Questions: The High Cost Of Groceries

Chaos in Print

I’ve come to the realization that bagging groceries for a living is a lot like being Death. Like Death, I offer you a brief reprieve from a long, arduous journey. And, like Death, I have a question for you at the end of that journey. But, where as Death asks you “Do you have any regrets?” I ask you “Would you like help out to your car with that?” I always marvel at the wide number of responses I get to that question. For example, a pregnant woman forgot to get a loonie for the cart. So, she winds up lugging 7 baskets and a flat of no name cola around the store. I bag it all, then ask my question. And what does she say? “No thanks. I can manage.” Yeah. You can manage. That’s why you collapsed of exhaustion after putting down the baskets. I have to ask my boss this question: “What am I supposed to do when the person obviously needs help out to their car, but refuses?”

Actually, I get a lot of refusals. “No thanks. I can manage.” But, I’m told I have to ask everyone. So, I ask everyone. And I get everything from “No” to “Nope. Just wrap these handles all over my arms and around my neck” to (my favorite) the very sarcastic “Yes.” But, I bet you that when winter comes, and it hits -20 outside, I’ll be getting a lot more genuine yeses.

There is a second question I’m also required to ask. When I get a whole bunch of big jugs (usually milk), I always ask “Would you like that in a bag?” And I always get one of two answers:

a) “No, don’t bother. It’s easier to carry without a bag.”

b) “Yes, please. It’s easier to carry in a bag.”

I think I should get these people together. Not since “the chicken or the egg” would we see such a heated debate. What I always like about asking this question is there are people who will sit there in silence for a few minutes, thinking about it, pondering it as though the fate of the universe rests upon their answer. Some days, it’s frustrating.

And that’s just the questions I have to ask. For some reason, people seem to think that the bagger runs the whole store. People walk in off the street, come up to me, and ask “Do you have any of that Atlantic Salmon that you have in the flyer?” Well, if it’s in the flyer, then we probably do. “Where can I find a shopping cart?” They’re in the parking lot. You walked right by the three rows of them to come in here and ask me. “Where can I find a basket?” Yeah, you see that huge stack of them you walked past? Why can’t people just turn their heads as they walk around and see this all for themselves?

But the one thing that really frustrates me is when I’m out doing returns. When you go to the grocery store, and decide at the till that you don’t want something, the cashier usually takes it and puts it underneath her till. Well, it’s the bagger’s job to take those and put them back on the shelf. Usually, when I’m doing such a task, I’m mistaken for a shelf stocker and asked where something is. And, it has bothered me to no end as to what the most diplomatic way is to say “I’m sorry, I don’t know. That’s not my department.” I will admit that I’ve gotten better at that one. I know the store well enough now that I can generally point them in the right direction. But it’s frustrating! You don’t expect the janitor to know all the goings-on at the law firm he works for, so why do you expect the bagger to know if they’ve got more cocoa powder in the back room?

And then, there are the questions I get that just seem to come out of the blue. I got this one during the August Long Weekend: “The tourist information booth is closed. Can you tell me how to get to Peace River?” No, but I can tell you where I’d like you to go. But my favorite incident like this happened at the start of my second week.

This big, fat guy walked into the store. He must have weighed about 500 pounds. He needed crutches to help him walk because he was that fat. He walked up to me and said “Pardon me. It’s time for my monthly physical, and my doctor doesn’t have a scale big enough to weigh me. Do you have a big scale in the back somewhere, you know, that you use for measuring large bulk items of something like that.” I replied with what was a very truthful answer at the time. “Uhh, I just started here. I don’t know.” I then directed him to the customer service desk to ask my boss. So, I went back to work, and watched him hobble across the store to the customer service desk. I watched him exchange words with my boss. He then came hobbling back in my direction. He walked up to me and said “No, you don’t.” He walked out of the store, and that was the last I saw of him.

