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Taking Time to Take Stock In The 10-Items-or-Less Line

Oct 15, 2013 04:57PM ● By Scott Blackwell

our humor columnist, Ron Bates. Ron has a new youth novel out - How to Make Friends and Monsters

Dear Supermarket People:

Today I’m going to attempt to do something I’ve never done before – write an entire column while waiting in the “10 Items or Less” line at the grocery store. You’d think this would be impossible, what with the line’s blinding speed pushing my facial flesh to the back of my head and all. But sadly, no. The truth is, we’re not moving an inch. This is because, apparently, the “10 Items” sign is for decorative purposes only. Who knew? Kudos, grocery industry! What a clever way to punish your selfish, impatient customers for not buying more things from you!

I can see now that the “10 Items” line is, in fact, a lounge area where I’m supposed to stand while waiting for the actual lines to get shorter. Of course! Suddenly I understand what all those magazines are for! It’s just a way to pass the time! I suppose a lesser man might point out the line would move a lot faster if people actually had 10 Items or Less, but who am I to judge? It doesn’t bother me that the lady holding things up at the front of the line has at least 17 different items – or that our cashier has yet to reach out and strike her. Consistency, that’s what I’m 
looking for in a grocer! I, for one, am glad to hear that your checkout signage is every bit as flexible and meaningless as the expiration dates on your dairy products.

Sorry. If I sound testy, it’s only because I’ve been trying to avoid the grocery stalker. Well, his actual title is grocery stocker but I don’t think anyone has explained that to him. I’m not sure how it happened – I think I must have said hello to him once while he was putting canned goods on a shelf, and now I’m his best friend.

It’s eerie. No matter where I am in the store, he finds me. If I’m buying corn, he’s in the corn aisle. If I’m looking for ice cream, he’s on the other side of the freezer – his frozen face staring back at me when I pull back the Rocky Road. Twice – I am not making this up – I have gotten out of the store without a stalker sighting only to run into him in the parking lot. There has only been one instance where I made a complete grocery run without running into him. I was 
terrified I was going to arrive home to find him in my kitchen, busily putting cans in the pantry and waiting for my return.

The thing is, the stalker is a really nice guy. But after a year of these encounters, I’ve run out of conversation. You can only ask if someone is “working hard or hardly working” so many times before it loses its zing. Occasionally, I’ll ask him where something is that I neither want nor need just to fill the awkwardness in the air. The fallout from that is that he now sets aside those items for me whenever they’re on sale and I have no choice but to buy them. Anyway, this seems to make him happy. I say “seems” because, to this day, I have never understood a word the stalker says to me. Try as I might, I cannot place what language he is speaking. My best bet is that it’s Ubby-Dubby from the TV series Zoom, but I can’t know that for sure.

Don’t get me wrong – I genuinely like the stalker. But it’s become painfully obvious that our relationship has run its course and he needs to start following other shoppers. Besides, going through our store-buddy ritual is time-consuming – and time savings are the very reason I was drawn to the 10 Items line in the first place! So as you can see, I’m kind of in a hurry.

All I’m asking is would it kill you to open up another checkout lane? (That’s a serious question – I’m not familiar with your store lane-opening policy.) I know it can happen because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. So how come a new lane never opens when I’m walking up with my cart? It’s always when I’m fully invested in my current line, which I’ve been waiting in for a very, very long time. How long? Let me put it this way – the chicken I’m buying for dinner started out as farm fresh eggs. And yet some guy who hasn’t waited a single second, hasn’t cursed at a single coupon user, and doesn’t have to pee can just walk directly into his own private checkout lane. What makes him so special? Did he call ahead with some kind of grocery reservation? 

“Why Mr. Hollywood, we’ve been expecting you! Your usual checkout lane is available – the one with the complimentary Toblerones! Just wait here and I’ll summon a helicopter to take these bags to your car!” 

All I’m saying is that your present system seems extremely unfair. I’m wondering if there’s a way we can make it unfair in my favor.

Not that I want any special treatment. Oh, by the way, did I mention I’m close, personal friends with the stalker? 

– Ron Bates’ youth novel, How to Make Friends and Monsters, is available at bookstores and as an e-book on and