Category Archives: Supermarkets

Pleading the fifth

A large black man walks into the supermarket and shortly after starts shouting at someone. I ignore the shouts, but a couple of customers waiting in line watch him without any attempt to be discreet.

This goes on for a while, a shout here, a pause there, drawing silent onlookers, and then the man storms past my checkout with a blonde woman in tow. The blonde woman looks a little coked out and she is holding two plastic bags which are half-full and an enviro bag from our rival supermarket. As she passes between two security gates, the red lights flash and beeps ring out across the store.

The pair peer over their shoulder at the commotion but don’t stop to have their bags checked. In fact, they snicker as they continue walking away.

Gates still beeping, my eyes meet those of the operator in front of me. We look at each other with half smiles on our faces and shrug, deciding to take no action over the incident that has just transpired. The couple are too far away and besides, we have customers to serve.

Just then, on the rolling soundtrack, a recorded message plays. ‘Customers, in accordance with the conditions for entering the store, please allow your bags to be inspected. We thank you for your cooperation.’

I have seldom been witness to such great moments of irony.

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Almost Famous

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve served someone who shared their name with a famous country singer. Well, I haven’t served anyone who was a celebrity in their own right, though from the grainy shots I’ve seen in tabloid magazines of people like Heidi Klum and Jennifer Love Hewitt at supermarkets, in time I may just have my brush with fame.

But for now, I’ll have to settle for two degrees of separation and former minor rock stars.

Today, I served a burly man who said that he was from New Zealand. Upon answering yes to his question of whether I knew of the film Whale Rider, he told me that he was ‘From there’. I could only assume that he meant he was from the place where the film was set and that he wasn’t delusional and under the illusion that his life is a film, a la Adaptation or Stranger than Fiction.

Jokingly, I asked whether he knew Keisha Castle-Hughes, the star of Whale Rider. Without changing expression, he replied carefully, ‘Yeah, I know her.’

‘Really? That’s interesting,’ I said, grinning slyly.

‘Well, I last saw her when she was really little.’ He waves a hand at around knee level to show how small she was. ‘I’m friends with her father.’
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A few weeks back, I had a very interesting conversation with a man I served at the beginning of my morning shift. I’m constantly surprised by how greater things can grow from mere small talk, and this was one of those occasions where talking about the weather can sometimes lead the person you’re conversing with to telling you about their time in a rock band.

Well, I did say sometimes.

It all began when I said how fortunate it was that it would cool down by Sunday because I was attending a music festival that weekend. This prompted the man to ask whether I played any musical instruments, to which I replied that I dabble with the piano and the bass guitar but I’m not particularly stellar at either. I added that I sing better than I play.

Then I returned the question. And it opened up a Pandora’s Box. The man, as it turned out, was in a band for seven years. He was, apparently, the lead singer and played rhythm guitar. (Boyfriend later argued that it is very rare for rhythm guitarists to also be the lead singer and insisted that he was pulling my leg.)

Further questions revealed that his band composed a few original tunes but mostly played covers (‘We covered around two hundred songs’). They played at various functions and clubs, and even opened up their own club, entertaining there most nights of the week. Thinking of all the nightclubs I had seen in the city open up and disappear or re-vamp themselves six months later with a new name and a lick of paint, I said that nightclubs don’t often have a very long life span. In response, he said that contrary to popular trends, his club lasted many years.

Everything he said was in past tense, with a certain hint of nostalgia, so I asked why his band disbanded. Ruefully, he told a dramatic story about how one day on stage he had a mental blank. He couldn’t remember what song they were meant to be playing and how to play the song on his guitar. He had to ask the drummer to remind him. It was then, he intoned, that he realized that he didn’t want to be in the band anymore. They were playing up to six nights a week and he was burned out. Things had become almost robotic for him, he was operating on auto-pilot. Very simply, he’d lost his passion for making music.

‘…And I haven’t touched a guitar since,’ he finished.

Yes, it was a very grand tale.

I’m undecided about whether it was a true story though. I see no reason why he would have made anything up, and why he would have gone to the trouble of weaving lies for a humble checkout operator. But, I guess I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Not simply because I like to think the best of people, but because it was quite a nifty ol’ story.