Stuff like this I’m able to look back on and laugh. But sometimes, that doesn’t compare to the questions my coworkers ask me. “Mark, have you done returns yet?” “Mark, have you emptied the garbage cans yet?” “Mark, have you brought out more bags from the back yet?” OK, I’ve been working there for coming up on 5 months. I have degrees in physics and math. I KNOW HOW TO DO MY DAMN JOB!! And, I’m not like those punk-ass teenagers I work with who avoid doing that to have a half-hour break. They give baggers a bad name. I swore I wouldn’t do this, but one of these days I’m going to snap and start lording my education over them. “Mark, have you done returns yet?” Why yes, I have. But hey, could you do my a favor? I scratched out this solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem during my break. Could you check it for errors?

Whenever I’m on the closing shift, this is what I do. When the store is closed, I finish all my work. Returns are done, garbages are empty, the carts without locks are brought in. Usually, that last half hour is pretty dead and I get it done then. Then, with all my work done, I go and ask the supervisor if I can go. And my supervisor then asks “Is all your work done?” Talk about banging your head against the wall. One of these days, I’m going to snap and say to the supervisor “Look. I have two degrees. I am college educated. I know that I can’t go home until my work is done. If I still had work to do, I would be doing it. But I have no work to do, so I’m not doing any work. Instead, I’m asking you if I can go home. Long story short, YES IT’S DONE! I WOULDN’T BE GOING HOME IF IT WASN’T!!”

Some days, I just want to shoot myself. Then, I could meet Death, and we can share stories about the stupid questions we are asked in our jobs. I’m sure she gets her fair share of stupid ones, too: “You’re Death? Does this mean I’m dead?” Yes, it does. “Can you tell me what Hell is really like?” Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. All these questions, yet sometimes you have to wonder if people are really interested in the answer.

Midnight Ramblings XII

Chaos in Print

NOTE: OK, this is the last time. When certain things about pop culture haunt me, I e-mail them to my buddy Neelix to get them off my chest. And here’s the latest.

Hey Neelix!

So, I finally did it. I did my Alien movie marathon. All 4 Alien movies in one day. And you know what? For horror movies, they’re not that scary. Actually, what I find cool about them is how they can be used to trace the history of visual effects over the last 20 years. Alien came out in 1979, and the spaceships are obviously models, and the animatronic alien really didn’t age that well. Things end in 1997 with Alien Resurrection, with CGI aliens and much improved models. Not only that, but they also serve as a testament to how well Sigourney Weaver is aging. 4 movies, made over 18 years, and she’s doable in each one. I love it!

But enough about Alien. What’s bugging me right now is there is this one cartoon that I can find absolutely no fan sites on. I’m talking about Captain Planet and the Planeteers. You ever get that one? It debuted in 1990 following on the fad that was environmentalism. It was a cartoon made with a very preachy save-the-environment message. It was created by worldwide media mogul Ted Turner, too. It debuted in 1990, when it was animated by DIC, the same folks who did Inspector Gadget. But then, in 1993, Ted Turner bought Hanna-Barbera, and the cartoon was moved to that studio, and re-named The New Adventures of Captain Planet. Here’s the premise as best I can remember it:

Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, can’t stand how much we humans have messed up her planet. With all that pollution and stuff, she’s as a mad as hell, and she’s not taking it anymore! So, she created five power rings (no, this doesn’t rip off Green Lantern at all), and gave them to five special young people from all over the world to be the champions of the environment. We had Wheeler, from North America (i.e. USA), with the power of fire. There was Linka, from Eastern Europe (the Soviet Union before it broke up), with the power of wind. Kwami, from Africa, with the power of earth. Representing Asia, Gi, with the power of water. And finally, Mati, from South America, with the power of heart (telepathic communication with animals). These five, the Planeteers, then went around the world stopping all sorts of environmental calamities. But, when things were beyond their power, they “let their powers combined!” and summoned forth…Captain Planet! The super-hero with all the powers of the planet at his command. Very formulaic, but it was on for 6 years.

