*No Friday 55 or Da Count today. Just a bit of absurdity inspired by an overzealous cart checker.
There I was pushing an over-sized cart at the discount grocery warehouse that bears a name with a crude sexual reference. (It always made me wonder if they were intent on gratifying their customers or implying their own service just blows.) After minutes of agonizing thought I'd come up with a brilliant plan, a menu-derived shopping list that was sure to win raves from the hungry teenagers in my house. Today was the day I'd finally get my chance to bring it all to fruition and NOBODY was going to stop me. I grabbed a cart, threw my earth-friendly canvas shopping bags in the bottom, and looked over my shoulder before I slid the list from my pocket.
I shuffled up and down the aisles cultivating the same blank look as the other patrons so as to avoid drawing unwanted attention to myself. I've been in this business almost 20 years. You just can't be too careful. The biggest challenge for me is matching the moseying pace of of the seemingly undead herd when all I want is to execute my brilliant plan and bask in the glory of its completion. Nonetheless, I was careful to plod along dully so I could blend in. I'd come this far and didn't want to mess it up now.
Value packs of cod and flounder fillets, institutional sized boxes of breakfast cereal and crackers, multipacks of various canned goods all went into my cart. I grabbed a bag of organic apples and a jug of skim milk too just to keep up the appearances of being a conscientious mother feeding hungry hordes. I was sure the fist of coupons I handed the cashier would help in that regard as well. I kept it casual as I unloaded the cart onto the conveyor belt and chatted with the cashier. Even when she said I could keep the really heavy items in the cart and she'd scan them where they sat I chucked them up on the belt declaring to everyone in earshot that I had nothing terribly burdensome. In retrospect that may have been my undoing. I was trying too hard.
I paid the bill, took my receipt, and headed for the door. I had just one final hurdle to clear. I'd have to present my receipt and cart at the exit for inspection. On any other day I would have lucked out and gotten James, the sweet retired man with an Irish brogue, who always winked and sent me on my way with barely a glance at receipt or cart contents. I may even have been fortunate enough to pass under the gaze of Chandra who empathized with all the mothers struggling to feed their brood without needing to resort to exotic dancing for grocery money. Not this day. Today I'd have to endure the scrutiny of Carlos. How Carlos affords the bling which hangs so heavily around his neck on the wages of a door checker I'm not sure. It could be that, just like me, there is more to Carlos than meets the eye.
I slowed the cart to a stop and smiled as I handed the receipt to Carlos meeting his gaze through his fashion eye wear. Keep it cool, girl, you're almost home. He scanned the slip slowly before eying my cart suspiciously. I considered remarking how easy it is to fill one of these rattling buggies to overflowing when you haven't shopped since before Christmas but thought better of it and remained silent. It's a simple rule, better to not begin offering excuses until one is asked to defend oneself. My reticence proved futile anyway when Carlos asked about the 36 count variety pack.
"So you only have one of those, right?"
"36 pack of what?"
"I dunno, it just says 36 count variety pack?"
I spied the big yellow '36' in bubble print standing out on the box of pudding cups and pointed casually, "Yep, right there it is. That's plenty of pudding for my crew. Just one box." He wasn't buying it and continued to search as he peered suspiciously over the rims of his rhinestone encrusted glasses.
"Lotta items in your cart. You sure there's only one box of pudding?"
"Yep, just one." I offered tersely. And then I noticed among the pins on his employee vest, obscured by the gold cutout of his name, was the piece that identified him as a member of the rival gelatin syndicate that had been moving in on the territory of my boss's control of the Mid-Atlantic pudding cartel. The shifty eyes of that custard lackey had been hidden behind his subtly ombre shaded lenses. I leaned in and let him know I was on to him. "Listen, cart man. I'm Tapioca McFlan." He couldn't hide the fear my name struck in his heart. "That's right, I'm right hand to the biggest runner of congealed desserts on the east coast, Big Daddy Knox Blox. Now you just step back and let this cart pass or you may find yourself in the Delaware River wearing a pair of Jello overshoes, you hear?"
Carlos got a little cocky for a moment and retorted, "But Jello floats."
"Not when you substitute gravel for the mandarin oranges and bananas in the mold, you pudding headed, ninny! Now I'm gonna tell you only one more time to let me on my way."
Carlos shook like the half-gelled mess he really was while I stood firm as a creme brulee and stared him down. He meekly stepped aside and I strode out knowing Big Daddy Knox Blox and Tap McFlan had a firm grip on the pudding trade and my kids would get their fix.