Monthly Archives: March 2007

Thicker than water

My tastes are such that I perk up with interest at the mention of a documentary with the description “Excellent cadavers” (10pm on SBS tonight). I skimmed through Marquis de Sade for the shocking bits, devoured every page of Poppy Z. Brite’s ‘Exquisite Corpse’, and was deeply disappointed at having missed the Amazing Body* exhibition when it came to town. Yet today at the checkout, when faced with a tiny bit of blood, I felt my pulse slow and discomfort settle in.

It all started when an elderly woman greeted me with the words, ‘I think there’s a sharp bit on this trolley that I’ve knicked my finger on…’

I eyed her trolley as she searched for that which maimed her and watched as she roughly swabbed at her right thumb with a handkerchief. ‘Oh, that’s no good,’ I said sympathetically, but absently. Cuts on hands happen all the time. By the end of a working week, I often have a few of my own to show for.

One by one she dropped her items down on the counter. Dutifully, I scanned and typed in the appropriate commands. Three items in, she plonked down a plastic bag containing bananas. I paused and almost reeled in disgust. Smeared here and there on the bag, all over the bag, were small red markings.

The bananas may have been sheathed in plastic so that she didn’t have to touch them, but what was I going to use to not touch the bloodied bag? I hesitated for a moment, but with her eyes on me again I lifted the bag up, touching as little of the plastic as possible, and placed it on the scale.

As I keyed “bananas” into the system, I mentally shuddered at the thought of making contact with the woman’s bodily fluids. I considered jokingly asking whether she had any blood-borne diseases but thought better of it.

Feeling positively green, I picked up the bananas again and put them down in front of her. She swiftly transferred them from the counter back into her trolley. Wiping her finger again (the cut kept oozing blood – she must have a high Omega 3 intake), she passed me her EFTPOS card.
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When she left, I gave her a shaky smile and said, ‘I hope your thumb stops bleeding soon!’

She dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand and replied, ‘Oh, it’s just a little cut.’

I nodded, but thought secretly that I should lobby the service desk to supply the checkouts with surgeon’s gloves.
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*The Amazing Body exhibition featured the preserved corpses of Chinese prisoners in various forms – whole, dissected, in slivers

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Says so on the t-shirt

Someone I know once said of her annoyance over people who wear Che Guevara shirts without knowing who the man was. Upon reading her statement, I asked myself whether -I- really knew who Che Guevara was (despite the fact that I don’t own a shirt with a print of his face on it) and realising that I didn’t, hopped over to Wikipedia quick smart.

It seems that there are lots of people out there who wear things that they don’t know the meaning of or what they represent. Tattoos are a common one. I asked one customer what their tattoo symbolised – they had a chinese character inked on their bicep. They shrugged in response and said they didn’t know, which made me think of that joke about a man getting a tattoo which meant “I f–ked my mother” in some other language.

The Che Guevara remark came to mind last week when I served someone who could have easily been mistaken for a member of the West Coast Eagles (plus or minus the drugs). He was about six foot, well-built, and had one of those faces the average male would give an eye tooth for – or want to put a dent in. Given all this, I paid him little heed. And I’m not just saying this for Boyfriend’s benefit. Bronzed football-types just don’t do it for me.

Aside from the initial greeting, I didn’t say a word to Mr. Alpha Male. The supermarket is usually full of noise, the sound of other checkout scanners beeping, people walking, other movement and rustling, banging. In spite of all this, the immediate space around me somehow feels deathly quiet when I’m not talking to anyone.

While I waited for the credit slip to print out, I glanced at Alpha Male and my gaze came level with the writing on his shirt. On his shirt was one of those generic designs like that on a basketball or football jersey: a double-digit number (It’s never just an “8”, it’s always “08”) with a word of some sort above it. Alpha Male’s shirt read “Osaka”.

When Alpha Male had finished scrawling his signature on the slip and I went through the motions of checking the signature and printing out the receipt, I couldn’t resist testing whether “Osaka” meant anything to Alpha Male. So I asked him about it.

A shrug and a crooked grin. ‘I’m not sure what it means.’

‘I think it’s a city in Japan,’ I replied carefully. I suppressed the urge to make a comment about people who wear shirts bearing words and images they know nothing about.

Another easy grin. ‘Oh, okay.’
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You’ll never catch me wearing a top or other item of clothing emblazoned with a word that I don’t know the meaning or significance of, no siree.

But that may have something to do with how I don’t wear clothes with words on them.

Shopping for blood

A woman is holding up the queue taking a long time to rummage through her hand bag. Behind her, a small elderly lady looking a little worse for wear sighs. The woman looks back and apologises for causing the delay. The elderly lady says it’s alright, but follows up on her words by leaning her elbow on the conveyor belt and resting her head in her open palm. She’s that short.

When the woman finally pays and leaves, I joke to the elderly lady, ‘I was afraid you were going to fall asleep on me there.’

