Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Khaki Shorts, Bias Tape and One Long Checkout Line

I walked into a fabric and craft store on a mission for my wife. In one hand a carried a bag with a pair of my granddaughter’s khaki uniform shorts for middle school. The kids all love their grandma and they know that when they need sewing done, she’s a solid resource. She’ll do anything for her grandkids, especially, in exchange for extra hugs.

I entered the huge cavern of aisles and shelves to find the only people in the front of the store to be two cashiers who were busy with customers. I eased down a main aisle looking down each cross aisle for anything that looked like bias tape. I wore my best, lost man in a woman’s environment, face as I perused along each intersection.

I was familiar enough with this type of retail facility to know that somewhere, near the center of the infinite displays of fabrics and accessories, would be table and store employee for assisting customers in cutting off their desired amounts of cloth from bulk rolls. When I came to that area, the store employee was busy with another customer so I continued my left and right visual scans of each aisle intersection.

At the back of the store the main aisle intersected with another main aisle. Down the aisle, to the left, I saw a store employee with a shopping cart full of go-backs. She was suffering an acute case of tunnel vision. She must have thought that she had a cute bootie and I might want to admire it because, as I moved to get in front of her so that we could talk, she turned her back to me. 

Finally, winning the game of About Face and Circle Around, I held out a small sample that I had been carrying in my other hand.

“Can you tell me where to find any of this?”

“I don’t even know what that is?”

I was dumbfounded. I responded in mocked astonishment.

“You work in this store and you don’t what this is?”

“I work here but I’m a cashier,” she said with great emphasis on the word cashier.

I was thinking that, if this woman was doing go-backs. then she must know where everything is. Otherwise, how could she go back to the right place, where each item belonged, to re-shelf it?

“It’s bias tape,” I said.

“Oh, well… Yeah… I know what bias tape is but I didn't know that was bias tape.”

I didn't make up that quote. Yes, she really said that.

Off she hurried down the aisle at a near sprint. Near the cutting table, but on the opposite side that I had passed, there was a short cross aisle with a selection of bias tape. I found what I needed and my praise of the woman put a big grin on her face.

When I arrived at the front of the store to check out, my walk slowed at the sight of nine people lined up for one cashier. The first thought to light up my brain was that, if the woman doing go-backs was a cashier, then she ought to go back to the front of the store to serve in her primary role. If this item had been for me I would have set it down on another shelf and left the store. However, Grandma would not be happy if she couldn't take care of her granddaughter.

I got into the line and more people lined up behind me. I counted fourteen people in total. I’m a firm believer that if you’re not in a happy place then you ought to, at least, try to have some fun.

“Well… if it wasn't for the green shirts on the store employees, I’d think I was at Walmart.”

“Isn't that the truth,” said the brown-haired woman ahead of me.

“Yeah… I was in a Walmart a few weeks ago and there wasn't any line at all.”

“Were they having a bomb scare?” The white-haired woman behind me chuckled at her own humor.

“I don’t know but when I expressed my astonishment to the cashier she said it had been like that. I asked if they had finally caught the Kmart syndrome and all of their shoppers had gone somewhere else. The woman took offense to the comment.”

Both of the women laughed at that and others in the checkout line smiled. I saw my go-back woman down the aisle but her tunnel vision was still working well. I continued to entertain the other customers.

“You know, Kmart and Sears are like two fat giants falling from the pedestal and becoming the biggest losers. Then they married each other.”

The laughs were rippling farther down the line on each side of me now. The line was also getting longer. I was contemplating running down the aisle and bringing Go-Back to a checkout line but grey hair broke the quiet.

“Did you notice that they don’t wear those vests in Walmart, anymore, that say HOW CAN I HELP YOU?”

I snorted. “Go figure! The only time that you could read one was when they were running down the aisle to get away from you.”

“That’s for sure,” said the brunette.

“Yeah, I read an article somewhere that they’re getting new vests made up that read CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.”

Grey Hair started laughing so hard that she was afraid of peeing herself. I could still see Go-Back and had had enough of waiting. However, before I broke from the line, two cashiers, a man and woman, came up to open checkouts. They both had the look of somebody who had been pulled out of the same mop closet before their smiles had fully molded onto their faces. They were a surly looking pair.

“Next one in line.” The man’s voice had no energy and he didn’t smile one iota. I decided to sling some positive energy at him.

"How are you today?” I gave him my most sincere smile.

“All right,” he said in monotone.

“It got kind of busy all of the sudden.” This is a chance for somebody, who is having a bad day, to snap out of it and apologize for the poor service. Some even like to explain. Sometimes the explaining can turn into finger pointing but at least they’re thinking about customers then.

This guy said nothing and continued to frown. I took my change and started to walk away but changed my mind. Okay, asshole, I thought to myself. You asked for it. I’m going to sucker punch you.

“Does your face feel kind of tired?”

He just looked at me. There was a hint of confusion but his look didn't soften.

“I’m serious, man. I’m worried about you.”

“Why don’t you just get out of here? You’re holding up our customers,” he snapped.

Grey Hair had moved up beside me but she was smiling in anticipation of what I might be about to say.

“It’s interesting that you might notice that but, you see, they were conditioned to waiting when there were fifteen of us waiting for one cashier.”

I glanced at Grey Hair. She was still with me.

“I’m worried about you because it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. With the piss face that you’re wearing, you’re going to be plumb worn out by the end of the day.”

Grey Hair lost it. Her knees buckled and she held the counter to break a fall. I grabbed her under one arm to help.

“Are you okay?”

“I hate you!” She was saying that she hated me but she was laughing so hard that she couldn't stand.

“I hate you! I’m going to have to go back home and change my pants before I can finish shopping. You are freaking hilarious!”

Not a single muscle relaxed on the Piss Face, though.


  1. I laughed nearly this whole story - working retail for many many years - I can both sympathize AND empathize!

    1. Oh yes, I can agree. I've never worked retail but I've worked restaurants and hotels. Whether serving or being served, people generally get what is coming to them for the attitude that they display.

      To me, more important than what goes wrong is how that it's handled.

      While this story is loosely based on an experience, I took a lot of liberties when writing it. What is scary, though, is how much of it is true.

      Thanks for the read, comments and re-post, Chris.