Whenever possible, I like to visit my neighborhood grocer around noon on any given weekday. By that time, they’ve put out the day-old bakery and I can get what I love at a fraction of the cost. Day-old bread toasts the same. I had a wise mother who taught me to stretch a dollar and get the most value from a supermarket, even if I have to bruise my own melon.
So last Thursday found me in my neighborhood at the magic hour. I ducked into Blankety-Blank for a quick peek and hit pay dirt. In addition to bread, there were English muffins, brownies, pies and one-quarter sheet cakes. I grabbed a loaf of multi-grain, a dozen brownies, a blueberry pie and a sheet cake because, for some strange reason, I love store-bought birthday cake.
With arms full I proceeded toward checkout and ran into Ms. Neicy, my downstairs neighbor. We share a fire escape, which each of us has used after letting the door slam behind us without keys. She had clearly gotten her support check because the cart was over packed and hard to push. Since I was in no particular hurry, I got on line with her so we could catch up.
I appreciate Blankety-Blank for a number of reasons. In addition to bakery, they do a similar price reduction with meat and bruised produce. Weekly sales are usually good, they keep the place clean and it’s only a four-minute walk from my house. I also love that they employ people with disabilities as baggers during peak hours. It improves their esteem, provides a sense of purpose and improves the flow of traffic.
As “Jacquie,” the cashier sent items down the belt, Bill, a legally blind gentleman, waited to grab and bag what he could see and feel around for what he couldn’t. As payment, Ms. Neicy presented three crisp Benjamins, getting in return twenty-two cents and a receipt that dragged the floor. She moved down to assist with bagging, not missing a beat in her narrative about the white woman who came to see the vacant apartment across from hers that morning.
“Becky was in the building,” she said, borrowing my terminology.
My bright smile turned to a look of disbelief as Jacquie picked up her cell phone and began to text. I look at Ms. Neicy, who just shook her head. We both jumped when the woman very loudly popped her gum.
“Excuse me. What are you doing?” I asked.
“Huh?” she said, looking at me like I was crazy.
“You could greatly speed this process by bagging,” I said, condescendingly.
“Sir, you can step down to express,” she said, impatiently and continued to text.
“Perhaps, but they can’t,” I said, acknowledging the line behind me.
“He likes to do it himself,” she motioned her head toward Bill, “and it IS why he’s here,” she said, rolling her eyes, earning what she was about to get.
“I’m sure he does,” I began. “He clearly takes HIS job seriously and he’s here to help the flow, not be your personal assistant. His presence does not change your job description”
“Look, sir,” she said, finally taking her attention from the phone, “you don’t work here and have no right to tell me how to do my job.”
That’s when my mouth and brain disconnected.
“No, I don’t work here, but I spend money here and that makes me more important. On some level you do work for me. I realize it’s not the best job, but had you better prepared, you might be doing something you enjoy.”
That’s when she got loud.
“You don’t know anything about me,” she screamed.
“Is there a problem?” the floor manager appeared from nowhere and began bagging before completing the question.
“Shawn, this man is trying to tell me how to do my job… you need to tell him something.”
“Or what…?” I asked, genuinely curious. I quickly explained to Shawn the situation from my perspective.
“I told him he could go to express or customer service,” she interjected.
By that time, Ms. Neicy’s groceries were bagged and in the cart. Shawn told Jacquie to ring me up, but directed the others in line to the next register. Bill stepped over to bag for that cashier. Jacquie was HEATED and threw my receipt in a show of protest. That’s when she was ordered to apologize and take her break. She stormed off without mumbling a word. Today, I'll check to see if she still works there.