Friday, March 6, 2009

Tall People

I got in line behind a very tall man at the supermarket. Already I didn't like him, but he had only a few items, so I set my groceries out on the belt. He stood a good three feet taller than the cashier, who was old and visibly perplexed. She lifted a wandering index finger to the register, hesitated, and warily consulted her other index finger which was pressed just beneath the bar code on a large box of donuts. She looked up at her monitor. She looked down at the donuts. She peered into the middle distance, and shouted to an unseen Darrel.

Darrel loped up, possibly 16 years old, possibly 34, and gave the cashier an interrogative up-nod.

Adrift, she replied "Void. This new computer gonna be the death of me."

Darrel inserted a tiny key from an overflowing keychain and deftly performed the task. He loped off. The cashier thanked the tall man for his patience. Head declined at a 45 degree angle so as to make proper eye contact with her, he nearly whispered, "No problem." She passed his few remaining items over the scanner. 

The tall man's total was $131.95. He ran his card. He pushed "debit." He entered his secret code. We stood in concrete silence for one year, broken only by the cashier's defeated cry, "Darrel!"

I said, "Gracious!"

She turned her head with excruciating deliberation. She fixed her yellowed, protuberant eyes on me and pronounced, "I'm trying to figure out this new computer." She nodded in slow motion at the adjacent lane and added, "You can get in another line."

I would not move my groceries to another belt, and asked her to try and finish the transaction.

The tall man said, "Just relax, man." I felt relaxed.

The cashier bleated, "Someone musta had a baaaaaad day at work."

I had not. I said, "I did not."

Darrel arrived and we all shut up. He again produced the magic key from his bristling array, fixed the new computer, and disappeared. The cashier examined her monitor. She recoiled. She shook her head and said, "It says it's not enough. There's not—we still have $118.76 left. It says negative $118.76."

I was mortified by the tall man's extreme calm. I was trembling like a leaf, my face twisted into a mie of incredulity. He willfully waived his every right to complain, cooing, "That doesn't sound right—can you check?"

Darrel appeared, established the cashier had only charged the tall man $13.19, and vanished. Steam was pouring from my ears. I kept turning to find a pair of sympathetic eyes, to condemn these two in a court of common decency, but my lane was eerily empty. It was just us three. The tall man again swiped his card, entered his secret code, paid his balance, was again thanked for his patience, and left. I was alloyed against his inevitable pivot+recriminating glare, but he simply walked away. 

I attempted some retrenchment of hostilities with the cashier. I did not succeed. I paid, gathered my groceries, and walked home.

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