And of course, the rouges gallery were stereotypes of the people who the environmentalists put the blame on. We had Dr. Blight, the misguided scientist. There was the big businessman, Looten Plunder. Hoggish Greedly, the over-consumer. Sly Sludge, the profiteer. Duke Nukem (yes, the same name as the video game character) was an 8 foot tall behemoth who oozed radiation, thus he represented toxic waste. And finally, there was Verminous Scum, and I don’t know what he represented.

My favorite episode had to be the one where Dr. Blight invented a machine to create evil opposites of our heroes rings. The evil opposites were: deforestation (earth), radiation (fire), smog (wind), toxins (water), and hate (heart). And, when our villains let these powers combine, they brought forth…Captain Pollution, Captain Planet’s evil twin! It was a huge two-part episode, ending with a giant battle between the two captains, with the fate of the planet in the balance.

You know, the four elements of the earth (earth, wind, fire, water) seem to pop up a lot in all forms of kids programing. Another thing I’ve been obsessing on lately is Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. I think I’ve ranted on it before, but it deserves re-ranting. It was a rip-off of Power Rangers, from the creators of Power Rangers. Set in ancient Ireland, it focused on the ongoing war between the good kingdom of Kels, and the evil kingdom of Temra. Finally, in order to turn the tide, four young people from Kels stepped forward to become…the Mystic Knights, guardians of truth and justice! Using their magic weapons to summon forth their magic armor, and the assistance of Pyre, the Dragon of Dare, they whipped serious Temran ass. Our knights were:

Rohan, knight of fire – The leader of the Mystic Knights. He bears the Mark of Destiny on his arm, which means that he is destined to become the mythic warrior Draganta and lead Kels to freedom. He was orphaned as a young boy, and raised by Ca’hard, the king’s Druid (a wizard, really), to someday realize his destiny. His mystic weapon is the Sword of Kels, which shoots fire. His mystic armor is in a lovely red and gold motif.

Angus, knight of earth – Rohan’s long time best friend. A rouge and a thief, who’s been in and out of trouble with the king’s guards (i.e. the cops) for quite some time. Now that he is a Mystic Knight, he seems to have reformed his ways to become a lovable rouge. His mystic weapon is a mace that hurls boulders, and his colors are silver and gold.

Deirdre, knight of air – The Princess of Kels, and future queen. She disobeyed her father’s orders in order to become a Mystic Knight, and thus protect her future queendom. She’s also got a thing for Rohan, and she’s in a bit of denial about it. Her mystic weapon is a crossbow that generates whirlwinds, and her armor is white and gold.

Ivar, knight of water – Prince of “the land across the sea.” Part of his royal duties included guarding a scared chalice. But, the chalice was stolen from him by a mysterious thief with a scar on his forehead, and Ivar traced the thief to Kels. He soon learned the thief was the Temran general, and the chalice was the source of the Temran ruler’s magical power. So, knowing that an end to the Kels/Temra war is the only way to regain the chalice, he became the fourth knight. His mystic weapon is a trident that shoots lightning bolts, and his armor is an aquatic blue and gold.

Of course, this was from the creators of Power Rangers, so there was soon a fifth knight (i.e. sixth ranger) who joined the team halfway through the series:

Garret, knight of forests – Prince of the neighboring kingdom of Briggard, he was arranged to be Deirdre’s husband when he and Deirdre were but infants. Now all grown, he came to Kels to get married, but found a war going on. The other Mystic Knights didn’t like him at first, for he was a braggart and constant show-off. But, Ca’hard had a vision, showing Garret to be the fifth knight. As soon as Garret learned the noble trait of humility, he was given his mystic weapons, and became the fifth knight. The wedding, in the meantime, has been put off until after the war, and Garret and Rohan often find themselves competing for Deirdre’s affections. Garret’s mystic weapons are the Twin Timber Axes, which fire nondescript energy bolts, and his armor is an earthy brown and gold.

