Monthly Archives: December 2006

…Like it’s 1999

In my entry about conversation starters, I neglected to mention a nation-wide event that occurs between Christmas and Australia Day. This event is, of course, New Year’s Eve. While I forgot to write about it, I certainly did not neglect to take advantage of it as a topic for conversation. Whenever I felt it was appropriate, I would pipe up, ‘So, are you doing anything for New Year’s Eve?’

The customers who were buying multi-pack soft drinks and bags upon bags of potato chips would answer that they were having a party. I didn’t bother to question those who bought over a kilo of sausages and bottles of sauce.

One man I came into contact with on Friday who I prompted for his New Year’s Eve plans gave a very personal response, which led to a rather involved discussion…
‘So, do you have any big plans for New Year’s Eve?’ I asked, with my usual, customer-friendly smile pasted across my face. The man in front of me was thin, with gnarled grey hair and a solemn expression.

‘Ah, I don’t believe in making a big deal out of New Year’s’, he said dismissively.

‘Oh?’ I asked innocently.

He leaned forward and held me in a steady gaze. ‘Nah. See, the way I look at it, every day should be a cause for celebration.’

I looked up while scanning his purchases. ‘That’s an interesting perspective. But isn’t it good that there’s this one day of the year when you can really let loose?’

The customer stood firm. He seemed intent on making his philosophical case. ‘Yeah, well, some people are just depressed all the time and they simply spend this one day feeling differently, but I think we should all treat every day as something special. We should be grateful for every day that we wake up and realize we’re still alive. Every day should be a celebration.’

In an even voice, I continued more insistently. ‘I agree. But not every day has a public holiday following it during which you can sleep off your hangover or whattnot,’ I laughed gamely.

He held fast to his opinion. ‘No, but we should treat every day as a gift and not just think of this on one day of the year.’

Our horns were locked and we were each pushing forward. I mentally searched for another counterpoint. Finally, I gestured to my right at the stack of multi-pack drinks pressed up against the wall and replied, ‘Well, it’s a good thing that we have occasions such as New Year’s Eve, or else we’d never get rid of all those Cokes!’

He looked to his left. ‘Yes, well, it’s a good day for retailers, but that’s about it.’

I smiled congenially. Debate over. He held out some notes and I returned to him some change. As he departed, I wryly wished him a good new year.

So the debate had ended in a stalemate. In a way, I think the argument was actually moot as it seemed that he and I were pushing two different things. I was talking about an occasion on which you can party hearty and participate in a public bonding session over the dawning of a new year and he was arguing about something more existential. Alas, I think we were both right. New Year’s Eve is just another day, depending on how you choose to spend it. It is simply the case that NYE offers a state-sanctioned freedom to piss the night away without the need to show up in a clean shirt at work the next day.

Or, in my case, a clean shirt and an ever-chipper attitude.


Puberty blues

Today I served a male who I guessed was one of those people who look like they’re still going through puberty but who are actually pushing 20. He bought an assortment of aluminum-packaged instant pastas, soft drinks, a bottle of milk, a frozen pizza, and some instant noodles.

I asked him if he was going to be home alone for a while. With a grudging smile he admitted that he was.

Eats, shoots, and leaves

After seeing the movie Capote, I had great fun repeating to Boyfriend Philip Seymour Hoffman’s delivery of the line, ‘I have a ninety-four percent memory recall.’* Since that time, we have conjured the phrase whenever the occasion has called for it. And even in the absence of a relevant situation, we sometimes say it because Hoffman as Capote is so darn fun to mimick.

Truman Capote came to mind today when I served a customer who shared a peculiar likeness to him. Or Hoffman as Capote, anyway. The customer was dumpy, thinning on top, and had the complexion of a boiled lobster. After the usual greetings, and the beginnings of some small talk, the customer’s inclination towards the pedantic began to reveal itself.

‘I’m going to see Happy Feet this afternoon,’ he announced.

‘Ah. I’ve heard great things about the film,’ I replied, scanning his purchase of four Savlon creams.

He stood, watching me conduct the transaction. ‘Yes, it is said to be rather good.’

‘It’s received many positive reviews from critics.’


I took in his aging looks. ‘Are you seeing the movie with anyone?’ I asked.

He baulked. ‘No, I said that I was seeing the film, suggesting that I would not have company.’

For a moment I was rendered dumb.

He continued, ‘I is a singular term, therefore my statement proclaimed me to be attending the screening alone.’

Dazedly, I thought of a response to his assertion. I had assumed that the man might be seeing the film with others, for instance his grandchildren. I thought it a little odd that this elderly gentleman would be seeing a children’s animated film by himself. When I told Boyfriend about the Capote customer later in the afternoon, he suggested that maybe he liked being surrounded by children, a la Michael Jackson. I dismissed the suggestion.

Somehow, I managed to reply, ‘Yes, but can’t the word “I” be used for example, as, “I am going to the movies with such and such?”‘

He pondered this for a moment. ‘Yes, I guess you’re right. But in this instance and generally, I refers to the singular self. And I am going to the movie by myself.’

