Grumpy Old Man: There oughta be a law…

Don't the members of Knesset know what’s going on in our supermarkets?

Supermarket 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Supermarket 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I can’t for the life of me figure out why members of the Knesset waste their time on legislation that changes the way Supreme Court justices are chosen, or on bills that scrutinize the funding sources for certain NGOs.
Don’t they know what’s going on in our supermarkets?
The post office uses a number system, and banks, like airports, have those moveable railings that keep people in line. Are MKs aware that meat, deli and dairy product counters are a free-for-all? People push in and immediately speak up when the server calls “Next!” If someone who was there before them says anything, the pushy ones nonchalantly reply, “Oh, you were here first?” What happens when the law-abiding shopper is a poor schnook and Mr. Lackmanners is one of the Abergil brothers?
Do you think our lawmakers have seen the way stock boys park their wagons across the aisle while they refill the shelves? (Of course not. They have parliamentary aides to do their shopping.) The stock boys often have these huge motorized pallet-movers that, when fully loaded, are the size of a family car. And then they pile their empty cartons in the only place you might be able to snake around. This is a place of commerce, not Supermarket Slalom.
And on the subject of aisles, have you ever noticed how narrow they can be – especially those in supermarkets situated in more urban areas, where land is more expensive and interiors tend to be miniaturized? Even when there’s no sign of a stock boy, two shoppers converging head-on at high speed with dangerously loaded carts must make quick decisions as to whether the rules of the road, particularly which side you drive on, apply in a Shufersal. (And about those shopping carts: Why do they tend to pull to one side? You finish your weekly shopping and it’s straight to the osteopath to have your back realigned.)
Do our lawmakers know about the cashiers who let you waste 10 minutes in line before casually informing you that they will be closing their register and that the shopper in front of you is the last one they’ll serve? We not only have to pay outrageous prices, we have to be mind-readers. (And about those prices… Nah, I’d need a second column, probably a two-pager. Some other time.)
AND THEN there’s the shuttle shopper.
The other day, I pulled into line at the checkout counter. I chose this particular line because the unattended shopping cart in front of me contained just a few items while the cart in front of that, although full, was already being emptied onto the conveyor belt.
Soon, a smartly dressed young woman appeared with a handful of groceries that she deposited in the cart. It’s something you see every day. In fact, I occasionally do it myself when, after getting in line, I realize there’s something I forgot – in which case I turn to the person behind me, apologize for my dementia and explain that I’ll be right back.
But the woman disappears again among the aisles. No apologies or elucidation.
Three or four minutes later she reappears with more items – and disappears yet again.
After a few more times the items in her shopping cart pass the molehill stage and are becoming a very promising mountain.
I watch this with growing irritation. The checkout line beckoned to me with the sweet promise of a relatively short wait, the lines around it being magnets for carts that at the outset were filled to the brim.
So I mention this to the young woman after she reappears from what seems to have been a very productive stroll through Frozen Foods, and for good measure point out that shopping carts have wheels because they are meant to be brought to the items on the shelves rather than having the items brought to them.
“Is there a law that says I can’t shop this way?” the woman asks with raised eyebrows and a strong sense of vocal certitude.
She heads back out, this time in the direction of Baked Goods.
“Damn well should be,” mutters an elderly man behind me.
The elderly man looks at the cashier, who is finishing up with the customer in front of Ms. Chutzpadik. “Why don’t you say something?” he asks.
“The only rule we have is in the express lane, where you’re allowed just 10 items,” says the cashier.
“And if someone has 11 or 12 or 15?” the man inquires.
“Depends,” the young cashier says as she works on a large wad of gum and hands the departing shopper her change and receipt. “Usually, if the other customers complain loudly enough, the person will move to a regular line.”
“You yourself wouldn’t say anything?” I ask.
“Look,” she says with a sigh. “I pull and push heavy cans and packages over the scanner all day. I have to know which code goes with which bread. I have to hit the right buttons on the register and do it quickly enough so that no one complains I’m too slow. I have to explain to customers why the coupons they bring aren’t valid. And all this for minimum wage.
Now you want me to be a cop?” She’s got a point. So I look at the now-empty conveyor belt, the unattended shopping cart and the people in line behind me. They know what I’m thinking and quickly make way as I reach for the cart, haul it out of the line and push my own to the conveyor belt, where I begin unloading my groceries.
Supermarkets and other places of business like to talk about “customer service.”
Let’s call this new mode of behavior “customer initiative.” And it needn’t be just in the express line. Taking the law into your own hands in any checkout line can be highly pleasurable and make you feel like that white-collar vigilante played by Charles Bronson back in the Death Wish films of the ’70s and ’80s. (Fun fact: Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum got their start in the first movie, both as punks.)
PERHAPS THIS is the only answer to the lawlessness in our grocery stores; If the MKs can’t bring order to us, we’ll bring our own. The only problem is that supermarket vigilantism cannot be allowed to get out of hand. We can’t have shoppers rummaging through their pockets or handbags for coupons or loose change with smoking Smith & Wessons lying on the conveyor.
So the security people at the entrance will have to start being a bit more diligent with those metal detectors, Now there’s a new bill our MKs can start chewing on: Grocery shoppers will have to check their firearms at the door. Knives and shivs, too. And no exceptions – not even for the parliamentary aide who’s got to pick up a loaf of bread and liter of milk for the boss between committee meetings and voting calls on legislation aimed at curbing road rage and youth violence.