Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cashier Stories and Observations, Volume One.

The Salvation Army Bell-Ringer, whom had been singing at people as they exited and entered the store's entrance, approached a boy whom I had trained alongside, whom was fresh out of high school, during our break. Tiger Woods was golfing on television, so naturally the conversation began about golf. The Bell-Ringer said that Tiger was not "right with God" because he had been unfaithful, and the boy agreed. The Bell-Ringer asked the boy's age, and whether or not he'd be going to college. The boy responded that he was the first in four generations in his family to graduate from high school, and that he currently didn't know if he'd continue on to college or not. The Bell-Ringer talked about how he didn't go to college but could have and that he's a music virtuoso who's been playing the violin since he was four. "I AIN'T JUST SOME BELL-RINGER, YOU KNOW." The Bell-Ringer then said that his nephew has been going to college for a long time, and that "after a while, they just let you start teaching classes." Then he abruptly commanded the boy not to let ANYTHING come between him and God. He then said his nephew had let books come between him and God, further explaining this phenomenon by saying that he was "26, and didn't date." The Bell-Ringer stated that the only way to know God was through a relationship, ie: mindlessly procreating. Then I walked out, thinking about the Bell-Ringer's closeted gay nephew who's probably a grad student teaching classes to underclassmen at IU, and how he probably never speaks of his crazy uncle.

After leaving the break room and returning to my register, an elderly man came through my line with a WIC voucher for produce. I accidentally didn't use the entirety of the $6 on the man's produce. He demanded that I fix this. I called my manager over, and my manager explained that there was no way of fixing this due to WIC's strict regulations. The man replied "so, I'm going to have to pay for someone else's mistake?" Yes, he indeed had to pay $1, while tax-payers paid the remaining $5 that had already been accounted for. He spent a total of $54 after that voucher. With food stamps. Including the dreaded $1.

An impatient woman came through my line one of the first afternoons I was working and was using food stamps. I don't fully remember what happened, but something went wrong, and I didn't know what to do about it, as I hadn't been taught yet. Her response to this was "you shouldn't be doing this if you don't know what the hell you're doing." I prefer to think that this is a manifestation of the bad karma that follows her around.

I've noticed that the store's HR representative/secretary says "from WO-rk" in the same way every time she calls me, and it really pisses me off. I'll have to say it aloud for you sometime so that you understand this, because it gets under your skin immediately. Also, I don't understand why she doesn't just say the name of the store, as opposed to "from WO-rk." I have decided that she is also deceptive and inept, as she told me that I'd probably be making $8.70/hr when I first began, and then upon questioning her a week later, she put all the blame for me only making $7.25/hr on the union. She shouldn't have said anything at all if there was any doubt about it. She was also telling me about how she was going to take some classes to learn to operate Microsoft Word. My internal response is that I could easily take her job in a heartbeat if it wasn't company policy to only promote from within. I'm coming for her, I suppose.

Today, on my 15-minute break, I learned a man's three-generation history of how his family came to reside in Fort Wayne, unprovoked. I was watching the evening news when this man started yelling at me while not looking directly at me (at all...it was always to my far left) about how his grandfather ordered a house kit from the Sears catalog when he had farmland near the area. "Built the whole damn thing from a single kit, and the house is still standing today. Took my wife out there to see the place. We was driving through and she says 'look at that pretty little house' and I says 'that's my grandfather's house' and she JUST CAN'T BELIEVE IT." Then he talked about how some fast-talking oil men came in and convinced his grandfather to put some kind of lean on the land as they drilled for oil. Their drilling only produced methane gas, as his grandfather's land was ancient swamp land, which is apparently the best kind of farm land around. Except for when the farmer attempts to grow potatoes. He went on to say that the Hinkles, at some point amidst their northern Indiana farming success, attempted to grow potatoes and sell them to the Seifer's chip factory that used to be here, but that their potatoes were rejected because a potato that's grown in old swamp land picks up the taste of the muck itself. The potatoes taste earthen and moldy. Then the man heard some alarm going off and stormed out of the room. That's when my break expired and I left.

A woman had been sure that there was more money on her food stamp card then there was. Upon learning how much was actually on the card, she began exclaiming "I'm gonna KILL my son!" Then, with a sigh of exasperation, she said "there goes my beer money."