And that was Mystic Knights. Too bad it only lasted for one season. The toys were pretty good too, but didn’t last to a second series. Which is sad, because one of my old ToyFare magazine talks of a Kels Castle playset that “puts Castle Greyskull to shame.” I see they spliced some episodes together into a straight-to-video movie. I should pick it up.

Anyway, the rambling is getting kinda long. But, before I go, I have a question to pose. You know those plastic collector’s cups that fast food restaurants sometimes give away? Do you know anyone who actually collects those? Just curious.


The Greatest

Chaos in Print

Tonight, I was in one of those nostalgic moods where I felt like reliving my glory days. I dug around in my closet, until I found a humble audio tape labeled 3/21/96. In my first two years at college, I taped my radio show to send home for my parents to listen to. I quit doing it during my third year because I couldn’t afford the tapes anymore, and my parents just weren’t listening. But, I was fortunate to be taping the show on the night of March 21, 1996. In my opinion, that night I did the greatest radio show I’ve ever done. I can’t explain it. I remember going up to the station that night to do my show. When I noticed that the record player was working, and I was able to find that first pressing of the Star Wars soundtrack on vinyl, I just knew everything would be going my way that night. I kicked off with the theme from Star Wars on a scratchy old record, and everything just went my way. The day after that show, with all the compliments I received, I was convinced that I was the greatest. I have done many things in my life to try and relive that feeling of being the greatest.

Right now, I am obsessed with that game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I drive my mother nuts with that show. Every night the show is on, I watch. And, 9 times out of 10, I get the answer right. I shocked my mother one night by correctly answering every question from the $100 level to the $1,000,000 level. I turned to my mother and said, “I told you I could do it.” And then there was the time when the $1,000,000 question was “Which of the following authors was born as Howard Allen O’Brien?” My mom was stumped. The contestant was stumped, and walked away with his half a million. But, there I was at home, with nothing but my gut hunch. I went with my hunch, and stunned my mother by being right. It’s Anne Rice. Of course, all this success soon went to my head, and now whenever I correctly answer a question, I scream out “I AM THE GREATEST!!” So, when the Canadian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was announced, I knew it was time to put my money where my mouth was.

I checked the CTV website religiously, waiting for them to announce the 1-900 number. When they did, I ran upstairs and put it on speed dial. Then, I went back and read the rules of the contest. In order to win, you needed to get five rounds of fastest finger right. I could only call once a day. That’s cool. I am the greatest, after all, so I knew one call would be all I need. The country would be split into six geographic regions, and I was in the middle of the largest: Prairies & Territories. That’s OK. Not daunted yet. Now, whenever I correctly answer all five fastest finger questions, my name gets put into a draw. Then, my name is drawn, and I win! In my region. Then, my name gets put into a second draw, and is drawn from the winners of all regions. So, even if I was the greatest, I had to survive two random draws. Suddenly, I flashed back to speech of Two-Face’s on an episode of Batman: “Chance. Everything depends on it. Whether you’re born or not, whether you die or not, whether you’re good or evil.” But, I knew that I could send out enough good vibes to win both draws. After all, I am the greatest.

Soon, the day came. The phone lines were open, and it was time to make my first call. I dialed the 1-900 number. I got this whole speech from Pamela Wallen about how I would be charged $2 for the call and such forth. Then, thing were turned over to that digitized voice asking for my gender, birth date, and last 4 digits of my social insurance number. I entered all that information diligently. Then, the computer voice droned on about the rules. Yadda, yadda, yadda. And then, it was time for round 1! My first fastest finger question: “Put these four words in order to form the name of a folk singing group: 1) Paul 2) Peter 3) Mary 4) and.” This was the fastest finger. Time was running out. I panicked. My panicked mind said “This is easy! I know this group! It’s Peter, Paul, Mary, and!” I entered that as my answer, and it was naturally wrong (it’s Peter, Paul, and Mary, for those who don’t know). I was in shock. How could I have panicked? I am the greatest. So, next day came, and it was time for me to call again. Again, I panicked, and entered the wrong answer. Day 3. Again, I panic and enter the wrong answer. What was wrong with me? Is it possible that I am not the greatest?

