Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Harris Teeter: a reflection on my year as a cashier

Nearly one year ago, on November 15th, I began working for a local grocery store chain called Harris Teeter. Now, as I head off to college in a far-off state, I leave this job behind. But I take memories with me -- some good, some bad, and some spectacularly blog-worthy. Allow me to regale you with remembrances of customers long gone, of disturbances in routine, and of a job that I truly came to love.

I remember... "Mrs. Robinson."
Mrs. Robinson was one of my least favorite customers, though the first time or two I served her I thought her quite nice. It was on one occasion, after we had been chatting pleasantly for awhile, that I began having trouble with one of her coupons. Well.... make that six of them, each for $2 off, and most of them too blurred to scan. I called my manager over for help, and she took one look at the coupons and said "I'm sorry, but we can't take these."
Mrs. Robinson took them back without a fuss, then handed me a store card for her second transaction. But the card wasn't under the name Robinson, which my manager immediately noticed.
"That's my neighbor's VIC card," Mrs. Robinson said. "I'm buying these groceries for her."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but it's one VIC card per customer."
"But it's for my neighbor."
"She would have to be here, ma'am. Sorry."
Mrs. Robinson reached down and grabbed the arm of her two-year-old son, dragging him up to the counter. "He's a customer! You've got to let him use the card."
My manager argued with her a little longer, and finally Mrs. Robinson gave up, left most of the groceries for her "neighbor," and exited the store.
"Look at these coupons," my manager said, taking one of the coupons I'd managed to scan. "It's obviously photocopied from a magazine. We can't accept photocopied coupons, 'cause we don't get paid back for them. Also, we can't accept more than three of the same kind of coupon. And it's expired. You've got to be more careful when you're scanning these."
I was horrified to find that Mrs. Robinson, who had been quite kind, was in reality some kind of coupon con artist. No longer did the incident with the secondary VIC card seem like needless nit-picking from my manager -- I realized now that Mrs. Robinson had been trying to get double the deals.
A few weeks later I served her again. I wasn't sure at first -- the face was familiar, but the name on the card wasn't the same. But I knew her right away when she tried to give me the same huge pile of photocopied, expired coupons that she'd tried to pawn of last time!

I remember... the lady who got angry about my necklace.
A busy day, a customer with a WIC check for certain food items -- the first WIC check I'd ever had to process. I was already pretty nervous about it as I scanned the groceries that were not listed on the check first, getting that transaction out of the way before I would have to call my manager for help. As I worked, I noticed that the customer was giving my Celtic knot necklace a very skeptical look.
"What's it mean?" she asked abruptly.
"What does that mean?" she asked again, pointing at the necklace.
"Oh, I -- nothing, really."
"You don't know what it means?"
"It's a Celtic knot."
She was not pleased with this response. "That like the KKK?"
I almost dropped the milk. "No! No! Celtic! Like... like Irish?"
She just narrowed her eyes at me and gave my necklace another skeptical look, as if she didn't quite believe me but didn't care enough to raise a fuss about my evil gang sign KKK necklace.

I remember... the mafia man who bought me Skittles.
It was fairly late that evening, and business had been moving at a goodly clip for most of my shift. I leaned against my register, taking a break, when down my line came the strangest customer I had had that day. He was tall and dark and perhaps handsome as well (in that rugged 50s sort of way), was sharply-dressed in a pinstripe shirt, suspenders, slacks, and shiny shoes... and was pushing a cart loaded up to full capacity with alcohol of every kind.
"Hello, welcome to Harris Teeter!" I chirruped.
"Hello, Elizabeth. What's your favorite candy?" he queried in reply.
I automatically replied "Skittles," took his store card, and began scanning his mountains of liquor. He, meanwhile, thoughtfully perused the candy until he found a pack of Skittles, which he handed to me to ring up. I did so, thinking nothing of it, until at the end of the (long) transaction he said "You can keep those."
I awkwardly thanked him and gave him his cart... then, when he had disappeared out the doors, I realized that he hadn't completed the payment process with his debit card! I raced outside, found him, led him back, and watched with red-faced shame as he finished up the transaction, stoically took his receipt, and left again with his inordinate amount of alcohol in tow.

I remember doing a grande plie in cheap khakis my first night and splitting them open at the seam.

I remember running across the parking lot in a heavy summer rainstorm to roll up the windows on my car.

I remember meeting a man who was an amalgamation of all the traits I find most attractive.

I remember making a break-time nest for myself behind the bags of mulch.

I remember folding tiny origami cranes from receipt paper during slow times.

I remember trading poetry quotes with a hipster customer.

I remember coming in second in the contest to sell donation cards.

Most of all, I remember how good it felt to learn to do my job well.

Pitfalls of high-falutin' language

The world is filled with writers of all kinds. Many are good, many are bad, many are mediocre. Usually it's not too hard to avoid low-quality writing; if it's awful, stop reading and go on your merry way, perhaps cleanse your palate with some worthier work.
What really becomes painful, however, is when otherwise good writers misuse words so blatantly that it sticks in your mind forever and festers there, like a tiny splinter from a seemingly varnished surface. There are a few misuses in particular that I see all too often, and that I wish to raise awareness about.

Don -- This is often used as a fancier-sounding synonym for  "wore." In actuality, it is a succinct verb that means "to put on." When used properly, it saves a bit of space and can improve sentence flow. Improperly used, however, it becomes a distraction and a nuisance.
Wrong: Anna was donned in cashmere.
Right: Anna had donned cashmere.

Orb -- It's not so much the misuse of this word as the abuse of it that is truly irritating. Since the English language doesn't have a lot of synonyms for "eyes," many authors will use the word "orbs" instead, either to avoid repetitive language or to sound more romantic. Either way, it never ends up sounding quite right, and those who enjoy it might find that its plebian cousin serves them better.
Wrong: Ambrose's blue orbs flashed with ire.
Right: Ambrose's blue eyes flashed with ire.

Thee -- Quite a few authors, when looking for a bit of medieval flair, have fallen at once to using "thee" without any thought to its proper use or conjugation. The most common mistake is to use "thee" universally, when in reality it is merely the objective case of "thou."
Wrong: If thee hast finished thee tea, I pray thee, come.
Right: If thou hast finished thy tea, I pray thee, come.

O -- This is a little bit nit-picky, I'll admit, but not a lot of people seem to realize that "o" is even a word. Most of the time, people just use "oh." "O" is used mainly in old-fashioned writing, often in legend-form, and is commonly a form of address.
Wrong: Oh mighty dragon, heed my plea!
Right: O mighty dragon, heed my plea!

Bonus: a Southerner collective noun explained
Y'all -- A lot of people get this one wrong, and it's used in different ways in different places, but believe it or not, there is a proper way to use this word! It's a contraction of "you all;" a collective noun that refers to more than one person.
Wrong: Y'all sit down, Mr. Parson.
Right: Y'all sit down, Mr. and Mrs. Parson.