Performed at Keep Talking Cleveland March 2017
My second job was working at a local small higher end grocery chain. This was the kind of place that sorts through the berries for you and sells artisan bread and has a fancy wine selection. It was in the town I grew up in but my working class family had never shopped there so my interview was the first time I was in the place. I was told as a female I would be a cashier as girls were checkers and boys worked on the produce floor. The girls somehow also got to clean the bathroom. I’d like to say this is where the division ended, but it definitely wasn’t.
The main manager was this guy Pete who seemed cheery to customers and would walk around singing songs. Pete however would tell very inappropriate derogatory jokes to the boys and was super critical of the girls. I once was the only cashier and needed him to fix my cash register. While he fixed mine I went on another and had a line of only like 3 people. Pate opened his line and ushered over one of the customers, the customer stated she thought his lane was closed “Well it was but I had no idea she’d be so slow. She has to grow up if she thinks she’s going to college in the fall” Another time when a female cashier accidentally hit a salsa display breaking a jar, he slow clapped and yelled across the store “That’s what you get for horsing around. Don’t just stand there, clean it up”. Pete was a real asshole.
Its 4th of July weekend and the store is hopping. We have 3 checking lines going and a line around the small store. So I’m actually not that good of a cashier, there’s a couple of reasons for this: First of all I have a math learning disability so counting back change isn’t a strong suit of mine and secondly anyone who knows me knows I like to talk. A lot. So I often get in conversations with the middle aged moms coming through my store. It was actually really cool as I learned a lot, like you tell the difference between parsley and cilantro by smelling it (growing up I didn’t know what cilantro is, as its not an ingredient in Hamburger Helper.) I start to get stressed by the amount of customers and by Pete circling around us like a shark around a boat. I’m trying to keep my talking to a minimum and not screw up change too much when a man with a bald head and facial hair places a case of Budlight on my counter. I am only 18 and years before my craft beer obsession but even then I question why you’d buy that at a store that sells so much variety. I look at him and think he has to be 23. I don’t why I pick this age and not 21 or 25 but 23 is what I’m going with and don’t waste time checking his ID. I check him out and move on to the next customer. A few customers later and I see the 23 year old man back in the store with a man in his 50s. At first I don’t’ think too much of it, maybe this is his dad and they need more Budlight. I then notice they both have something large hanging around their necks and are carrying the case of beer. Shit. The thing about my talking is the more anxious I get the more I talk, and the faster I talk, this is also why dating isn’t a strong suit of mine. So the verbal diarrhea just runs out of me as I’m checking out a customer and prolonging the inevitable. “Do you like fireworks? I like fireworks. I like the ones that rain down on you. One time I saw a star firework…” The gentlemen eventually redirect people from my line to another and make their way to the front of my line.
“Ma’am I’m officer what have you and this is my partner who looks 23 but is apparently not 23 and this is this was an undercover sting. Do you know more people die from underage drinking 4th of July weekend than any other weekend?” Again the verbal diarrhea flows “Obviously you can see why I thought he was 23 and I NEVER drink (lie)” It may be no surprise that this doesn’t faze the officer and he tells me he has to write me a ticket, he can’t write it in person but he thinks it will be about $400. Now the verbal diarrhea becomes internal panic “I work in fucking grocery store, how am I going to afford a $400 ticket? I’m going to lose this grocery store job and I’m definitely not going to be able to community college now. Worst of all Pete was right about me, I am irresponsible” I thank them as they walk away and go back to my register to continue checking out customers. I finally calm myself down by thinking of ways to pay the ticket and convincing myself that maybe they wouldn’t tell my bosses.
“Amy to the back room, Amy to the backroom” I try to choke back tears but a few escape as I walk to the back. Luckily Pete isn’t in the backroom and another manager Tim is waiting for me. Tim isn’t exactly warm and friendly but he has a sarcastic sense of humor and doesn’t make snide remarks, he’s actually my favorite manager (the bar was low) Tim tells me the police told him what happened followed by “Since we never had you sign an agreement saying you take responsibility for selling to underage customers, we legally have to pay the ticket when it comes to your house” I start bawling and apologize. Tim awkwardly tells me its ok and pats my back with a hand missing a few fingers and say the equivalent of “There, there crying teenage girl”. I try to regain my composure as I still have to finish out my shift. On the way back to my register I walk by Karen, our cheese expert (I told you this was a fancy ass store), she also has the most righteous mullet I have ever seen. Karen hugs me very tight and when she releases me she tosses her mullet over her shoulder and tells me “We all make mistakes, you’re a good kid”. Which is exactly what I needed to hear, just because I did something wrong didn’t mean I was a failure.
About a month later my ticket comes and its more than we thought it’d be like $700 and within about 20 minutes of bringing it in to my bosses we all have to sign a waiver saying that if we sell to someone underage we are financially responsible. The moral of the story is just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake and you might even inspire policy change.