Finally, around day 5, I started wising up. My panic was working against me. So, when the computer voice droned on about the rules before the game began, I would close my eyes, breath deeply, and enter a total state of relaxation. First fastest finger question. I aced it. Second one. Easier than the first. Third one. Hey, I’m on a roll! Fourth one. Damn! Geography! The bane of the Millionaire contestant! I washed out. But, I made it farther than I had before. Perhaps I am the greatest after all. Next day, another chance. This time, the third question was a sports question. Damn! Sports! The silver bullet for this werewolf! But still, I was doing damn good. The days began to roll by. I would consistently wash out in the third or forth rounds. But I knew that all I needed was to get to the final round just once and I would be the greatest.

The final day came. I knew that it was now or never. The first, second, and third questions were easy. Then, the forth one: “Put the following rulers of England in the order of when they took power, starting with the earliest.” My jaw dropped. I was stumped. I made a valiant attempt, but bombed. Perhaps, I wasn’t the greatest after all. A few days went by and it wasn’t before long that complete statistics were published in the paper. Apparently, 759,937 people called in to play the game and become a contestant. Of that number, only 3741 got all five questions right. I pulled out ol’ Betsy (my graphing calculator) and crunched the numbers. This works out to 0.5%. This means that out of everyone who called in, only 0.5% were good enough to get all five. As Mark Twain once said “When you find yourselves on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

So, my worst fears were confirmed. I was not the greatest. Only 3741 people get that honor. But who knows? Perhaps it was just simply their turn. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time here on this earth, it’s that we all get out turn at being the greatest. For some, it happens when they kiss the Stanley Cup, or win Olympic gold. For others, it may be their wedding day, and the knowledge that, out of a whole planet, their spouse chose them. There are those who’ll get it on a game show. For me, it was March 21, 1996. We all get our turn, and someday, it will come around to us again. We all know how to recognize it. You just wake up in the morning, and everything seems to be going your way. Whether by luck or grand design, things just click for you. But, until that day comes again, there is one thought that I will forever cling to.

We are the greatest. Never doubt that.

Buy Nothing Week

Chaos in Print

I had another one of those incidents that makes me question my faith in technology. My ATM card had been acting up, so I went to the bank to order a new one. That went all fine and dandy, and they told me that my old one would be canceled when the new one arrived. OK. Well, Saturday came, and I was heading into Edmonton to do some shopping. I stopped at the bank to get some money. I stuck my card into the ATM, entered my PIN, said how much I’d like to withdraw, and then it began “processing.” But did it give me my money? No! It kept my card! Here I was, robbed of my ATM card! I turned to enter the bank and get my money the old fashioned way, but the door was locked. I then read the sign: “Due to the long weekend, the bank will be closed until Tuesday.” So, here I was, broke and card-less. Finally, out of desperation, I stuck my credit card into the ATM and took out the money as a cash advance. But I was given an inspiration.

One of the pet protests of former Dag editor Lucas Warren was “Buy Nothing Day,” in which you simply buy nothing for a day in order to protest our evil, consumer-driven ways. As Saturday drew to a close, I remembered ol’ Lucas and thought that I would take advantage of this situation to do “Buy Nothing Week.” With my new ATM card due on Friday, could I really last a week with no money? It was a challenge I was ready to accept! So, on my way home, I blew my final $20 on gas for my car. And now the challenge began: to go a week without buying anything. What gave me biggest concern was buying gas. It is a 40-km commute to work everyday, and 40-km home. What follows is my journal for that week:

Sunday – Slept in. Had to sprint off to work as soon as I woke up. I was working a long shift (7 hours) and contemplated buying something to eat during the shift. Decided not to, as I had worked longer shifts without food in the past. Still the holiday weekend, so frightfully dead in the store. Thought about getting a Slurpee for the drive home, but wasn’t that thirsty. Spent evening on couch watching TV. Uploaded new column, went to bed. Gas gauge says full tank.

