Friday, June 20, 2008

Tools of a Darker Humor

I believe in the Sovereign God. I know that he works all things together for my good. I know I can trust that in times of difficulty he has a greater plan unfolding through the ages. I know that whatever I go through in my own experiences they are designed with my particular strengths, and weaknesses in mind. I know that God actually purposes certain circumstances to come about for my teaching. The reason I know this is because I can never get through any line without it becoming the longest, most complicated, utterly disorganized queue... ever. No exaggeration. 

Shall I elaborate? Good.

If I need to run into the store for 3 things, and there are 5 checkstands available for my use, it will take roughly 10 times the length of time for me to get checked out as it did for me to select the 3 items I needed in the first place. Here is a taste of what happens to me (mind you, these are all real life examples, and absolutely resemble the people portrayed in the anecdotal retelling) -

"The Goof"
This happens when I select the shortest line available only to find that the person in front of me has goofed. They entered the wrong pin, and have now forgotten the correct one but they still insist on using THAT card; I stand idly by while they fish out of their purse the scrap of paper with 17 different combinations of numbers presumably assigned to 17 different cards of which one will supposedly work. The person then leans over to the clerk and shows them the piece of paper asking, "Which one is it?"

"The Wall"
After struggling to make it through the crowds with my children in tow I am finally standing a mere 2 people back from the checker. The customer being helped inquires about a sale in the weekly circular. The clerk verifies that the circular she is referring to was published for last week's sales. At this point the scenario goes one of two ways, but they equal the same thing. One of them is wrong, one is right but both refuse to go that extra 10th of an inch to recognize their mistake. The battle escalates, one insisting the date is right, one insisting the date is wrong while the rest of us watch helplessly as a wall is built over a mere 30 cents.

We can all appreciate being new to the job. You feel foolish, never quite able to get your feet under you. Who doesn't have a special place of patience for Day 1? How about Day 1 unsupervised? The clerk looks so fresh, so blissfully unaware of the mayhem surrounding her that I figure her line must be slightly more enjoyable than Mr. Grumpface. I load my things onto the conveyor belt (and can I stop here and make a note about why I don't leave the lines I enter once I realize they are again tools of a darker humor? The invention of the conveyor belt to aid cashier's in speeding up lines is a fraud. The only thing it does is quietly steal any autonomy you may feel with the line. Once your produce is on that black ribbon of death you are committed. How many times does a different clerk offer to take you to the next checkstand if your things are already unloaded? Never, that's how many. I have sat for literally 15 minutes with only one person in front of me while gobs of people blow through the lines on my right, and left all because I made an unspoken covenant of " 'til death do us part" when I placed that first cucumber on the conveyor belt.) By the time Miss Newday finished my transaction my entire cart was rung up, voided, and re-rung with multiple variations of change being owed, and at least 42 instances where a trainer would have proven invaluable.

"Tape Replacement"
This is one of my favorites. I stand in a small line, making my way to the front with relative ease only to be informed immediately before it is my turn that the cashier has run out of register tape. They will need to change it before they can continue ringing. I remark that I will wait, but they insist on me moving to a different line for fear that I will be unhappy with the length of time it will take them. I try to assuage their guilt but there is no arguing, and by the time I am finished with my purchase through a different checkstand my original cashier has replaced their tape, and helped 4 customers.

"Error #349b"
I am aware that God is so convinced of my need to experience trying circumstances in lines that even when I am not purchasing an item the person who I am with will undoubtable receive my line treatment. My friend and I advanced to a "self-checkout" where the system treats you little better than a 1st grader. She had two items to purchase, and after swiping the first the screen goes blank, shouts that the item is unrecognizable with "Error 349b" in bold print, then reverts to the homepage display. She tried again, tried the other item, tried the first item until we both realize we need the supervising clerk. 10 minutes later we have tracked down the clerk who is obviously disgruntled that she has to work with peons, but after several more screens my friend finally has her purchase completed only to have the weighted bag holder yell at her for placing unidentified objects on it. So I stand by, holding fish in both hands while she pays so we can finally be done.

I could continue. If I pick the short line it will take twice as long as the long line. If I pick the long line, full of 2 or 3 item purchases it will be nearly 4 times as long as any other. The line I am in gets closed and merged with another. I give the clerk the benefit of the doubt only to find that my misgivings were completely deserved. It has gotten to the point where my husband, and friends will often ask me which line I would choose, and then go to the opposite one.

But I remain optimistic. Someday I will choose a line that runs smoothly, is correctly marked, takes me to the right counter, gets me out quickly, and ultimately behaves the way lines are meant to behave. I just have to figure out what God has for me to learn, and learn it. Apparently the last 15 years hasn't done the job yet.


  1. Dorothy P.5:33 AM

    "Black ribbon of death" - I LOVE it! I, too, have the same delusion of committment when my grocery items have landed there. And, I unavoidably misread the flow and simplicity of the transaction futures on any given checkout line. Sadly, I no longer only look at the number of items a person has, I analyze the types of items they have. Potential for "price check" can sometimes be quantified.
    Here's one more for the list: the shift change. Cashier #1 has to cash out while Manager A puts in the new till, changes out the tape and has to remember his password on the register. Not to mention Cashier #1 having to collect all of the various and sundry personal items she's accumulated under the register over the last 5 hours of her shift. Inevitably, that includes a fountain drink that she has to finish first. That must be God's lesson in compassion for people who have difficult-but-necessary careers in our society. Priceless!

  2. Oh yes, you said it exactly right! I definitely have the tendency to analyze the purchase profile of each customer in front of me, and try to determine whether the single large screen TV will go fast than the 10 identical boxes of cereal. Guesses?