next time the UPS man delivers boxes, I will have him pile them in the doorway of my cubicle. If someone buzzes me asking for help, I will simply tell them, “Sorry, but I’m boxed in at the moment.”

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