The conversation soon shifted to other matters. I rang up his purchases and told him that the total came to $21.60. As he collected coins and notes from his wallet, he spoke of how his car was parked in the carpark over “there” – he pointed in a north-easterly direction – and how he still needed to go to Kmart which was in the opposite direction. He had gone to Kmart earlier, but they had sold out of all their Savlon creams and only had similar products in a liquid form (‘Such as dettol, etc.’) which is why he came to my supermarket.

I had no idea why he was telling me these things but I nodded in comprehension nevertheless and inserted appropriate comments at appropriate places.

The last words I spoke to him were, ‘Well, the Savlon creams were probably cheaper here [over Kmart] anyway!’

Already a metre from my checkout, he waved a pink hand in farewell and continued to shuffle away.

*Well, the actual line is ‘ninety-four percent recall of all conversation’, but we bastardized it a bit for brevity.

Just add water

On Saturday night, I came home to find a wrapped present on my desk in my bedroom.

The contents of the package were a set of watercolour pencils, a pad of perforated paper, and a single paintbrush.

On Sunday afternoon, I created this:




You may not have been bowled over by the resemblance, but it was supposed to be an imitation of van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone.

‘Tis the season

Christmas. The one time of the year when people can splurge and receive and not feel guilty about it. Well, except for birthdays, but they don’t count because they’re only personal indulgences in consumerism rather than a mass one.

A customer I served today bought $30 worth of wrapping paper and assorted present-decorating accessories (see post Bizzare shopping purchases). She explained to me that she was going all out with the gift wrapping because her daughter (aged 8 ) had just come across the truth that Santa doesn’t exist. In re-wrapping all the presents elaborately, she hoped to convince her daughter that Santa had delivered new presents on Christmas Day.

Or something like that. It made sense when she said it.

I commited a minor screw-up during this particular customer’s transaction. I had just filled to the brim a plastic bag with various items and poured on top of it all her (many) decorative bows and ribbons when she exclaimed that I was supposed to be using her eco-friendly bags.

Rule #2 of working the checkout was broken. Never let conversation distract you from your task.

Rule #1 is to always smile, be friendly, and pretend that everything’s just peachy. During training and induction we were told never to complain to the customer about any ailments we might be suffering at that point in time – back ache, foot ache, other customers. Even if we are having a lousy day, even if we have just dropped a 1kg can of tinned fruit on our foot and we think we may have broken some toes, we nevertheless have to smile, smile smile. But I digress.

While I don’t celebrate Christmas and have been telling customers as such when they’ve asked what I plan to do for it, I have to admit that the season does have its purposes. For instance, I have no idea what I’m supposed to use as a conversation-starter once Christmas is over. In the immediate week following Christmas, I suppose I could drop the line, ‘And how was your Christmas?’ But I suspect that the question wouldn’t be well-received in March.

I have mentally plotted other major celebrations and events that occur throughout the year in Australia. The next one coming up is Australia Day. Beyond that, the only one I can think of is Easter. Keen observers will notice that there is a glaring gap between Australia Day and Christmas (give or take one week post-Australia Day over which the question ‘And how was your Australia Day?’ can be asked and one week pre-Easter across which the question ‘So what are your plans for Easter?’ can be posed) during which nothing of consequence is marked out on the calendar. This leaves me with little to choose from to use as a conversation starter.

I can only hope that some major unexpected public event occurs in that officially uneventful period. Otherwise, I may be forced to discuss the weather.
‘Pretend you’re happy when you’re blue/It isn’t very hard to do’
– Nat King Cole, Pretend

Hodge Podge II


Another elderly gentleman complimented me on my smile.

Aside from that, most customers were grumpy and my day was a bore. I feel sorry for those sales persons who have the unlucky job of trying to convince people to subscribe with Foxtel or enter a draw to win a car (I saw a man tonight who seemed on the brink of screaming, ‘But it’s FREE entry!’).

Popular purchases today included spring onions/shallots, Royal Blue potatoes (at least I keyed them in as that), soft drinks, large hams/turkeys, and cellophane.

Hodge podge


– Paid a visit to a local (within 8km) shopping centre.
– Ate badly made sushi. It fell apart way too easily and no amount of soy sauce could make it palatable. Also, it was supposed to be tuna sushi, but rice and lettuce seemed to be the dominant ingredients (80%).
– Read bits of The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour in Big W.
– Bought groceries from the supermarket chain I am employed by (I don’t make a habit of it).
– Filed away for future reference the visual difference between a gold sweet potato and a red sweet potato. (Have given up on trying to distinguish yellow nectarines from white ones. Have elected to simply guess when required to do so.)
– Back at home and putting things away, found myself muttering mentally, ‘Why on earth did she (checkout operator) partner my instant noodles with the vegetables, separate those instant noodles from a different packet, and put the apples in a separate bag from the rest of the fruit and vegetables?’
As I was leaving the shopping complex and heading towards the exit/entrance, I caught a whiff of something. I inhaled more deeply. It was one of my favourite scents. Weirdly, this scent is that of particular department stores’ air-conditioning. There’s a Dymocks in the CBD which has that peculiar smell as well. Subways in Hong Kong smell that way too.

I also like the scent of apples.