by Randi Lee
So I’m standing in line at Walmart and, if you’ve ever been to a Walmart, you already know where this is going.
The smell of the sandwich shop’s bread blends with the scent of strong body spray. A flickering fluorescent light casts dancing shadows over the snack aisle. “Clean-up in Bedding,” the tinny PA alerts the staff.
Five people separate me from the twelve-items-or-less check out station and I can already see the teller holding up the line as she complains about…something. I can’t quite tell what just yet.
Smack, beep. A product is slapped across the scanner.
Smack, beep! Another product meets the same fate.
“Bullshit this” and “bullshit that,” she says. Dear Lord. This is why I don’t go to Walmart. I’m only here because we need toilet paper and the grocery store is closed for the holiday.
“Can you believe it?” the teller asks me when it’s finally my turn to ring out. “Sunnuva-bitch thinks he’s gettin’ the best of me? I ain’t havin’ that shit. I ain’t havin’ that shit at all.”
“Shame,” I say with the feigned concern of a selfish person.
“She gets it!” the woman says, pointing at me. “Mhmm!” and follows with a neck roll. “Damn right it’s a shame! Sunnuva-bitch thinks he better than me? He ain’t better than me and he sure as hell ain’t changin’ my Goddamn break time!”
“Break…what?” I ask. I’m being held up for this?
People behind me groan.
“You heard me. He changed my break time! I been workin’ here for six years and I always take my break from eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty. That’s every day. Every day I’m workin’ I take my break from eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty. That’s eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty. Not no twelve-thirty to one-thirty bullshit like he sayin’ I gotta do.”
She goes on like this for several minutes, pouring her heart out to me as if she has no one else — and maybe she doesn’t — while I do my best to look engaged for fear of her sticking her finger inside one of the loops of my hooped earrings and yanking…or scratching me in the face with her acrylic nails…or smacking my head against the scanner like it’s my package of two-ply toilet paper…
Finally, a defeated looking man in a wrinkled shirt arrives. Great, it’s the manager! He’ll get me out of this.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he says to me. He turns to the teller. “You can’t behave like this when there are customers around. You need to check this customer out and get back to work.”
The teller slaps my toilet paper down on the scanner. Her hands are red and blotchy from slamming down the products she’s scanning. “I ain’t checkin’ out nobody until you change my break time back to eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty.”
“I’ve already told you, you’re in a different department now,” the manager replies with a calm voice … and a forehead dripping with sweat. “You’re a cashier now, and cashiers alternate. Your new break time is twelve-thirty to one-thirty. I can’t change that. It’s the way the shift turns out.”
“And I already told you I ain’t takin’ no lunch at twelve-thirty!”
At this point, I’m entranced. No longer do I want to run out of the store like a thief outrunning a guard dog. I want to see where this conversation goes. Will the manager fire this woman, or will Miss Eleven-Thirty to Twelve-Thirty win out and get her old break time back?
But the scene falls flat. The teller softens her voice, lightens her scowl and mutters something under her breath. Mentioning something about never finishing his Business degree, the manager wanders off. I’m finally asked, “Debit or Credit?” My credit card is swiped, my toilet paper is bagged and I’m permitted to leave.
I walk out of the store, my eyes shifting between what’s in front of me, and what I’ve left behind. I want to know if there’ll be any further follow-up, any more gas explosions. There’s no more howling, however. No more defeated men in wrinkled shirts.
Clutching my bag, I walk through the automated exit. My car isn’t too hard to find. As I get in it I think about the passionate teller’s story — about how I might have my own immovable break time in one way or another. Perhaps we do have something in common. Doesn’t mean I want to lose an earlobe over it, but it does mean something.
published 17 August 2013