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.