San Diego Soliloquies

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

In Line at Albertson's

At Albertson's this time of day, the store is restocking, getting ready for the evening rush. The customers are mostly older or the homebound (unemployed, or worse, like me, consultants). I stopped off for some mushrooms and fat free half and half to see if I could make a less caloric mushroom soup.

The 10 or less line was seven people long. but better than the other line where small children were using the carts as jungle gyms. The additional trouble with the 10 or less line is that it's right by the door, so the querulous, confused or outraged invaribly pick that cashier to vent on. This time it was an older woman, face carved by numerous complaints, who walked up to the cashier waving a loaf of bread in her left hand. I was too far away to hear, but soon the cashier turned to her intercom to request a price check. You could tell she was thrown off a bit because she kept getting the number of her station wrong. She kept telling Chrissy to come to line 3, when she was standing underneath a brightly lit #1 sign. Chrissy found her anyway and led the bread woman away.

I noticed that the cashier was wearing one of those photo buttons, about 4 inches in diameter. I usually see them on the cashiers around the start of the little league season, a proud parent with an image of a boy kneeling with bat in one hand, or crouched over with open glove, ready to snap up a ground ball.

The line moved and the woman ahead of me got close to the cashier. She apparently asked about the son on the button. I heard the end of the cashiers answer:

"Yes, and he's in that battle going on right now."

I looked closer. The picture was a boy in a marine uniform, three inches high. For a second I had a brief sense of unreality, wishing the button was like the wizard pictures in Harry Potter so I could see the quick wave that inevitably went with such a tight but open grin. I concentrated on the collar tabs to see the rank, but my eyes aren't that good, and there is a limited period that you can stare at a woman's chest no matter what it bears.

"Well, I heard that there were four dead, and that it's getting just like Vietnam", the older woman ahead of me had kept talking, telling this mother nothing she didn't already know.

"I've done my praying", the mother said. "I started a while ago and I'm done now."

"Just like Vietnam", said the woman, scrabbling out here change from the tray that automatic change maker had slid it into. "And that is so awful." She gathered up the two small bags.

Chrissy and the bread woman returned. Chrissy told the cashier something in a low voice, as the bread woman shoved me aside and confronted the cashier.

"Told me that it was the wrong kind of bread for 2 for five dollars and that I should read the numbers! Read the numbers! It's like it takes a college education just to shop here." The bread woman's hair had somehow gotten loose from a bun and now shook in echo with her righteous indignation. The bread woman turned away and stomped out of the store. I'm not completely sure anyone paid for the bread squeezed in her hands but then noone would want it.

The cashier turned to me. "Did you find everything you need?"

I truly wished that button was a two way channel, that the marine could see his mother rally so quickly. There was nothing I could say other than,

"Yes, thank you"

We got the transaction done, a bit slowly. There's all kinds of courage in the world and all kinds of ways we ignore it when we find it. I didn't have anything I could tell her. According to news reports that battle for Fallujah was going well and the Marines were in the city center.


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