Yesterday I stopped at a Walmart. Not a Super Walmart, though we have a couple miles from home. No, this was the Neighborhood Walmart (or something like that), the one that just sells groceries and fills prescriptions. A much smaller store than the Super guy. The Neighborhood one isn't so near our house; it is in the midst of mobile homes that are rented in the winter by 'retired snowbirds'. Lots of the 'greatest generation' shop here. Walking up and down the aisle can be tedious and slow, but the patrons are all eager to talk and they all love a smile.
The Super Walmart has 50 plus check out lines. The Neighborhood one has 1 check out line and 6 'self check' machines. The line for the 1 "check out" line was 7 shoppers long... all those not wanting to self check or those not sure of HOW to self check. I took to the shortest self check line. But it quickly appeared all the 'self check' lines had problems. In one, the shoppers were trying to use an invalid gift card. In another, the couple were trying to use food stamps for exempted items. In my line.... an angry old woman argued out loud with the scanner. I called her Gertie, since I thought she looked like a Gertie (not a Gertrude, but a Gertie) She had no teeth. Her clothes were days worn. Her hands had the 'dehydrated look' - when your skin does not return to form once pinched. And her voice was angry.
First, she scanned a carton cigarettes. No problem, except the scanner screamed for a clerk to verify the shopper's right age. Gertie started yakking back at the scanner. "Yea, yea, yea, I'm old enough. Just look at me, shit, just look at me."
No clerk showed up to release the scanner. No one paid attention to Gertie and her check out items.
Gertie cussed. She was impatient. She screamed "This machine ain't working right!" but no one paid attention to her. The clerk was addressing the issue with the guys with invalid gift card... I tried to help Gertie, but she pushed me away.
"#$@!" said Gertie. She looked at me. "This machine ain't working. Watch this". And she falsely scanned her next carton of cigarettes. And 2 boxes of chocolate covered cherries (Queen Anne?). And a Lean Cuisine. She put them all in plastic grocery bags.
The clerk appeared. Gertie explained that the scanner stopped. The clerk ran some kind of credit-sized card across the scanner, punched in some code, and the scanner worked again.
Gertie ran yet another carton of cigarettes across the scanner. Repeat... scanner stalls, Gertie falsely scans several items while cussing the 'machine' wasn't working. I tried to explain she had to wait. But she bagged everything, turned to me and said that the machine wouldn't let her pay so she was leaving... and she left. Without paying. For 3 carton of cigarettes, at a minimum.
I was shocked. I stood there wanting to run after her but I doubted my success with doing so. I stood there... The clerk came to clear the machine again, without looking left or right. I told her "The woman here left with her groceries, but WITHOUT paying!". The clerk shrugged, avoided eye contact, cleared out the sales memory, and told me to proceed.
I am still numb. I am still angry at myself for not know what to do, and I am angry at Gertie for pulling a fast one liked that. I am still confused...
And I wonder if she is the old lady in "To a Poor Old Woman", the poem by Carlos William Carlos. I'd have bought her a plum, a deli sandwich, a big ham for dinner. She never looked that needy, just angry.
Or is she from "The Best Cigarette" by Billy Collins?
Either way, I am disappointed in me. But mostly disappointed in her.