I lost my self-check virginity at 43.  Five o’clock rush was in full swing at the grocery and the cashiered lanes were jammed.  At the far end, the self-check barker is hollering, “Step right up, folks!  Noooooo waiting!”  My earnest desire to save ten minutes quickly devolves into an S&M nightmare, a threesome with Evil Siri and a hillbilly clerk who take turns verbally spanking me while I screw myself and turn fifty shades of red.

Self-checks are all business—no foreplay with the mints and gum, no perusing tabloid headlines.  I punch START, scan my reward card, and set my reusable bag on the carousel.  A smooth female voice scolds, “Please remove your item, scan it, and place it in the bag.”  The bag is empty, so I pay no mind.  I wave a can of pineapples over the scanner.  Nothing happens.  After several more (literally) fruitless attempts, the attendant scurries over.  “It’s your shopping bag,” she says.  “If you’re gonna use your own bag, you gotta say so before you start.”  She hits CANCEL.  When the screen resets, she demonstrates, as if to an idiot, how to press USE MY OWN BAG.

I scan the pineapples… beep.  Cat food… beep.  Cake mix… beep.  Frosting… beep.  Finding my groove at last.  Birthday card… beep.  I slide it into the bag. “Please place the item in the bag,” says the voice.  Ummm, it is.  I take it out and shove it in harder, but the voice drones on, unconvinced, until the attendant arrives and hits the bypass key.  She shrugs.  “Sometimes lightweight stuff don’t register.”

Organic bananas.  It wants the PLU number on the sticker.  94011…  ENTER.  “Weighing, please wait” says the voice.  I’m patient for fully twenty seconds before glowering at the attendant, who grudgingly grants the bananas passage into the bag.  Organic avocado.  94225…  ENTER.  The same screen reappears.  Figuring I must have keyed it in wrong, I re-enter the digits.  This time, it works.  Relieved, I place the avocado in the bag and hit FINISH“Do you have any coupons?”  NO.
I swipe my VISA and inexplicably, the transaction is declined.

As I gather my wits, the attendant struts over.  Apparently, that second screen was asking how many avocadoes I had.  I’ve exceeded her void limit; she’s got to page the manager.  I’m mortified, but the expression on the guy’s face when he sees the total, $94,235.56, is almost worth it.  He voids and re-rings.  I pay and slink off to the parking lot in shame.  Oblivious to his frantic shouts, I make it halfway to my car before he catches me, proffering, with a saccharine smile, a familiar-looking reusable bag.  “Forget something?”

Oops, better make that fifty-one shades of red.

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*This true story made it to the final round in the 2018 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Contest.

31 thoughts on “THE SCARLET LUDDITE*

  1. Tippy Gnu April 1, 2018 / 10:02 am

    Wow, congratulations! And it truly is a funny story. And relateable.

    I’ve finally mastered the self-checkout at Home Depot, but the one at your grocery store sounds more daunting. What really gets me are those voice-recognition telephone systems where I find myself cursing a blue streak at a robot. I’m never much successful with those damn things. Maybe I’ll write a story about it and submit it to next year’s Erma Bombeck contest.


    • Just Joan April 1, 2018 / 1:53 pm

      Thanks, Tippy. It is always exciting to discover a fellow Luddite in a world of techno-folks who roll their eyes at me and say things like, “Only you, Joan… only you.” I don’t use the self-check at Home Depot because I get a veteran discount, which requires processing by a real human. I hate the telephone systems, too. Like automated directory assistance where I say “Gordon Food Service” and the voice says, “Did you say Todd Snodgrass?” It’s like she’s just guessing. Then she has the cojones to fake-apologize, “I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood you.” Do tell. I hope you will write and enter your story. It’s bi-annual, so the next one’s in 2020. Here’s the link: 🙂


      • Tippy Gnu April 1, 2018 / 3:33 pm

        I’ll keep it in mind. Which means I’ll probably forget.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce Robinson April 1, 2018 / 10:37 am

    Oh yes I will stand in line instead of using self checkout
    Always miss something on the screen
    And you had better put your item in the bag

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan April 1, 2018 / 2:01 pm

      You and me, Joyce. We’ll make sure human cashiers always have a job. Last time I used the self-check, I had 24 single cans of cat food. (My picky cat likes extra gravy and you can’t buy it by the case.) You can’t just scan the same can 24 times, you have to do each one individually and put it in the bag. And the voice insists on telling you the price. They all cost the same, 49 cents, I don’t need to hear her to repeat it for every can. I gave self-check a try, I didn’t like it, I’ll wait in the real line. 🙂