The little lady sighs again and says in a little, weary voice, ‘Shopping just makes me so tired.’

I give a sympathetic look. ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that… would you like a bag for this meat?’

A little bit of Britain

What a difference a week makes. Previously, I had written that my brushes with fame at the checkout have largely been confined to ageing ex-rockers and fame in the second degree. This week, I am pleased to announce, I served a former Australian Idol finalist and watched on as a guy from the BBC show Little Britain filmed a segment at my supermarket.

Firstly, the Idol contestant. When I first noticed her in my queue I had a vague suspicion that she was from Australian Idol. She didn’t quite match her TV simulacra, however. No, she wasn’t shorter in real life; she was prettier and had bigger breasts.

As I served the person before her and finally the Idol-lookalike herself, I drew up a list of signs hinting at her identity.

Yes, she was the girl from Aus Idol:
– She was married (wedding band on ring finger)
– The physical resemblance (minus the boobs)
– Her voice

No, she wasn’t:
– Lack of children’s products. When she was on the show, I remembered, she had a small child and was constantly talking about him/her on air.
– The boobs
– The fact that she was in Perth. I could have sworn that she lived over East or in Melbourne or somewhere.

When I processed her items, I debated with myself whether I should come right out and ask her if she was on Idol. It was only towards the end that I scraped up the courage to speak up.

‘You know,’ I said casually, ‘You look a bit like a girl who was on Australian Idol a year ago.’

‘Heh,’ she replied, the faintest of smiles crossing her face.

The mystery was wrapped up when she paid. Luckily, she paid using credit, or else I might have never had her identity confirmed. When I compared the credit slip she signed with her credit card, I exclaimed, ‘Emelia. So it is you.’

Another wary smile. ‘Yeah.’

I desisted from any other gushing about her celebrity and didn’t ask for her autograph. When she was gone, however, I couldn’t help but smile smugly. I had written about when I would meet someone famous at the checkout. Now, and sooner than I’d thought, I had. It was yet another event to write about, and it came in a none too untimely fashion.

After meeting a celebrity, one might be tempted to brag about one’s fortuity. Not me, however. I resisted the temptation.

Well, I resisted for three customers following the encounter, at least.

The fourth customer was a young, friendly woman. She seemed open to conversation, so I asked her, ‘Have you watched the show Australian Idol before?’

My question came out of the blue, and she responded with surprise. ‘Sorry? Oh, I haven’t been here for very long and I’m not sure what that is.’

It figures that the only person I ask would be from another country, I thought. ‘Where are you from?’

‘Croatia.’

‘Don’t you have a Croatian equivalent of Australian Idol? Like, Croatian Idol or something… Australian Idol is a singing contest.’

She brightened. ‘Oh, yeah, we have something similar to it.’

‘Well, I just met someone who was on our version of Idol a year or so back.’

‘Ah.’

Following the incident with the friendly Croatian, I didn’t tell anyone else about my encounter with the former Idol contestant. Well, maybe I told one other customer. And Boyfriend. And Insider. But that was it.

So, Little Britain Down Under, at my supermarket. It all started when a group of people passed through the checkouts and entered the store. One of the people had a professional camera mounted on his right shoulder. Another was holding a fluffy uni-directional microphone on a pole. Another was black with chiselled features and he wasn’t holding anything. Flanked by them was a man of average height, lumpy stature, and skin as white as vanilla marshmallows. He was wearing a red shirt and his high forehead was obscured by a baseball cap. A fifth man followed them, who turned out to be the person in charge of the whole group.

From the moment they walked in they drew curious looks and followers. When the camera started rolling, the onlookers kept at a respectful distance and watched on as the guy from Little Britain (the stout, alabaster one) strolled down aisles and made commentary on items, adding some to his shopping basket.

At my checkout, my view was constantly obscured by a thick pole at the front of the next checkout along. Also, the bodies and heads of the crowd surrounding the film crew also blocked my view. I chatted with customers about the unexpected distraction and willed someone to tell me to close up so I could join the onlookers and watch the filming myself.

Most of the people I served seemed disinterested in the filming. One man, however, said that he’d watched the show a couple of times and noticed the crew in action.

‘I can’t really see anything from here,’ I said. ‘Is he [guy from Little Britain] as ugly in real life as he is on television?’

‘Oh, he’s even uglier, I think,’ he responded.

When I finished my shift I joined the masses of people watching Little Britain being filmed. At one point, I was squished into a shelf of biscuits as the crew passed through the aisle. I had been standing nearby and hadn’t realized that they were moving along in my direction.

As far as broadcast entertainment goes, Little Britain in action wasn’t particularly exciting. It was kind of like watching the Queen on the can, a famous person doing something completely ordinary. For all the people gathered there, you’d think that the Little Britain guy was reciting the Gettysburg address. Instead, he was pointing out biscuits and saying things like, ‘Oh, these are Pods. They’re like cereal. These are Snickers ones, with caramel and things. You can’t get these in Britain.’ (Pods go into the basket).

