THE COUNTER – You may have heard of Ettorre’s Observation: The other line always moves faster. Before me is living proof of that. The shopper who is checking out seems to have a problem – it could be the English language, U.S. currency, sobriety or mental instability. And, of course, I’m in a rush. So let’s consider grocery store etiquette, especially for husbands; remember, no man is an aisle. When I am sent to the store, it is usually for one item – a bottle of ketchup, a can of corn, a radish – so I always use the line marked: “Express for 6 Items or Less.” And I have learned over the years always to take along something to read, because the express line is never express. My least favorite situation is when the person checking out is told the total cost of her purchases, and at that point she starts digging in her purse for her checkbook. Then her pen. Then her driver’s license for ID. Did she not think she’d have to pay anything? She mumbles, “I know it’s in here somewhere. No, that’s my autograph book – you never know when you’ll meet a famous bass fisherman. Lucky horseshoe, MACE, lunch. This is my refund from Cirque de Soleil. Bunch of weird Canucks, they were. Oh, here’s my harmonica. I’ve been looking everywhere for that.” Men can be just as bad, but wallets are easier to explore than a 10-gallon shopping purse. I feel like screaming, “LADY, WOULD YOU MOVE IT!” But being the mild-mannered reporter that I am, I just stand there smoking my cigar and blowing my nose. Sometimes the person in front is a serial killer and uses 12 aliases, or a bass fisherman and the clerk wants her autograph or, even worse, the shopper collects coupons. Never get behind a coupon collector. Incidentally, it’s pronounced Q-pon, not COO-pon. The Q-pon person says to the clerk, “I get 10 cents off this can of coffee, but if I buy three cans, I get 20. I get an extra banana with this box top. I know it’s expired, but so are your bananas.” There should be a special line for coupon collectors. Men, another rule is to keep the receipt because whatever you buy is always wrong. Upon my return home, my wife says, “I told you to get a 16-ounce bag of smoked Algerian cumquats in fig juice with a twist of lime.” “That’s what it is,” I whine. “Says so right there on the label. Smoked Algerian cumquats in fig juice with a twist of lime.” “This is a 12-ounce bag. Take it back.” Not to sound too negative – I just hate negative people, don’t you? They put me in such a bad mood that I gripe and moan for hours – sometimes when I wander up to the check-out line with my rat poison, a nice person, apparently cooking for the First Marine Division, will say, “You don’t have much. Go ahead.” Or better yet, “Let me pay for that.” This next situation may have happened to you: I had an unusually long list of items to buy, so I dutifully got in the regular line for “One Crop Or More.” The next line over was the express line, which was empty. So the express clerk said to me, “Would you like to come to this line?” I pushed my groaning load to the express line and the clerk started going through my heap of groceries, mop, broom, flyswatter (any grocery store today has half of the aisles dedicated to non-edible items. How much space do drugs take up in a drug store? One shelf.) Then this guy comes up behind me with one lemon. He looks at the sign: “Express for 6 Items or Less” then looks at my three carts and gives me a look that clearly says, “BUDDY, WOULD YOU MOVE IT!” Today I was in the produce section looking for some fresh hallucinogenic mushrooms when I was almost run over by a woman who comes ripping along, pushing her basket while talking on her cell phone. She was paying no attention to anything but her conversation and nearly converted me to a cleanup on aisle 4. I should have known she was trouble when I noted her shopping cart had training wheels. This is the kind of person who drives the wrong way in the store’s parking lot – while talking on her cell phone, of course. Anyone can see that all the cars are parked heading in one direction. There are big, white arrows painted on the asphalt showing the correct direction. That way, cars backing out only have to look one direction because no one is coming from the other…Bang! Do you find it annoying that some grocery stores have loud speakers which will blaringly announce that their pickled pigs feet are tasty? Or, “Please buy our mouth-watering crab meat from Biloxi. Comes in both 20 weight and 30 weight.” Kmart used to blare ads all the time, annoying customers with, “Attention Kmart shoppers.” Kmart went bankrupt. As for the stores’ clerks, they fall into two types: surly or way-too-happy. Surly is easy to spot, while way-too-happy has obviously just come from the store’s weekly Employee Spirit Meeting. Clerks have their own horror stories about customers, mostly those wearing ski masks. My check-out line is still stopped. A customer is digging through her purse. “Here’s a picture of Bubba. He’s six now. I know my checkbook is in here somewhere.” So I’ll just pop over to the next line which seems to be moving right along. In that line, a woman is opening her purse, no doubt to pull out the exact amount of cash. “I know it’s in here somewhere. Lucky horseshoe, MACE, lunch.” This brings us to Ettorre’s Observation Corollary: Don’t try to change lines. The other line – the one you were in originally – will then move faster. Ashby shoplifts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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