For Your Convenience
Nick Culhane

It is Saturday night and I am working the cash at the local supermarket. Open 24 hours, for your convenience. I got bored with acting happy hours ago.

"Hi, how are you today?"

"Find everything you were looking for?"

"Thanks a lot, have a nice night."

I am not really interested in the kinds of days these people are having. They come in leather jackets, they come in SUVs, they come talking on cell phones and sipping expensive coffee. I am paid to be part of it.

"Hi, how are you today?"

"Just great bud! It's really coming down out there! Can't believe the size of this turkey, it's huge! Great price too. