My husband and I have been together for a very long time. During that time, he has asked me many questions: Scented or unscented? White or wheat? Han or Greedo?
None, however, have scared me more than the one he recently asked at the grocery store: “Do you want to do the self-checkout?”
I mean, I’ve known this man since I was born. We’ve been a couple for 19 years and married for almost 17. We’ve had three children together and made it through multiple deployments. We’ve survived home renovations, ice storms and Hurricane Ivan.
But, could we handle self-checkout together? My past experiences gave me reason to doubt.
Several years ago, the first item I ever ran through a self-checkout was a bag of Red Delicious apples. “Please move your Red…Delicious…apples to the bag,” the robotic voice said as I anxiously looked over my shoulder, then at my cart full of groceries. Was the machine going to announce all of my purchases? I stood there for a long time, too embarrassed to leave, but more embarrassed to ring up the box of Lucky Charms.
Seriously, what if the robot broke character and actually started making comments about my purchases: “Move your fourth box of artificially flavored frozen waffles to the bag.”
Thankfully, the self-checkout machine only verbally announces produce items. Everything else is identified by its price, which isn’t much better. When something really expensive goes through, everyone turns around to see who’s the sucker who got a lousy deal on toilet paper.
These moments are punctuated by the “Please wait for assistance” that comes in between every third item. When the real cashiers come over to bail you out, you know what’s going through their mind: “What, we aren’t good enough? You think you can just ring up that stuff yourself? I hope the robot doesn’t suddenly decide to identify that item over there by name when it goes through.”
Absolutely nothing about self-checkout is comfortable. Yet my husband wanted to tempt fate by not only going through the self-checkout line, but going through it together as a couple. Was this some kind of twisted marital test? Because I already passed that when my husband and I paddled a double kayak together.
He was already unloading our basket. (Note: There is no room to unload a basket in the self-checkout lane.) Obviously, he has strong faith in our marriage. Or, rather, he has faith in the universe’s tendency to always side with him. Honestly, things always work out for him.
So he started sending boxes of cereal across the scanner and down the rolling ramp to me, where I was ready to bag them. Bagging groceries at the self-checkout lane is not as easy as it looks. The scales below, which decide whether or not you placed the correct item in the bag, are exceptionally sensitive. They know, for instance, if you’ve just briefly put the box of Capri Sun on the scale and then quickly moved it to the bottom of your cart. And when you scan something light, like a pack of tissues, you have to throw it in the bag with some force so that the scale acknowledges its presence. Get any of this wrong, and the S.O.S light starts blinking, ushering over the disapproving real-life cashiers who wish you’d just go through their lane instead.
I was trying to bag the boxes of cereal my husband sent down the ramp to me, but he was moving too fast. In self-checkout world, the order goes like this: scan, bag, repeat. You cannot scan, scan, bag, bag. But Dustin was sending me items faster than I could bag them. Picture Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory.
I was beginning to perspire as I raced against time with the alarm inside the machine that would soon call for assistance. My husband casually, confidentially and without even the slightest bit of awareness continued to send items down the ramp. I was bagging things that had been rung up two items back. I’d made a leaning tower of groceries and bags because I didn’t dare stop to move full bags into our cart.
While I felt like the bowling pins at the end of the alley, my husband calmly clicked “Finish and Pay.” On the way to the car, as he stuffed his wallet back into his jeans, he looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, I think that went pretty well. How about you?”
And that’s when I realized maybe things always work out for my husband because he has me there at the bottom of the ramp waiting with the bags.
You’re welcome, dear.