Today over lunch and a cup of tea, I sat watching M.A.S.H with my dad. In this episode, Hawkeye is doing/holding something and it explodes in his eyes (I was out of the room for that moment) and he spends the rest of the episode experiencing life without his eyes as they heal behind bandages. While never having experienced this before, watching the episode brought back memories of when I worked at a grocery store while I was in university.
I rose quickly in the ranks while I was there. I started as a cashier, after a friend had told the manager to give me an interview. I had never been trained as a cashier before, but I had worked a little bit as one at my previous job – just covering breaks or absences. One day the manager comes up to me, I had only been at the grocery store less than a month, and she asks if I wanted to learn some stuff in the office. This was the start of September – by the end of December, I was the cash office worker for each of my shifts, responsible for scheduling breaks and even for balancing out the whole store every Saturday night.
One of the perks for this position, was that I usually got to leave my till in order to do odd jobs around the store. The grocery department manager needed me to help post sale stickers? Sure. Go down to the bank to get extra rolls of money? I’m gone! Help organize the magazines/candy as they came in? I’m your girl! The one job that I kind of fell into by mistake though was helping a few blind customers around the store. One day, one of the customers showed up and the regular girl wasn’t there so I was able to take him around.
We had 3 customers who would take advantage of this service: 2 girls and 1 guy. 1 girl only walked with a stick, the other two had guide dogs. About a month after my first trip around, they regular girl had quit so I became the one who always got taken off till to help the customers out – and I loved it! It wasn’t very long until they started requesting me by name when they would call to let us know they would be in (they would ask what time suited best and arrive when it was slow). The two girls didn’t show up with much consistancy, and most times even came with their own friends who could help them shop. The guy on the other hand, pretty much had a standing appointment every two weeks or so.
He was the sweetest guy! His name was Chris and he had a gorgeous black lab Cotton. He spoke to her only in French, and she was happy just to trot alongside the cart as we went around. He would hold onto the handle of the cart as I would take the very front and pull it up and down the aisles. He was doing a masters at the same university I was attending so we always had lots to talk about.
By the end, I had most of his shipping down to routine: Fruits and veggies first, which always varied depending on what he was in the mood for, but don’t EVER give him a green pepper! Then onto the discount bakery rack for some goodies, if nothing good was there then we’d pick up some sweets from the freshly baked shelves. On through the meat and frozen foods section. Eggs were a must, and he would personally check the dozen to make sure none were cracked. But eventually he was comfortable enough with me to trust my word on it.
Down the dairy aisle, I would just leave him half way down, continuing our conversation through raised voices, as I ran to get his cheese, orange juice (no pulp!) and pick out a yogurt flavour for him – he usually gave a few suggestions, but if I dared to put fat free in his cart, he would know and not be happy! “I’m going to die eventually, I’m not eating any fat free yogurt!” And trust me – he could taste it!
Then all the rest of the aisles in the middle checking out things he needed and maybe some things he didn’t but wanted anyways. The canned food section was always the most fun – we had to come up with a system to determine which can had which item: rip the label this way for soups, and that way for vegetables, another way for pasta sauce, take the whole label off for dog food (save the bar code for the cashier). You don’t want to think you are making soup but end up with green beans instead! And it always involved a conversation at the check out saying it was on purpose, and no he didn’t want a can that wasn’t ripped.
One of the awkward parts was the “beauty products aisle”. I’m not sure how much time we spent down there but each time it was like an Easter egg hunt. What deodorant did we get last time? His girlfriend really liked (or didn’t like) the smell. What about the toothpaste? It left a bad taste in his mouth so let’s get a different one. Shampoo and body wash – lets open all the bottles and smell them all until he finds the one he likes. I’d pick either of these two, what do you think?
I’d stay with him through the check out process, making sure his cashback money was in the right order: $5 bills at the front, $20’s at the back, all facing the right way for the braille was on the right side for him to read in his wallet. Packed up his bags, and made sure they were all safe and ready for the taxi when it came to pick him up.
Some of my fondest memories were from taking him around the store. It was like a 30 minute to an hour break from my job, but not really. I felt like a human being in those moments. He was kinda sad when I said I was leaving, but I made sure to let someone else take him around before I left, just to get used to his way of doing things. And I made sure to leave word that the girl who took him that one time I was on vacation was not allowed any where near his cart! He didn’t need someone to hold his hand (literally she held. his. hand.), or tell him which was a better choice nutritiously. He was 30 and could decide for himself! He wanted to feel just as normal shopping as I felt helping him. I didn’t feel like I was doing my job, but rather spending some time with a friend.
Funny how this whole thing just popped into my head thanks to Alan Alda – so thanks Hawkeye! 🙂