By the conclusion of the filming, the guy had collated two baskets’ worth of confectionary, biscuits, and other snacks. He proceeded to the checkout where an amused checkout girl eyed the guy as he upturned the two baskets and dumped his wares on her counter, items spilling freely onto the floor. I was thinking that if I were on camera (the checkout scene was being filmed), I would treat the incident with less derision, and offer the actor a big customer service smile as though everything was perfectly normal.

The confectionary, biscuits, and snacks collected by the Little Britain crew came to over $150. And yes, they did pay for it and leave holding three plastic bags stuffed with the goods.

As for the reason behind their presence at the supermarket, as it turned out it was something organised by head management. Block mount posters of Little Britain were on hand for the cast member to sign, ‘To be sold on eBay for charity,’ the store manager stated.

The horde of people who had consistently followed the film crew throughout their half-hour long misadventure mostly consisted of supermarket employees, a couple of whom were holding Little Britain DVDs to be autographed. I considered buying a Little Britain DVD for the actor to sign, which I would also sell on eBay, but decided that that would be sinking to new levels of immoral behaviour. While the other items to be signed were either done out of love for the show or to benefit charity, my intentions were strictly self-serving. So I decided to take no action.

A form of indisputable proof is the photo, and many photographs of the event were taken. A group of supermarket employees gathered around the Little Britain actor for a photo, and another female from the cash office who had already taken almost a dozen photos of the actor stood next to him for a private photo session of her own. I’m also visible in one or two of the snaps, but not as an intended subject. I’ve never seen Little Britain, so I’m not a fan. Plus I’m not all that tight with the other employees so I didn’t see a reason for me to pose with all the others.

Like most people I am intrigued by fame. Recent brushes with celebrities seem to indicate, however, that I’m more of a quiet spectator then a squealing fangirl. Or, in the case of a collective of fans, perhaps the quiet spectator who gets trampled by a starstruck mob. Still, I do wish I’d had my camera handy when Little Britain came to town.

Scoping the electorate

March 1st marked the autumn of the opposition leader Kevin Rudd’s honeymoon. On March 2nd I canvassed opinions on the issue of his meetings with Brian Burke from my checkout.

Upon telling him about this, my father asked suspiciously how I managed to grill people on their political leanings. I should have probably said that I set up a ballot box at one end of the checkout, but instead I told him what I actually did.

I brought up the subject of politics casually whenever I handled the newspaper a customer happened to be purchasing. I would say, as if for the first time that day, ‘I think the headline story today is Kevin Rudd’s fall from grace.’

And from there, utterances about politics followed.

In the past, when I’ve talked with customers about politics, they often gave very vague responses about the political situation. They make short generalized statements about politicians and re-hash soundbites from the nightly news. I re-hash what I’ve heard as well, but given my AM radio listening compulsion, I tend to have a bit more material to draw upon. So it was a surprise when I interviewed one woman yesterday who seemed to be very clued in to the world of politics.

Not only did she hold firm opinions about who she preferred (Rudd, and wasn’t fazed by the recent information that had come to light about his involvement with Brian Burke), but further on in the conversation she also added that she had friends who are state government insiders who say that WA’s premier, Alan Carpenter, is ‘A very honest chap.’

Then, in a slightly less desirable turn of events, she turned to the customer behind her and began discussing politics with her, ignoring me completely.

It really sucks when that happens.

The customer behind her was slightly less knowledgeable about politics but, like me, was impressed that she knew people who were government insiders. Now, this may be anything from Alan Carpenter’s secretary to the person who vaccuums the state parliament house, but it was nevertheless exciting. This customer also was nonplussed about the Burke news that had come to light and said that we needed ‘A new face’ in the leadership role. However, she also confided that she supported Natasha Stott Despoja, which prompted a few comments from me about her.

The person behind Ms. ‘We need a new face’ looked positively bored by our conversation, so I put her down as being in the “Undecided” camp.

A third person I spoke to was fervently a Howard fan. To them, I said, ‘The leadership doesn’t usually change hands unless the PM or President really screws things up.’ And they agreed.

A fourth person seemed disinterested. Not so much disinterested in the topic, just uninterested in talking about it with me. But he did mutter that he supported Howard.

Overall, I think the results from my poll fairly accurately reflect the results from polls conducted by the media on a much larger scale. An almost 50/50 split between Rudd and Howard, with one undecided.

Perhaps closer to the federal election I will place a ballot box beside my checkout.
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P.S. On other occasions I’ve discussed with customers their attitudes towards extended trading hours and daylight savings. The mood over daylight savings was largely negative, with most angry that the three-year trial in WA of daylight savings had been forced upon us, against our want – as indicated by the previous referrendum held over the issue. And on the topic of extended trading hours, those working in retail didn’t want hours to be changed while mere shoppers/nine-to-five, Monday to Friday workers wanted hours extended. No huge surprises there.