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.