  3. Ursula Kender April 1, 2018 / 1:01 pm

    I am so glad that there are other real people that fear or curse the self check. I would rather get a colonoscopy than use one of these tortures from hell. I must ask though–is there something wrong with us, or them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 1, 2018 / 2:10 pm

      You’re not alone, Ursula. Maybe I should start a support group? I’m sure the inventor of the self-check is a sadist of the highest order. I’m still LOL about your colonoscopy comment. You might change your mind when some wise-ass invents the drive-thru colonoscopy. I don’t see anything wrong with us… we’re not the ones trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Happy Easter to you! 🙂


    • Just Joan April 1, 2018 / 2:26 pm

      Thanks, Lyart. I see this phenomenon is universal, not just something in the USA. Perhaps self-checks should have a sign to warn you away if: you’re buying any “problematic” items, including alcohol, cigs, or other things that require age verification, if you’re using coupons or are entitled to a discount, if your electrical aura has ever de-magnetized an ATM or credit card, if you are incapable of operating your own cell phone or remote control, if your GPS has ever said “recalculating” more than five times in one trip, etc. 🙂


    • Just Joan April 1, 2018 / 4:20 pm

      Thanks, Marissa. If most people dislike using self-checkouts (and it seems like that’s true), why are they still around? Not only are they manipulating adults into using them, now they are aiming their propaganda at kids!


  4. pranabaxom April 1, 2018 / 7:44 pm

    Self-check virginity – that’s a new one😃😃😃.
    That happens when you date a moron on your first date. At 43, you should have been experienced about these mundane matters.
    Thanks for the laugh.
    And congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 1, 2018 / 9:01 pm

      Thanks, PB. That just means I stubbornly avoided self-checkouts for a long time. My “first date” with one was an epic fail, and if I could avoid them for 43 more years, that would be great. Glad it made you laugh. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • pranabaxom April 1, 2018 / 10:19 pm

        We ignore technology at our own risk. Take banks, we learnt to use ATM cards and machines. Bank tellers are becoming non-existent. We learnt to use computers and e-mail and writing letters have become a thing of the past. In much less than 43 years, grocery /retail store cashiers will become obsolete. Who knows drones may drop our grocery at home.
        You should look for a grocery store self check out machine with a soothing, no-patronizing voice😃.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan April 2, 2018 / 6:53 pm

        Hold on, PB. My bank still has tellers. I still buy stamps and send/receive snail mail. I don’t want some grocery robot picking out limp celery and bruised apples and chickens with one leg and dropping them via drone onto my lawn. We Luddites have got to stick together and keep saying NO to all of this nonsense. I hope we can count on you. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • pranabaxom April 2, 2018 / 7:06 pm

        🙂🙂🙂If wishes would have been horses, I would have had someone doing my groceries for me. As long as I can, I will keep on interacting with real humans till robots make us useless.
        Behold, there comes the clones ( or drones or robots).

        Liked by 1 person

  5. chevvy8 April 2, 2018 / 3:30 am

    Great post Joan. Your introduction was superb. I feel like we’re stuck in the dark ages reading your piece and the comments about self-check grocery stores. I’m not aware that we have any here yet. With 9million people unemployed, we can ill afford it when so many people need jobs. But I know we can’t escape it. We are seeing all kinds of automation introduced regularly. Though we have some measure of self check-in at our airports, I was introduced for the first time to full self check-in at the Charle de Gaul airport in Paris last year. I was not very amused with printing and tying my own tags, weighing in my own luggage etc. I know that technology has its advantages but I am one of those who do not want to lose the “real people” experience.😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 2, 2018 / 7:12 pm

      Thanks, Chevvy. Be glad the self-check craze hasn’t infected your country yet, and stay in the Dark Ages as long as you can! People believe technology is inevitable, but it isn’t. If we want there to be human cashiers and tellers and airline staff, we have to be willing to stand in line and USE them. There will be paper mail as long as there are utility bills and people who can’t afford computer + internet. There will be paper books as long as there are enough people who refuse to buy a Kindle. Computers are smart, but technology has its limits. Would you want to go to a medical computer instead of a doctor? Of course not. Have a great week, my friend! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • chevvy8 April 2, 2018 / 11:37 pm

        Oh there are definitely plans to embrace the 4th industrial revolution or what they prefer to call the digital economy. However, government realises we must approach this with caution. I also like to add the word ethics. If we see what has happened with people’s information recently, there can be many unethical things done with people’s information. As in all things, there are pros and cons though. I was applying for a visa the other day and being asked the same stupid questions by the “real person” and still receiving a mistake in my visa after submitting tons of paper, I wished that there could have been a self check solution.😀 Have a lovely week too dear Joan!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan April 3, 2018 / 7:36 pm

