Dilemma at The Check Out Counter

I rarely ask for your feedback and dear readers, you rarely offer it, but this post will be an exception.  I want…nay…I need your thoughts on an  experience I had this morning at the hustling, bustling grocery store where I shop weekly.   So please read this post and comment,  if you would be so kind.

Now, permit me to preface this tome with two important things:   First, at the risk of bragging, I try very hard to be a generous person.    So much so, I’ve been called a sucker in the past.   But that’s because  I’ve lived on the dirty, unpaved shoulder of the road too well travelled, at the intersection of Want and Need.  I know what being destitute feels like.    It’s something I don’t want to repeat or see others endure.      Secondly, no one is exactly catching me at my best these days.  I’m working through a number of things and operating without filters seems to be part of the problem.

Now, to the story at hand.

I was standing line at the check out counter, two weeks worth of groceries were crammed on the conveyor belt before me.   Two women were ahead of me; their transactions went without a hitch.    I approached the cashier and smiled–the usual routine.   But she didn’t say hello, there was no greeting of any kind.    Instead, she asked me in slightly broken English, ‘I’m so hungry, will you buy me a Twix candy bar?”

I automatically said  yes because we’ll, that’s what I do.   I looked at the cash register and the first item on the digital receipt was a Twix bar for $1.75.      A meager buck-75.     But it wasn’t  followed by a thank you.    Not a hint of gratitude, not  even an over eager explanation of why she was hungry or why she needed  me to buy her a candy bar at her place of employment.

Now, I’m well aware this behavior is isn’t uncommon at all in the world receiving end of philanthropy.     Sometimes, embarrassment prevents gratitude.  I understand this and usually, it doesn’t bother me, but today it did.   So,  I asked Mata Hungry who was in between checking out a few Lean Cuisines and some cat food, if she neglected to bring her lunch with her to work.

Silence.

I asked if she didn’t have any money with her.  She was too engrossed in scanning my eight pack of toilet paper to respond.    I wasn’t giving up.  I asked her if she was given  a discount for groceries since she’s an employee.  She said yes and I asked her why then couldn’t she have afforded me the discount since I was willing to pay for her candy bar.

“Too much bother”, she said as she stuffed the Twix in the pocket of her smock.

Really?????

I thought for a second and then asked her, if I came in to the store and was hungry, would she buy me a Twix, to which she responded, “Look Lady, I’ll put it back if it’s so much trouble.”

I’m steaming by this point, so I leaned  in and I told her no, that wouldn’t be necessary BUT… hers was a highly unusual question to be asked by a person employed by a store literally surrounded by food.    She just stared at me and then I said, “If I were you, I’d show a little gratitude and if you can’t do that,  I’d be very careful next time who I asked to buy me a candy bar while on duty at the check out line, because you’re so rude, no doubt your ass would end up eating most of that Twix!”

She said something unintelligible—I’m not sure what it was, but I feel certain sure it wasn’t about having dinner together anytime soon.    We just looked at each other for a split second.    My expression was disbelief and anger, hers was actually righteous by God indignation.   Seriously.   How do some people  feel so entitled and be seemingly unworthy at the same time?

Her attention immediately focused on the person in line behind me.  She had her Twix.   I’d become nothing more to her than customer flotsam.

I know…I know….’twas a Twix candy bar at $1.75.     She wasn’t asking for the moon, but this morning that wasn’t the point.    Having lived in Houston for so long, I know how panhandlers operate.   I’m actually fascinated by people who have the balls or the desperation or the odd sense of entitlement that allows them to approach absolute strangers and ask for money.   It’s something I don’t think I could do unless dire circumstances compelled me, but the need to buy a rock of crack or a quart of Mad Dog to stop the DTs don’t fall under that category.

I’ve tried buying food for “homeless” street corner operators only to have it thrown back in my car.    Contrary to the cardboard signs they held, they only wanted the money.   But that didn’t stop me from making sandwich and water gestures in the future.   And of most of the people who actually took food from me, were able to express a semblance of gratitude.

But that’s not why one does something like this.    There’s only glory in quiet, sincere giving.  It should never include a press release or a camera crew.   And receiving a ‘thank you’ isn’t the impetus to give, but every once in a while, it’s certainly nice to hear.

That wasn’t the case in the grocery store this morning.   This woman had pure audacity.   She wasn’t starving….she was of medium build.    I noticed she wore some jewelry.  Her hair was highlighted.  She was relatively young, wore make-up and above all, she was employed. And her choice of food to quellthis incredible hunger she had was rather telling…a decent deli was 50 feet away and she chose a candy bar, of all things.

So, I ask you this question:  Why?   By the time she got to me in line, was she any hungrier than she was three minutes earlier?     Did the lady ahead of me with the cart filled with four cabbages and ice cream not seem gullible enough, so she wasn’t asked?     Would the person in line behind me be hit up for steaks?

I drove home trying to justify her rudeness as possibly being a cultural thing, but that was impossible. The words ‘thank you’ exist in every language, gratitude is practiced in every culture.     What’s odd is that I shop at this store regularly.  I’ve never seen her before.   While cashier turnover is high, they usually last a couple of weeks.   But she was new.     I contemplated telling the manager, but it wasn’t a battle I felt like fighting.    Besides, karma was on my side, regardless of my crass threat.     .

