Paying Attention

February 21, 2008

Okay, so I’m at Trader Joes last night.  The clerk is an older man, maybe in his late 60’s, early 70’s.  He has this inordinate interest in the things that I’m buying, and has no compuction about making comments like:

“Half-sour pickles, looks good, I’m going to have to try this”

“I love these!”  He taps on my bag of frozen tamales.  “We get employee discounts on all store items.  I get to buy all this good food.  Heh, but I have to pay the bills too, ya know, I can’t be spending everything on Trader Joes stuff, so I have to watch what I buy.  Unless I’m lucky enough to get an electricity employee that shops at Trader Joes.  Oh, you have the noodles from today’s sampler.  You have the artichoke things, good.  You’re going to make it I see.  I liked it, it was delicious.  I got to taste it the other day.  Very good.”

“Oh, you noticed these came back?”  He points to my package of frozen edamame.

I decide to play along.  “Did you run out of them?” I ask.

“No, we took them off the shelf.  That’s the thing about this company, they listen to their customers.”  Now he drops everything he’s doing regarding getting me checked out and tells me how Trader Joes decided, based upon customer fears, to ban all China food imports.  “Trader Joe’s cares about its customers” he finishes.

I look at his badge expecting it to say Store Manager, he’s giving me such a rah-rah Trader Joes story.  He’s Joe-something-or-other, store employee.

He finally finishes checking me out, and he starts leisurely putting my things into paper bags as he continues to talk.  “And Trader Joes has the best prices.”

The next in line, an older woman, about 70, moves up to the cash register since I’m now standing at my cart waiting for the cashier to get done with bagging everything.  “I agree, Trader Joes has excellent prices,” she says.  She has this wild white hair and her eyes are wide with enthusiasm on the topic of Trader Joes.

“Oh Trader Joes is cheap all right.  Very good prices, the best you’ll get anywhere.  And good quality.”  The cashier has packed a paper bag and fiddles with the handle on it.  “This bag is too full, the handle is starting to tear.”

I look at the line, and there is another person who is standing and waiting and watching.  A man, probably in his 30’s.  He doesn’t seem annoyed, just watching everything with quasi-interested patience.  I take my cart and reposition it so that it’s pointing towards the door.

“Hmm.”  The cashier is staring at the bag he just filled and scratching his chin.  He gets another bag, unfolds it and hands it to me.  “Can you hold this?  Just hold it like that.  Right like that, right there.  Yes, ok.”  He helps me position it on another part of the counter and hold it so that the opening is wide.  Then he guides the bulging first bag over the empty one as I jimmy it in.  I resist the urge to grab the first bag from his hands and dump half of it into the empty bag.

The old lady, who had been standing in front of the cash register, now moves to my cart so she can participate more actively in the conversation.  “Have you ever been to Donelan’s?  I went there the other day, and I can’t believe how much more I paid for my groceries.  I paid a dollar more for soymilk than I pay at Trader Joes.”

The cashier packs the last bag and loads it into my cart.  He shows no urgency whatsoever.  I notice he’s never once looked at the line.  I move my cart towards the door an inch.  Inside I’m bouncing up and down impatiently.  He continues.  “Oh Trader Joes definitely has the cheapest prices.  Did you know they actually go to other stores and fill up carts?  They take every item and price them, and compare them to their own things.  Trader Joes is a very good store.  Very good company.”  He taps my cart, “Enjoy, thanks for coming.”

“Thank you, I will.  Bye.”  I wave to him and the old lady, and smile at them, grateful that a smile can mean many things.

I’m driving home, grumbling to myself about this cashier’s complete lack of urgency.  Then I start dwelling on where I’m going to go to get fodder for my next homework assignment — a story with action and dialog.  I realize, many minutes after the fact, that this cashier was placed right there in my life as an opportunity that I could have taken for a story.  But I was so freakin’ busy worrying about the people in line and worrying about his attitude and getting on with my evening, that I didn’t even notice.  I need to start paying more attention to the world around me.