Oh, that old time of rock and roll.

C for Incompetence

The mature thing to do would be to accept what had happened and to try to forget about it. However, because I’m too pissed off over the situation, I’m going to name names.

This morning I went to Coles to return a bottle of Coles mayonaise which I had purchased in January of this year. My father had warned me from buying Coles branded products because a block of Coles cheese that I’d bought several weeks back tasted disgusting so I only ate a sliver of it. I brushed him aside though, saying that cheese can be a very unreliable product. Ignoring his concerns, I promptly picked up a can of homebrand tuna and a bottle of Coles mayonaise.

The two products were paired together to create a mashed tuna and mayonaise combination which tasted rather good on buttered bread. I insisted to Boyfriend that he try some for himself, and after saying that he’d ask his mother to prepare him a tuna and mayonaise sandwich for lunch sometime, he ended up having the batch that I’d prepared, the day after Valentine’s Day.

The morning after Valentine’s, we sat at my dining table quietly chewing on our tuna and mayonaise on bread breakfasts. During our meal, Boyfriend told me to check the bottle of mayonaise sitting on the table for any discrepancies.

Glancing over the bottle, I shrugged, not finding anything out of the ordinary. But then, on closer inspection, I discovered that the expiration date on the Coles bottle read ‘Best Before 27/9/06’.

Mortified that I’d made Boyfriend eat out of date mayonaise, I apologized profusely. He just laughed it off and said that he was okay. In a more serious voice, however, he said that I should return the mayonaise to Coles, for it was almost certain that they would give me a refund. ‘They’ll be horrified that they sold an item that expired so long ago,’ he said. ‘I’m sure they’d rather refund a bottle of mayonaise than risk angering a customer.’

Come this morning, however, it appeared that I would not be getting my money back or getting a replacement for consuming their five months out of date product. The woman at the service desk peered at the mayonaise, told me that the bottle was almost empty (it was half empty – after all, I had been under the assumption that it was still in code), and said that because I didn’t have a receipt for the item, they would not refund me for it.

I mean, fair enough if Coles and other supermarkets have a particular refund policy which necessitates having a proof of purchase. But in some cases clear logic requires a different set of actions. Why on earth would I keep a bottle of mayonaise in my fridge for five months only to get a refund for it now? And, if the bottle is half-empty, that only further proves the danger that was posed to me in consuming a product that was so thoroughly expired.

Having said that she wouldn’t refund my purchase, she added that Coles have a very good system of stock rotation, something which I almost snorted at. Silently, I thought, ‘I have it on good authority that you most certainly do not rotate stock properly.’

The Coles mayonaise being one fine example of poor stock rotation, I was also treated to many tales by Insider of employees not bothering to rotate stock. If ever stock rotation was performed, it was in the perishables department. But because grocery items have a longer expiration period, nobody stocking grocery products conducts stock rotation.

I did not say any of this out loud, however. It’s tragic: you watch countless shows about empowered women who have smart mouths and quick wits, yet in the moments when you are required to defend yourself, all your viewings abandon you. All that you want to say in retort simply evaporates.

After the person at the service desk said flatly that she was sorry but nothing could be done, I replied, ‘Ok then’, and walked off. Fuming, but also on the brink of tears at having been dealt such an unfair hand, I threw the Coles mayonaise in a bin that I passed. The dumping was my sole visible gesture of defiance.

It was then that I vowed to boycott all Coles branded products and, also, never to shop at Coles again. If I can help it, at least. The next that I return, it will be to scour their shelves for expired products to dump at their service desk to demonstrate that their stock rotation performance is appalling and that their supermarket is a disgrace.

Stand by for a report on Coles’ persistent ineptitude.

Freak like me

On Friday, I served My Chemical Romance.

Okay, it wasn’t the My Chemical Romance, but it may as well have been.

The motley crew were a trio of kids, representing almost the full spectrum of troubled youth. They looked dysfunctional, but were defiant, clearly asserting that they had as much right to be shopping as anyone else did.