Yesterday, as I was assisting a customer in my express lane (read: should be 15 items or less) whom easily had about 30-40 thanks to the four WIC vouchers she wanted me to process, a young man shouted at me from over a divider "hey yo. yo. YO." When I finally looked at him he said "can I get a Red Bull with food stamps?" I stared at him and then replied that I wasn't sure. "Tsk. You ain't sure. Then who IS?" He said this with a really condescending, impatient tone. I pointed out the managers, and he and his snickering friend walked away. Then I realized that he was either the brother or the lover of the girl I'd been helping, and, by extension, the dependent of the girl's mother whom had just spent about $300 in food stamps buying expensive real foods. He and his snickering friend then presented me with a range of chips, candy, and pop as he asked how he was supposed to use his food stamp card. "You slide it" was all I said. I watched him as he and his friend laughed with glee about getting away with using food stamps for the first time.

There is a great deal of racial variation in this store's customers, but the majority of customers are black. I am white and relatively well-spoken. I've noticed that a small percentage of these customers will give me dirty looks in between carrying on with their friends and acquaintances they see around the store. I try to ignore this, but I constantly feel like I'm in a Spike Lee film that's about to become misguidedly violent for no reason at any moment. I deeply hate this feeling, but it's honest in its presence. There is a definite tension regarding my presence in this store. Also, I become extremely frustrated with the stereotypes that are constantly played out amongst our customers. Chitlins, turkey necks, turkey tails, pig feet, etc...they are what my friend Nick referred to as "slave food." He was telling me that his dad refuses to allow his children to eat these things because he believes that the "tradition" of eating these things only contributes to the tradition of inferiority, to eat the pieces that are meant to be thrown away/thrown to the dogs. These things are still extremely popular amongst our customers. This doesn't frustrate me on a racial level as much as it does a class level. I feel the same way every time a disheveled white person comes through with nothing but Mountain Dew and chips or something. It's the nutritional perpetuation of a slave class status. It's settling for bad food when it isn't much more expensive to get things that are good for you or at least of higher quality. Latinos also fall back on traditional cheap foods, but from what I've observed, theirs always seem to be more balanced or generally better. Refried beans, tortillas, lettuce, tomato, pinto soup beans, various kinds of peppers, and whatever kind of meat is on sale (usually chicken or ground beef). While it isn't built into the American tradition, what I've seen come through nearly every Latino's order is becoming more and more present in orders across the racial board, because this is nourishing cheap food. Another stereotype I find odd but culturally interesting: Asians typically only buy fresh produce and eggs. I want to know what they're making with these things, but they usually don't speak English. Also, everyone across the board pays in food stamps. It isn't racially limited in the slightest. It's just an indicator of what kind of area this is. Sometimes I see well-dressed people with the newest phones and whatnot paying with food stamps. It angers me.

Most days in this store are meat-tastrophes for me. The top selling kind is, of course, ground beef, followed by chicken (mainly legs followed by breasts), steaks, then catfish. My hands dry out by the end of my shift from all of the sanitizer I pour on them throughout my time there.

There was an elderly woman that came through my line yesterday who was followed by a slightly younger man whom was shouting gibberish in one long stream of gibberish. She was begging forgiveness from everyone, explaining that her son was troubled and going back to the hospital soon, and that she'd be having the time of her life if it wasn't for him. She said she was 72 and he was 52 and he'd been this way and living with her almost all his life. She was very embarrassed and kept telling him to shut up and stop it but he wouldn't. At one point, while he was staring at me and shouting gibberish, it sounded as if he scoffed/laughed and said "nigger" as if he was preaching to everyone that surrounded me about how the whitey should not be trusted. That's when people looked at me, as if I'd done something to provoke it. The mother kept telling him to shut up and eventually the eyes left me, but the feeling, no matter how fleeting, was not pleasant.

A woman came through tonight with three items: a half gallon of milk, fudge popsicles, and a pineapple. I asked her, as I ask everyone, how she was doing. She sighed and said "fine, but my rabbit's sick. That's why I'm getting the pineapple." I learned that apparently pineapple is supposed to jump-start a rabbit's digestive system.