Monday – Woke up on time, but Mom had already started the laundry. Couldn’t have a shower. Went off to work. Average length shift (5 hours) so food wasn’t really a concern. Wanted to get a pop from the pop machine to drink during the break, but settled for tap water. Oooo, someone left a doughnut lying around in the break room! Finders, keepers. Wow! Those Pokemon candies are only $1.49! I could buy one. But I don’t really need it. Still got those Super Soakers on sale for $18.88. The readers at the website said I should get one. No! Don’t need it. Wow. Those back-to-school notebooks are only $0.28. If I bought one, I could write the next column during my break. No! Save it until you get home. Set out for home. Accident on highway, I have to take long detour. Spent evening on couch watching TV. Mom uses car to do some running around in the evening. Gas gauge says 3/4 tank.

Tuesday – Day off from work. Ahh, a whole day relaxing at home, free of temptation. Do some online window shopping. Do some writing, but not as much as I’d like to because Dad assigns afternoon tasks and I get caught up watching reruns of the Batman and X-Men cartoons. D’oh! Eudora freezes just as I’m opening a new e-mail! I hate when that happens, as I always lose the message. I’m starting to hate technology again! Oh, well, ICQ flashed the e-mail address, it looked like it was just spam. Mom uses care to do a lot of running around. Gas gauge says ½ tank.

Wednesday – Another day at work. It’s hard to buy nothing when you work in a store. Make $2 in people saying “Take the cart back! Keep the loonie!” But did I go blow my tips on a celebratory Slurpee like I always do? Nope! Darn it, I’m saving my money! But, I am starting to feel naked without an ATM card. Make me a loincloth out of $5 bills. Anything! I feel so unsafe with no way to get any money. But look on the bright side. If I get mugged, I lose nothing. Gas gauge reads a shade under 1/2.

Thursday – Another day off. Must buy something. Anything. Oh, when will this torture end? It would be better if there was $10 left in my wallet, but no. I got nothing. No cash, no card, nothing. I’m stripped bare. I can’t stand it anymore! When will this nightmare end? I crawl the walls. I long to head on down to the store and get some Doritos and Dr. Pepper to ease the pain, but I can’t. I said I would buy nothing until the card came, and damn it, I will! Must…stay…strong…must…stay…strong. Argh! Anything! Just $5! I must buy something! It’s torture, is what it is. I’m making all this money, BUT I CAN’T SPEND IT!! LET THIS END!! LET THIS END!! OH, PLEASE LET THIS END!! Mom borrows the car and fills the tank. Gauge reads full.

Friday – The heavens part, and down comes a letter from my bank. I eagerly rip it open to find…my new card!! I’m whole again! It’s like a clean pair of underwear after being naked for so long! I go down to the ATM to test it out, and successfully withdraw $20. (Yes, I’ve got clean underwear, but better put some pants on, too.) I work the evening shift. Things go smoothly. Since I miss supper, I stop by McDonald’s on my way out to get a Big Xtra. Then, I swing by the video store to get some movies for the weekend. I am fully dressed, and ready to take on the world.

I learned something this week. I know why it’s only Buy Nothing Day. Any longer, and you start to go batty. Our consumeristic ways are an addiction. Sure, it’s easy to go a whole day without buying anything, but try a week. As it drags on, it’s like going through withdrawal. You walk through a store, and can’t help but think “Gee, I should buy that.” Consumerism is evil. No doubt about it. Buying stuff is like being on weed. And I warn all of you who are reading this! Just as a dealer is apt to cut you off, an ATM is just as apt to take your card from you. And then you will wander streets, looking for a quick hit. So take heed, young reader! Kick this nasty habit now, before you find yourself a hopeless addict, like myself.