The one who stood out the most was a girl with dyed black hair and, on quick count, with eight piercings in her head, mostly confined to her face. A second girl was a faded blonde whose arms were covered with scars and large white bandages. Accompanying the two was a boy in an oversized hooded jumper. While his female companions had emo/pseudo-goth and self-destruction covered, he contributed by being young and disoriented.

Quite young, actually. The two girls seemed four years his senior, and they were only eighteen at most. And quite disoriented – he followed the entire proceedings with a dazed expression on his face, moving only to take instructions from his friends.

The shopping transaction in all other respects was like any other. People needed to be fed and so they were buying food. In surveying their purchases – two bottles of salad dressing, one lettuce (the only vegetable), chips, biscuits, frozen goods – I deduced that they were new to the whole grocery shopping thing. That or they were stocking up for a few days on their own without parental supervision.

‘Do you all live together?’ I commented casually.

The raven-haired girl responded for all of them. ‘Yeah, this is the first time we’ve gone shopping for groceries.’

‘Oh, okay.’

‘We’ve bought so damn much this time – luckily we won’t have to spend very much the next time we come out.’

She broke off to gently chastise the other two for picking out so many things. ‘Jesus, you guys, this is going to cost me something like two hundred dollars.’

The young boy looked bewildered and apologetic. The other girl replied defensively, ‘Nah, it’s not going to come up to that much. One-thirty max.’

‘I say one-twenty,’ the boy finally piped up.

‘Well, okay, but this is going to send me broke, y’know,’ said the black-haired girl.

There was a quiet moment in which I processed their items without saying a word. Beep, beep. Bag. The three talked amongst themselves for a moment, with the black-haired girl moving back and forth between the groceries on the conveyor belt and her two friends at the completed end of the checkout. Without warning, she turned to me.

‘Do you have kids?’ she asked, completely out of the blue.

A little thrown back, I replied, ‘Uh… no, I’m a little young for that.’ I said the words hastily and wondered whether I’d chosen my reply wisely. I couldn’t be sure whether the young boy wasn’t hers. They did seem too similar in age, but you never know. And I’m not just saying this because she seemed “troubled”, as any prim adult might call her.

‘Well don’t ever have any.’ She jostled the boy. ‘This guy is costing me a fortune.’

‘He’s not yours,’ I blurted.

‘Nah, he isn’t. But sometimes he seems like it.’ She ruffled his hair affectionately and he gave a small smile.
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As we approached the last twenty-odd items, the trio put forward a new round of guesses as to what the purchases would come to.

‘One-eighty,’ the black-haired girl said firmly.

‘No, it’s going to be no more than one-sixty,’ said the blonde.

‘One-seventy!’ said the boy.
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The final total came to just over one-sixty. Pulling out a card, the black-haired girl reluctantly punched her pin number into the eftpos machine and pressed enter. She sighed. ‘At least it won’t cost so much next time.’

I was just glad that she wasn’t using a credit card. Considering their monetary concerns, using credit would utterly ruin them, if not managed correctly.

When we parted, the three waved congenially to me and thanked me for their help. Despite appearances, the three of them were actually much more normal – and friendly – than many of my other customers. It’s a shame that others won’t judge them to be that way.

She moves in Freudian ways

The other day I was working back to back with a girl who had a dark complexion. Okay, okay, to cut the PC bullcrap – she was black.

During a quiet period, a sprightly elderly woman approached her checkout and began exchanging friendly banter with her. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the woman was a regular customer and that the girl behind me was a favourite operator of hers.

I listened on as they joked around and at one point they spoke about something which prompted the elderly woman to exclaim, ‘They’ll give you a black eye!’

There was a second’s pause before the woman corrected herself and said hastily, ‘I mean a bloody nose.’

As I watched with a grin at her faux pas, the woman eyed with some concern the black girl for her reaction. The black girl just smiled, also amused by the slip-up.

Bad seed

For someone who has an X cent off/dollar incentive to shop at her own supermarket and related stores, I’m quite the unusually unloyal employee.

At the shopping centre that I frequent I have the option of attending either the supermarket I work at or its rival and I always steer my father towards the rival. I haven’t searched my subconscious very hard for reasons, but I think it’s because business is booming for my supermarket chain employer and I’m inclined to support the underdog.

