“Do you have an Advantage card?” the supermarket cashier asks me, pleasantly enough. This part is real. The cashier has actually said words, which will not be the case for most of the rest of our time together. I give him the card, he scans it, and then we are off to the world of needlessly defensive make-believe, courtesy of me.
This guy is new, I think. At least, I’ve never seen him before. Which means he knows, like, less than nothing about me, and yet right off the bat, I catch him looking askance at some of my frozen food choices.
“What—those Lean Cuisines?” I say, via my thought waves. “Well yeah, they’re full of salt and preservatives, but really, I only eat them for lunch. I mean, sometimes dinner, but hardly ever. And I know, okay, I know it’s ironic that the Lean Cuisines are stacked up right next to the ice cream. Not that it’s any of your business, but I have to buy three different kinds—of ice cream. I have a husband and kids at home, okay? It isn’t just all for me. God.”
(Quite Possibly The Least Realistic Photo Ever)
The Lean Cuisines and the ice creams fit nicely into one bag. I hope he notices this. I hope he realizes just how much good I’m doing by bringing my own bags, but he doesn’t seem to be thinking proud thoughts about me at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure a look of disdain just flashed across his face. Great. Because I know exactly what he’s thinking.
“Look,” I tell him, still only in my head. “I see you rolling your eyes at the chicken nuggets. I get it. But maybe if they hadn’t invented microwaves in the first place then our kids couldn’t have fallen in love with this kind of crap—did you ever think of that? Maybe you like to get home after a long day of work and cook a clean, healthy meal from scratch while simultaneously helping with homework and starting some laundry and going through the mail, and then checking to see if you actually paid the mortgage or if you just imagined doing it, but guess what: I don’t. And so what, anyway? It’s not like chicken nuggets are all my kids ever eat. See that stew meat you just blew past like it was nothing? Yeah, I’m going to make beef stroganoff with that meat! And I don’t even know if beef stroganoff is good for you; in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly not, but I will be making it from real ingredients that go into a Crock-Pot and not the microwave. Also, I think I will serve it with asparagus. See There it is, frozen asparagus, right there. Fine, fresh is better and organic is better than that, but, really, can’t you just give me a break? I’m buying vegetables! Look, there’s green beans and also broccoli. Right there. Vegetables.”
I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten to remove the items from under the cart. I like to do that first, because once I forgot entirely and got chased out of the store by a woman who I know did not believe I wasn’t trying to steal them. The cashier thanks me when I hold up the 12-pack of diet root beer for him to scan. But I can see he’s being condescending—I mean, it’s so totally obvious.
“Listen,” I tell him. “I’d really advise you to never try to be an actor, because seriously, I can see right through you. And the diet root beer, no, of course that’s not for my kids. Just for me. I don’t let my kids drink diet things. My kids pretty much drink only water. Well, and milk. And chocolate milk, and I guess Gatorade. Oh, those Kool-Aid Jammers? Of course, I know they’re loaded with sugar, but it’s not like I buy them every time, for God’s sake. I mean honestly, I hardly ever buy that stuff. I definitely make sure my kids get enough water—from the tap, because contrary to what you apparently think, it’s just as good for you as the bottled kind. Not to mention it’s not wasting tons of plastic every single year.”
God, this guy is difficult. This is exactly why I prefer the self-checkout lanes. And now he’s reaching for the cereal. Fabulous.
“All right, sugary cereal. You got me there,” I say. “But just so you know, I used to buy Fruity Cheerios, which everyone knows are good for your cholesterol level. I only quit buying them because they quit making them. Or maybe this store just quit selling them, and if so, shame on you in that case. I was trying to give my kids high-fiber, whole-grain goodness, but no. Don’t take away my options and then judge me for making a desperate choice.”
One of the Lunchables won’t scan. I hate buying Lunchables. Thank God I only bought two of them this week. Two doesn’t look so bad. But I’m betting this cashier thinks otherwise. I try to stare him down, and my eyes are saying, “Yeah, I let my kids take Lunchables to school. Stop looking at me. How old are you, anyway?”
He doesn’t react, probably because, finally, he’s gotten to the produce. I leave it for the end so it won’t get crushed, but it’s also a good redemptive move. “See those grapes?” I want to say. “They’re not even on sale. I will probably pay between $19 and $40 for those grapes, but you know what, I’m buying them anyway! Because I love my family. Do you know how much time I spent this summer cutting up cantaloupe and watermelon? That’s right, a lot. And look, there’s apples and pears—I don’t even like pears. And see this? Spinach, and green peppers and carrots and tomatoes. So it looks like all my vegetables aren’t frozen after all, does it, buddy? You got it. There is plenty of fresh food in my house, you judgmental asshole.”
Well, maybe that was a bit harsh. Is he looking at me funny? Or is it the eggs? Could he be judging the—“Oh, come on, eggs? Eggs are good for you! I know that for a while we thought they were bad, then just the yolks were bad, egg-white omelets and blah blah blah, but keep up. Now they’re back to good. And really, this is the perfect illustration of why you shouldn’t be judging me in the first place. What’s that? You say you weren’t judging me in the first place?”
“That’ll be $267.85,” says the cashier, out loud.
I pay him and give him a cheery “You too!” when he tells me to have a good day. I’m pretty sure I won the imaginary argument that we never had, so really, I can spare the kindness.