I’ve said many times before that the grocery store is one of the best places to observe people and find inspiration for characters in a story. On Sunday I returned some food to the grocery store – something I almost never do. I came to find out that there are a number of people who regularly return food. It’s like a cult. You can hear them telling stories about returning this or that even though it has been partially eaten. The truth is that the refund is not worth waiting in that long line with impatient, obnoxious people in front and behind you.
Picture this. There is a woman with an empty cart in front of me. (there’s really no room for carts at the Customer Service Desk.) She weighs over 300 lbs. and her hips are knocking down the poles that were put into place to mark the waiting line. She has 3 small girls with her (ags-3-5), all of whom are adorable and quite well behaved. The woman is on her cell phone yelling at someone about an insurance claim. While yelling, she is taking notes on a ripped piece of paper, using the palm of one hand as a table top. The three girls start whispering to each other and the woman yells at them to shut up – repeatedly. 12 minutes go by and the woman is still yelling on the phone and still telling the girls to shut up or stop doing whatever they were doing (like humming or playing with their hair.)
It is now the yeller’s turn to return her goods at the counter. There are 18 people in line behind her. She’s not paying any attention to the fact that it is her turn. An old man at the back f the line says, “Get with it or let someone else go in front of you. Can’t you talk on the phone later, Lady?”
I’m thinking, “Amen!”
The woman looks at the old man and says, “You picked a BAD day to talk to me like that, Mister. Yes you did.” But she does not say that one time. She says that approximately 15 times. All the while she’s shaking her head in a “no” manner and waving her pointer finger back and forth, holding up the line. I imagine myself slapping her across the face to get her stop, sort of like moving the needle on a broken record that is repeating itself. I thought she might try punching the old guy, but thankfully she doesn’t. She could do some damage to him no doubt. Oh yes, she’s still on the phone. And yes, she’s still barking at the girls. I’m disgusted with myself, because I find this entire scenario beyond aggravating, yet somewhat fascinating. I consider leaving the store with my rancid food, without returning it. But I choose to stay. It’s rather like looking at a bad car accident. You don’t want to look, but you cannot help yourself.
The yeller finally gives her bag of returns to the clerk, while still on the phone, of course. She says to the person on the other line, ” What in the hell is the matter with you? Can’t you slow down? Do you have somewhere else you need to be? I’m trying to shop here. I cannot shop, talk to you and write at the same time.” (I imagine the look of complete bewilderment on the person on the other end of the phone.) The clerk tells Ms. Yeller that she cannot refund her money because 1) she does not have a receipt and 2) this store does not even carry those items she is returning.
“Jesus Christ,” comes from the old man at the back of the line. Yeller turns around and looks at him with sheer hate, eyes bulging out of her head.
The clerk says , “Next,” and waves me over. The Yeller will not move her cart to let me near the cash register. I ask her three times to move. She moves 2 inches, so I have to hand my food over the cash register and the clerk has to throw the cash back at me. The yeller says, “I’m not leaving until I get a refund.”
The clerk ignores her.
The old man sighs loudly, forcing air loudly out of his blown-up cheeks.
I’m finished returning my food, but the yeller refuses to move her cart and herself to let me by. I pick up one end of her empty cart and move it far away so I can get through.
The yeller gives me an if-looks-could-kill look.
I smile at her and say, “Have a spectacular day!” pat one of her girls on the head and leave the store.