It’s half past five, Friday before Labor Day, Smith’s Food Town. You’ve dropped in to pick up a few things and then you’re heading home for a nice, relaxing dinner with the family.
Unfortunately, the check-out area looks worse than the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour. Every register is snarled with overflowing carts, whining children, the works.
This is more than you can handle right now. Dipping into the coffee aisle, you pause to take an inventory of your basket. Is there any way you can make it through the 10-item or less, cash-only Express Checkout? You count: 11 items. Damn.
But wait! You have two kinds of tofu…firm and extra firm. That’s two items for sure – they’re in two containers. Then again, you have three avocados which are on sale as a Fresh Value three-for-one special, and that should certainly count as one item! It’s one price, after all.
Technically, therefore, you have nine items. You wade into the Express Checkout line and begin to waddle forward. The line grows immediately behind you.
“Hey. Hey, lady,” a voice says behind you. You turn to see an old man of about 70. He has the clearest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. He’s smiling. He reaches into his hand basket and holds up a 4-pack of ramen noodles. “Get this for me? C’mon. I’m over the limit.”
“Aw, sorry. Can’t do it,” you say. “I’m a nine myself, as it –”
“You’re a six,” he says, firmly. “Your tofu is one, and those General Mills cereals have a peel-off, 2-for-1 coupon. You’re golden. Take my noodles, come on. Help an old guy out.”
Hesitantly, you take them. Some of the people behind the old man are muttering. They seem to know what’s happening. As you place your basket on the edge of the belt, there’s a huge sigh from the back of the line.
“That girl’s got 15 items, at least!” a woman screams.
“She’s buying that old man’s noodles! And that old man still has 12 items!”
“This isn’t fair! No pushy-fronties!”
You feel a lump rise in your throat, and your shoulders tighten, but you don’t turn around. Ignore them, you tell yourself. And what the hell is a pushy-fronty?
Ahead of you, there’s a tall blond guy in a blue suit. All he has is a gallon of milk, a bunch of grapes, and a baguette. “Gimme those cans of beans,” he says from the corner of his mouth, turning slightly but not looking at you. He seems to have a slight British accent.
“Just give them to me. These people are about to lose it.”
You push your beans forward on the belt. “Thank you,” you say, smiling.
Someone screams it again: “No pushy-fronties! They’re cheating!”
The checkout lady starts to ring up the business guy as a chorus of boos rises behind you. “That idiot’s got, like, 400 grapes!” someone screams.
“And that she-wolf behind him has a bag of salt! There’s 10 million grains in there! I counted one time!”
“I’m sorry I got you into this,” the old man says, panicked. “Give me back my ramen.”
That’s enough, you decide. You turn to face an army of red-faced shoppers, their faces contorted in anger, all of them slinging obscenities and shaking their fists at you.
“Grapes do not get counted individually!” you shout. “And neither does salt! That’s ridiculous!”
The 20 or so people in the line stop for a minute, staring at you. “Kill that bitch!” someone yells.
From the back of the line you see the barrel of a hunting rifle raise up. Almost without thinking, you turn and dive on the business guy, grabbing at his suit jacket and pulling him to the floor. As you do, there’s an explosion of gunfire, then another, and another. A plate glass window at the front of the store shatters, followed by a lotto machine and the sign at Starbucks.
“I think I got ’em!” a voice cries as empty shell casings clatter on the hard floor.
As you and the business guy struggle to your feet, the entire Express Checkout line attacks the old man, driving him to the floor. There’s a pile of bodies, boiling clouds of dust, a flurry of arms pumping like jackhammers, a sound like a pogo stick, and exclamation points everywhere. A pair of overalls comes loose and flies from the melee. After a few minutes, one of the men in the group raises up. He’s holding the old man’s severed head by the hair.
“Let this be a lesson!” he shrieks, jabbing the head on a pike.
“Run!” the business guy yells.
And you do, bullets and apples and grapefruits zinging past your head. You race out the sliding glass doors, across the parking lot, and barrel into the front seat of your car. Your tires squeal on the hot asphalt. You look in your rear view mirror to see the Express Checkout crowd standing in front of the store, still shaking their fists, receding from view.
You’re breathing hard as you take a hard right turn and head for home. Suddenly, you notice, on the seat next to you is your shopping basket! With your groceries!
You let out a nervous little laugh. For some reason, you count your items again. Aside from the old man’s ramen, and the beans you gave to the business guy to buy in a “pushy-fronty,” and allowing for the 3-for-1 avocados, you have…nine items.
But wait. You should have seven. You count again. Nine.
A wicked smile crosses your face. Indeed, with the beans you gave to the business guy you were trying to check out with 11 items! The mob was right! You were cheating.
Ah, well! Such is life! That was pretty gross when they cut off that old man’s head, though.