With the advent of self-checkout lines at the supermarket, are you concerned that all those nice checkers could lose their jobs? Don't be. I am here to assure you that so long as mothers take their children to buy toys and groceries in one fell swoop (and whose bright idea was this one-stop-shopping business, anyway?), checker jobs will be secure. This is because self-checkout never goes smoothly. More often than not, some sort of Green Beret style rescue extraction becomes inevitable before the ill-fated shopper can be released from her scanning process. Don't believe me? Picture it like this, and let's just pretend it's me we're talking about.
Scene: I arrive at the final leg of a two hour pilgrimage around Huge-mart. I am surrounded by my whizzing offspring like a nucleus is plagued by its electrons. Mona is perched in the cart, high atop a pile of merchandise, her skirts spread decorously around her. I'm not sure how she is keeping her balance up there on that box of diapers. All the lines are full. My heart quails at the thought of having to wait even thirty seconds to get to the car--we already had one potty trip despite all my sinister threats, and another one is looming in the probable future. Suddenly struck by a flash of creative genius, I swerve left and pull smugly in at one of those empty lanes.
I confront the colorful touch-screen, which recommends that I scan my first item. After only two or three minutes of searching for the barcode, I successfully swipe it across the counter and am rewarded with a beep. At this point, a Voice gets involved. "Please place the item on the bagging platform," it kindly instructs me. At the same moment I realize my son is sucking on the cart. Prying him loose with my left hand, I lob the bag of onions vaguely in the direction of the bagging platform with my right. My other son sweetly maneuvers himself around so he can help me bag and, in order to make himself more comfortable, takes a seat on the platform. At this point we find ourselves transitioning into more of a dialogue between me, five kids, the Voice, and (ultimately) the Professional Associate who arrives to save us from ourselves.
Voice, a little panicky: THERE IS AN UNFAMILIAR ITEM ON THE BAGGING PLATFORM. (It doesn't say so, but I know the unfamiliar item is a heavy one.) PLEASE REMOVE THE ITEM FROM THE BAGGING PLATFORM.
Me: Lewis, don't climb on that. Pete, stop sucking on that.
Voice, somewhat mollified: You may scan the next item.
Michelle: Hey Mommy, where is my new dolly?
Mona: Hey Mommy, I need to go potty.
Lewis: Hey Mommy, what is the bagging platform?
Inge, revolving gaily around me: Hey Mommy, here's the money for my new jump rope.
Me, waving a bunch of radishes and calmly restoring order: EVERYBODY HOLD STILL AND...hey, where did this onion come from?
Let me pause to explain something I have just learned: That (although this onion was a refugee from a previously scanned bag) when self-checking you must never simply set something on the bagging platform because it confuses the Voice. This is, of course, precisely what I went and did.
Voice: THERE IS AN UNFAMILIAR ITEM...
Me: I know, I know.
Voice, disapprovingly: Please remove the item and wait for assistance.
Michelle, skipping back and forth with her dolly: I really love my dolly, Mommy, I really want to get this dolly.
Inge, referring back to a (much) earlier conversation I thought we had put to bed: Mommy, do you think Sea-monkeys have legs?
Lewis, considering deeply: Hey, Mom, I think maybe I should go back and get that fish.
At this point I notice that Lewis has drifted around to the non-bagging-platform side and is trying to scan his fingers. Inge leans conversationally on the bagging platform to ask a question, and Michelle wonders aloud whether those chips on that display over there might not be a good thing to get as well. Meanwhile, I still cannot find out how to scan radishes. I send Lewis to fetch the Professional Associate.
Voice, growing a little weary of this: There is an unfamiliar item on the...
Me: Inge, get off of the bagging platform.
Inge: What is the bagging platform?
The Professional Associate arrives, also looking blase. I am not the first maladroit customer she has helped today, and I will not be the last. She helps me scan my radishes, but I have become disillusioned with this system, and I am ready to go home. I scan and bag from this point on, to the Voice's evident discomfiture, with a sort of desperate abandon: tomatoes, shoes, toilet cleaner, dollies--all mingle in bags together on that persnickety bagging platform. I swipe my card and collect my rowdy electrons, and we spin on our merry way out to the car. I wish I could say that the Voice and I parted on good terms, but that might be stretching the truth. I think next time I'll stick with the regular line.