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Saturday, Jun. 04, 2005
Get out safe, Zen, and well. ‘Nuff said, unless you check your notes.

I’ve got a big’un in the works, entry wise, but this little tale relates so well to it that I just had to preempt the festering cauldron of a 5,000 word blowout to toss it in the pyre.

On the way back from a semi-closing of the house sale today (yes, there is such a thing as a semi. Don’t forget this is a Watering Hole closing).

On the way back, I stopped at the grocery near the old house, where the Trendy’s roam and the specials apply to ribeyes as big as your left foot. A quickie run for smoke makers, it was, and in a hurry. I make this run at least once a week.

I slid smoothly in line behind a couple who were clearly in their late sixties at the very least, a man with silver hair and a sleeved jacket in spite of the humidity with his wife, wigged and in charge of the checkbook. Probably not too far removed from what Ally and I will be in a few years.

She wrote, in a Palmer script as fastidious as ever done, a check for the purchase of oatmeal and Postum and a dozen bags of food to last 2 retirees a week, and the man was slowly loading his parcels into the cart. The 19 or something cashier watched the ceremony with lagging patience, the line behind me qued up and ran on, on beyond the entry aisle and into the soup area.

Now the check being written by the lady happened to be one of the old fashioned kind, a longish sort of check like what I use for the business, not the cute ones with leaping dolphins or the like. No, these were of the old sort, not unlike their owner, carefully noting each digit with a smooth upstroke of ink.

On taking the check, the cashier ran it through the check part of the computer/printer thingy, and it spat and hissed and made not the sound of loving, digitized acceptance it usually does. It made a beep, and the cashier blanched just a bit.

“It isn’t taking the check ma’am,” she said. “Let me just run this by the head cashier real quick.” And she trotted off in search of her next in command.

Now you know, when put in this position, the saps in line all sagged just a bit. Hurry, we were in a hurry, and standing in a grocery line behind a lagging check surrendered by an elderly couple was . . . well, like being behind them at the stoplight with their handicapped plates and a green signal and no movement going on. That polite pause and intake of breath thing that is, inevitably, so very impolite.

No less than the assistant manager chick (and can there be anyone more managerial than the assistant at a grocery store) bustled back and in a not so hushed tone, quizzed the old couple. “This a company check? No? Well it isn’t reading on our computer. Guess you never did feed us the entry data, huh? Very sorry, can’t take this check today. Got any other way to pay your bill?” She was taking no nonsense from this quarter, it was clear.

The old lady spoke, a quavering voice, but determined. “I came in here just last week, and that nice cashier over there took my check, she made it work. She did something and made it go thru just fine. Why, I’ve been coming to this store for years and . . .”

“Ma’am, nobody could just make this check work. You have to take these big checks up front and run your initial information into the computer. Sorry, but I’ll have to ask you to pay another way until we can process this again.” It wasn’t quite sarcasm that rolled off her tongue, but more of the ‘Why can’t you people just get with the program here, and stop holding up this line’, the same auto robotic response you’d get from your average customer service voice over the phone.

Now the husband, the slow bagging man had listened to this, and leaned into the conversation with the wincing pain of years, and said, “Miss, what is the problem here? My wife is trying to tell you something, and . . . “

“Sir,” the robotic assistant interrupted, “There really isn’t anything more to do except to have you fill out your information, and stop holding up all these other customers.” She was rude to be sure, but it was the kind of rude that I’m sure she excused later on in some backroom recanting of the tale. “They were so old, these people, and they just didn’t get it!

And I don’t know what happened, what the old man actually did, but he shed about 20 years in an instant and stopped RoboGirl with just a look. “Get your manager out here.”

“Well I’ll be glad to do that sir but you really must . . .”

“No, you get the manager out here right now. We’ve listened to you, and now you can listen to us.” And he folded his arms to wait, while his spouse looked like she wanted to drop right through a hole in the floor.

While the manager was being summoned and the cattle in line began to moo and shuffle a bit, I happened to glance over (as the nosy sort of lump that I am) and peek at the check in question. This was a check for a lousy $74, but what really startled me was the check number, it was up in the 11,000 range somewhere.

Now I’ve worked enough cash register stuff to know one thing. Or maybe it’s just common sense. An elderly couple walking in with a check drawn from an account established that long ago aren’t in the store looking to stiff you for a few sacks of soft food. RoboGirl was missing the point entirely on this whole deal, she was giving them the third degree not because they couldn’t pay, but for having something of a formatting issue. A computer entry issue. By saying she couldn’t accept their check, she was telling these decidedly non-computer people that their money was no good.

Somewhere around the time that the manager rolled up, another cashier materialized and herded us over to her cash register, and I started scribbling my own check out. And since, you know, my check was of the proper size and my ID was pristine and everything, they hustled me right through. I was on my way to the door while the argument started getting a little louder behind me. Didn’t wound like the old soldier was having any better luck with the manager.

“I’m telling’ ye, we’ve been coming up to this store for years! This store right here! That cashier right over there, she knows us. Been coming up here for years!”

I didn’t hear the rest of it, nor the outcome. In fact, I was almost to the truck before the musing mental brake kicked in about the whole scene and started writing this entry in my head.

And the muse, as she so often does, started to berate me.

You sheep, you. What are you doing out here when you should be inside giving that nitwit manager a piece of your mind? You know that ain’t right. You know it’s nothing but a computer issue and those poor old people are gonna have to go to their bank and pull out cash and go all the way back there to get groceries and be humiliated in the process. You sheep. You could have said something. You could have helped. You‘re supposed to be the outlaw, the one who thumbs a nose at these techno-Nazis and their cold hearted world. Why didn‘t you just write a check for their stuff yourself and have her sign one of those big checks over to you? Sheep. Oh, go ahead and get in your truck and flee the scene, ye coward.

And you know it’s true. I hate the thought of that couple being subject to weeny rules that make sense only to the manufacturer of a certain piece of cash register equipment, and brainwashed RoboGirls who toe the company line without a shred of compassion or common sense. I hate it because I’ve been in their shoes, I see it happen all the time, the dehumanizing behavior.

Even worse are the sheep like me, who see it and do absolutely nothing about it. We’ve hit 1984 a couple decades overdue, my friends, and George Orwell would likely be shocked out of his mind to see how perfectly and completely his vision was fulfilled. How he might be prone to hop on a stump and yell, “Hey! Didn’t you morons know that was science fiction? You weren’t suppose to take it seriously!”

But, boy oh boy. We surely did take it seriously, didn’t we now. More to come.

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