Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Checkout Lane Fantasies

I might have mentioned on this blog before that I do most of the grocery shopping for the Muley family. I know this is somewhat unusual for a married guy to admit, but since I like to cook, and I like to experiment with new recipes, and most of the time I really enjoy grocery shopping (or at least don't hate it as much as most guys do), I try to pull my weight and help Mrs Muley with the chores by offering to buy the groceries.

I tell you all this only as an introduction. During my frequent trips to buy groceries, at both a huge "Mart-type" store as well as a huge chain grocery store, I have noticed that all of the checkers ask each customer the same thing at the beginning of the checkout process: "Did you find everything that you need?"

Every single time, even when I have been unable to locate a number of items, either because they don't carry that brand, or are just temporarily out, I invariably smile (and lie) by responding, "Yes." And I have never heard another customer ever do anything else except say "Yes," too, when that question was asked.

I am sure that all of these checkers are not asking this same question by random chance. Undoubtedly, they have been instructed by the management to ask this of every poor sap who wheels his cart up to the line. But lately I have begun to wonder: WHY are these checkers told to ask this? What is the purpose?

I mean, let's say a customer approaches the checkout line, begins unloading groceries, is asked, "Did you find everything that you need?," and answers, "No, in fact, I was looking for the Porky Pie Farms 32-ounce jar of pickled pig's feet, and you're all out"? What would happen next?

My guess is that the sullen 18-year-old checker girl with the tattoos and the lip piercings would then just stare at the customer silently for a few seconds before replying, "Oh...bummer," before resuming dragging the food across the scanner. Or maybe she would ask one of the 18-year-old stockboys with the permanently attached blaring iPod to go look for the missing item, after which he would report back on its absence, followed by the checker replying,"Oh...bummer."

That's probably what would happen, but that's boring. My imagination has come up with some wonderful things that could happen when I said items were missing (if this were a perfect world):

1. A rotating light on the checkstand begins flashing, like the ones on Las Vegas slot machines, and the store manager comes up to me, gives me a crisp $100 bill, and explains it is the company's "Thanks For Telling the Truth" gift. He then takes my name and enters me in a drawing to win a dream home, a Hawaiian vacation and a guest starring role on "CSI."

2. The manager comes up, apologizes profusely for not having the item in stock, then pulls up his shirt and says, "Okay, look, hit me as hard as you want. I deserve it. No, come on, I can take it. Hit me a good one, right in the ol' gut."

3. The store manager comes out, apologizes profusely for not having the item, then offers me psychological counseling free of charge to help me deal with any feelings of distress or loss I might be experiencing. If I agree, I am guided to a small, plush room in back of the management offices, where a smiling psychologist has me lie on a couch while asking me to "share my pain" and "express my anger without fear of communal reprisal." If I seem to tear up a bit, I am offered my choice of day-old bakery items free of charge.

4. When the manager determines what department of the store the missing item is in, the supervisor of that department is quickly summoned to the front, and an announcement is made over the loudspeaker that "a punishment session will take place in five minutes next to the green vegetables." All the customers rush to where a portable stage has quickly been assembled. If this is the supervisor's first or second offense, he or she is let off with a light flogging, issued by a large woman dressed in a leather bustier and face mask, brandishing a thick bullwhip. If this is the department supervisor's third offense, a group of stockboys is issued loaded rifes and the offender is executed by firing squad (after punching out on the time clock, of course).

5. The last one is my ultimate fantasy. When I tell the checker about the item I could not find, she pushes a large red button under her register, and many things happen simultaneously: the doors into and out of the store automatically close tight, sirens begin to wail, primary lighting is shut off, and a voice over the loudspeaker blares, "This is an emergency product lockdown. I repeat, this is an emergency product lockdown. Everyone remain still until further notice."

At the same time, a message goes out to the company's main regional distribution center, listing the store number and the name and UPC product code of the missing item. Within seconds, the computer retrieval system drops the item on a conveyer belt and delivers it to a team of waiting store personnel dressed in emergency flight suits and survival gear. They hop into a helicopter waiting on a nearby helipad, and within minutes they fly to the store and land on the roof.

As I watch, amazed, a skylight opens above the checkout line where I still stand, a rope is dropped, and a man rappels down, landing directly in front of me. He bends down, kisses my feet repeatedly, then gets up and hands me my 32-ounce jar of pig's feet.

Before being pulled back up to his waiting helicopter, he looks me straight in the eyes and asks, "Sir, was there anything else you couldn't find today?"

And I say, "Well, there was this new brand of fat-free yogurt I'd heard about..."


Karie said...

Muley, I'm so glad you're back! You're so funny.

sarahgrace said...

Next time I go to the store and am asked the very same question discussed here...I'm sure I will pause for a moment and think of you, with all these scenarios running through my head, and wonder what would really happen if I said, "no, I couldn't find such and such," and still sweetly lie, "yes..." mostly because checking out is the time when the kids misbehave the most, and I definitely don't want to prolong it any more than it needs to be, and it probably isn't worth it anyways. ;)

Inkling said...

I have asked myself that question but I admit that my answer was always much more tame: simply that a) they think if I say I found what I want, I will begin to believe it, and b) if I don't, it will inconvenience me and everyone around me, so c) it is part of the general brainwashing that every Mart-type grocery store has it all.

ricki said...

Hrm. I guess my mild Rain-Man-like tendencies have come to the fore.

I actually HAVE answered the question truthfully, as in, "Well, I was really looking for Brand X peanut butter, but you do not seem to carry it." or "I really needed pantyhose but you were out of my size."

I didn't even get an "Oh....bummer." The checkout person just looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears.

I mean, what's the freaking point of asking the stupid question if they treat you like some kind of mutant when you actually tell them that YES, your store is lacking in a particular area?

I don't know. I guess I'd like to see some version of your #5, or at the very least, an "I'm so sorry ma'am...let me write down what you need, we'll get it, and we'll call you when it comes in."