I can be a dreadfully indecisive shopper. Tonight, as other nights, while late night shopping, I paused in front of shelves for up to ten minutes in decisions worth only a few dollars. I was in the ice cream aisle for so long that another customer who came along suggested an ice cream to me (I didn’t take her up on the suggestion).

When it comes to produce, I generally buy all my fruits and vegetables from the small produce shop that’s inside the shopping centre complex. I rarely ever buy them from the larger supermarket chains. I’m not sure if this will be the case with even the smaller produce stores, but I was told by Insider tonight that a shipment of apples is due to arrive which will be a year old. Apparently, there’s a backlog of apples and the suppliers want to push the older ones onto the market first. The potatoes we buy, he said, are also always a year old.

Upon hearing the news about the apples I frowned and said that I was going to ask my store’s produce manager whether we will be selling year-old apples or whether the ones we are selling currently are already that old. If certain supermarkets have a claim to quality and freshness, I firmly believe that they should disclose any instances in which this is not the case. They have a moral obligation to the consumer, I think.

The line between what is fresh and what isn’t has become blurred. In this modern age of megalith supermarkets and the push for technology that preserves food products for ever longer periods, ‘fresh’ is beginning to mean fresh out of the freezer. Even the fish at ‘fresh’ fish markets have been sitting in chests full of ice for many weeks before sale.

I would go so far as to say that the definition of ‘fresh’ has been stretched so far that what we now consider fresh is that which is not rotten.

But to return to apples, personally, I’ve been put off them. I can’t remember the last time that I had an apple that was actually juicy and sweet. I’m not sure if the pink lady and sundowner apples my father has been buying are a year old, but they taste like they fell off the tree a decade ago.

Where the wild things are

Being placed on an express checkout when you: A) Haven’t been at work for four days and B) Have never worked express before, is as pleasant as stubbing your little toe on a table leg and as disorienting as riding one of those spinning, circular things at the park.

On express you get the worst of two worlds. Firstly, there’s added pressure on you to process items quickly. Secondly, there is little time to talk with customers. And talking is probably the best aspect about my job. (I refrain from saying ‘the only good aspect’). But despite these factors, I nevertheless managed to hold a couple of reasonably interesting conversations.

One man who I served bought around 25 tins of cat food. As per usual, when someone buys a medium to large quantity of pet food, I ask how many cats or dogs they have. Yesterday, there was one couple, whose purchases were 90% cat food (total coming to around $30) told me that they owned two cats and fourteen kittens. Anyway, the man with the 25 tins of cat food said that he only had one cat. I commented that pets seem to have a huge variety in food these days, eyeing a can of seafood flavoured meat as I said this, and the customer agreed. He added that his cat was very fussy.

As I processed the transaction, I thought about the cat that I had hit with my car the other day and hoped that it wasn’t his. I was driving down my street, some way from my house, when this black and white cat jumped in front of me. It had been standing on a grassy patch just before the curb next to a man in a green shirt and as I approached it looked at me with some trepidation but decided to dash across the road nevertheless.

It wasn’t fast enough, however. As I passed the man (who fortunately hadn’t chosen to cross in front of me with the cat), I knocked the cat with my front bumper. I hadn’t swerved to one side because I thought that there would be a worse result – I might run it down flat with a tyre. And I hadn’t braked suddenly because there was no time to.

It all happened very quickly. I saw the cat spring up, then heard a thump. I slowed down and stopped a few paces ahead, looking in my rearview mirror to see if the cat was alright. There was a black lump in the middle of the road which was still for a moment, but then it leapt up and ran underneath a parked car on the opposite side of the road. The man who had been standing next to it followed it calmly to the car, opened the passenger side front door, got in, and closed the door – without checking the cat.

Because of the man’s indifference and because the cat had gotten up, I thought that there was little point in me reversing back to the scene of the crime to check on things. So I put the car in motion again and drove off.

With the thought lingering in my head that the person standing before me could have been the man I’d seen on my street, I scanned, bagged, and processed the transaction. The customer didn’t seem perturbed, though, so I decided that he wasn’t the same man.

But then again, the man from my street hadn’t seemed perturbed either.