Then, I wondered  if maybe this was some  kind of divine test….the angel unawares thing.    Nah, no angel would be that rude.   And  if by some slim chance she had been an angel,  I failed the test miserably because  while I bought the candy bar as she had asked, I also told her I’d basically shove it up her ass.

What happened today was so minor as events go, and it won’t keep me up at night, and while I’m not necessarily proud of the lack of poise and restraint  exercised in my response to her,  I’m not rushing to a confessional either.    It was all just so odd.

Your thoughts, please?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 comments

  1. I’m surprised she would not just steal the candy bar. .It would be so simple and she would NOT be caught.

    Ben Levine

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

  2. yeah, I agree. It was just so damn weird to be asked that, then to be given all the attitude. Some have told me to report her to management, since her actions were wrong…just wrong. I’m just not feeling the need go that route, though she needs to understand how inappriate her question and reactions

    were. I’d like to believe she could figure it out, but I don’t hold out much hope for the future of Carrie on Homeland, the new varieties of the Big Mac, much less humanity.

    LK

  3. Oddly enough, happened upon your blog when swiping through nostalgic pics on the Pin, progressed through your photos, happily finding a shot of the SRA reading program from childhood in one of your 2007 posts, then mosied around to this entry.

    I’m voting for the Gods of Writing dropping a topic much in need of discussion in your lap (or rather cashier’s smock). Entitlement drives me nuts, and having taught at universities since 2004, I can vouch for the swelling cancer of entitlement in our youth. To be fair, a few bad apples tend to label an entire generation, but those bad apples out-reek the good kids by a long shot.

    I grew up in a smaller town than yours in the north part of the South where there was an expectation of hard work, regardless of endeavor. As a result, the presentation of entitlement along with a complete unwillingness to work seriously sticks in my craw.

    I have to wonder if the lack of upward economic immobility, at least in its previously available forms, has created a learned helplessness, a lack of a sense of future, and perhaps even worse, any clear relationship between working hard and behaving as a responsible member of a community in order to reap the rewards of that diligence?

    To some degree, this cashier had to feel a sense of anonymity in order to make the request. You or I wouldn’t panhandle because we have an identity in which there is a degree of pride and responsibility to our own morals. Like you, I grew up in a place where my own behavior was quickly relayed back to our parents by that ever so effective small town communication network (Google, Twitter and texting have nothing on small towns of the 1970s with party lines in terms of instant information!), so whatever behavior we engaged in was not just a reflection of our own identity, but also that of our family, ergo more pressure to behave accordingly.

    I understand and second your umbrage here!

    I also think the situation indicates a much bigger economic and social issue pervading our country. The cashier’s behavior makes it easy for us to adopt an “Us versus Them” mentality – we’ve worked very hard for any success that came our way, so why should we champion any cause that benefits someone who can ask without hesitation and take without gratitude?

    The fact that the cashier was not exceptionally literate makes it very easy to draw soundbite-sized assumptions about immigrants, but in the great history of our country, immigration has brought tremendous contributions of art, technology, and culture.

    It doesn’t seem like this person, at least in their present state of mind, is apt to contribute any greatness any time soon (other than spurring your thoughts and the thoughts of your audience), and it’s instinctive to want to distance ourselves from that kind of negative energy. Unfortunately, it’s that very sense of exclusion (hey, I don’t want moochers on my team either!) that creates fertile ground for this type of behavior in the first place. It’s the catch-22 of the Twix candy bar.

    I think the answer rests in some kind of inclusiveness that includes mentorship to demonstrate and reinforce the cause and effect of hard work and dedication to community, but in today’s world, that may take an extraordinary group of people working against popular opinion.

    You’re very astute in your theories of rationale, and your capacity for empathy along with your very justified outrage is a quality seemingly in short supply these days, and yet desperately needed for the progress of our society as a whole. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a way to invite discussion. Can’t wait to read more of your blog!

  4. Loved the reasoned comment thank you. Her ethnicity, original home country has nothing to do with it. I thought about excluding that info from the post, but thought about it and realized why the hell not? If her behavior, attitude and temerity has been learned since living in the US then yes– the problem is actually bigger (dare I say, much worse ) than first thought. Someone either flat out taught her or she learned from observation. Either way, we have a massive problem on our hands. Entitlement of all kinds sickens me and while this might be a weak example of it, a Twix today, might lead to new house later. And again, I’m not all that bothered by her asking me to buy her a candy bar, it was the attitude that followed that infuriated me.

    Thanks for stopping by. You sound like you’re a child of the 60’s…not a Flower Child….a literal child raised during the era.

    I write a lot about my childhood in Texas, not only to sate my periodic need for nostalgia, but to make sure someone like you can validate my ever waning memories about Captain Kangaroo, Saturday morning cartoons, SRA, silly, bubblegum pop songs and how pimply- faced first loves were the lovely emotional pace cars for the race I’d run for the next four decades.

    LK

  5. I’m assuming this is part of a parable? Like give a man a fish, he eats for a day…teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime? Yeah…maybe I only gave her half a loaf, and perhaps I missed an opportunity to reach her an important life lesson, but she would have had to have been willing to learn. This chick wasn’t. Whoever or whatever is indoctrinating her to all things American, simply stated…sucks.

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