        Here, we seem to jump right in without much thought about the possible dangers and abuses. I’m sure some things are more easily accomplished via self-check, but I have yet to find one. The world’s worst cashier is still better than a self-check any day, and the same would probably be true of human VISA clerks vs digital ones. Most times, my need or question falls outside of the “normal” algorithm, and automated phone systems just make me spend ten minutes to press twenty buttons to get through to a human that could have cleared it up in three seconds. I’m firmly in the Luddite camp and plan to stay there until the robots carry me out, kicking and screaming. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. L. T. Garvin, Author April 2, 2018 / 6:57 pm

    This was hysterically funny, made my day! Oh, those self-checkouts, we’ve all been there. I too have suffered at the hands of Evil Siri, that villainous witch! The hillbilly clerk, one of my people, haha. I must say that I have yet to ring up $94,235.56 though, but I’m all too familiar with placing an item in the bag and having it scream, “Unexpected item in baggage area!” I really tend to avoid self-check, why must they continue to force it on us? I loved your story and glad to hear you made it to the final round. Congrats Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 2, 2018 / 7:36 pm

      Thanks, Lana. I bet Aunt Agnes would have a few choice words for Evil Siri. When you scan an item, it seems like Siri should expect it to land in the bagging area. But I have done silly things like set my purse down there, which set her off because she thought I might be stealing a watermelon or a bucket of kitty litter or something. My problem is when she’s expecting something in the bagging area and she doesn’t get it, like the birthday card. It’s fortunate I was buying an organic avocado that day… if it had been a regular one, my VISA wouldn’t have been declined and I might have absentmindedly signed and walked away. Sometimes organics SAVE you money–hee hee. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. T. Garvin, Author April 3, 2018 / 7:17 pm

        Oh yes, no doubt that Aunt Agnes would have something to say to her. Oh, the purse thing, by all means, be careful, she’s so vigilant looking out for watermelon lifters, lol. I’ve not ever considered organics as a way to save money, but now I surely see that they can. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  7. circumstance227 April 3, 2018 / 3:13 pm

    Ooooh – this is such a deliciously sad story! Thanks for the laugh. I’ve let my kids self-checkout for me a few times, back when they still thought it was cool. After that I was back at the human cashiers. For the past few years, my banker has led me over to the do-it-yourself teller machine more than once and each time I patiently listened to his explanation of how to use it to make money transfers. Next bill to come along I was back at the human teller. It’s not that I CAN’T handle these machines, I tell myself, it’s that I DON’T WANT TO.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 3, 2018 / 8:06 pm

      Thanks, 227. My first self-check experience was the worst, but every time has been problematic. If you have coupons or are entitled to a discount or are buying a gift card where you have to specify the amount you want on it, a clerk has to do the processing. If the computer overcharges you, only a clerk can fix it. If your gallon of ice cream is leaking, only a real person can go back and get you a different one. Clerks can scan one can of cat food and enter “x 24” and shove all 24 cans into the bagging area–you can’t. A clerk will accept a $20 bill no matter how crumpled it is, a money slot will spit it back out until kingdom come. Of course, we CAN use these machines, but if they frustrate us and don’t save us any time, why would we want to? I would tell that pushy banker to stick it where the sun don’t shine–why should you do their work for them? Welcome to Club Luddite, you’re in! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 5, 2018 / 10:21 am

      Thanks, KE. To the best of my recollection, the event went down exactly as I’ve described it. Every time I’ve used the self-check, I’ve learned another reason not to. They say craziness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Staying away from self-checks is proof of my sanity, I guess. Technology is like advice, take what helps you and leave the rest. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Aunt Marilyn April 8, 2018 / 9:33 am

    OMG I hate those self check lines too! I never seem to get it right and always need assistance. I usually go to the one closest to the gal monitoring the shoppers…just to save her steps. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Quirky Girl April 9, 2018 / 7:20 pm

    Holy moly! For $94,235.56, those better be some damn good organic bananas and avocados. 😛

    Self checkout is nightmarish. Your story describes nearly every Walmart outing I’d ever suffered through… with the exception of that epic grand total. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 10, 2018 / 1:31 pm

      In reality, the whole bill was less than $20. It was just a data entry error. I wasn’t even going to get an avocado, but I was already in the produce section and they were on sale, organic ones for 99 cents each! I thought I’d goofed when the “same” screen popped up a second time, so I re-entered the PLU, which made the computer think I was buying 94,225 avocados. Apparently, since there can be no specific weight associated with items sold by the piece, Evil Siri had to take my word for it. I learned something new every time I used one. (Note the past tense.) The last thing I learned was it is faster to go to a human cashier, even one with a line. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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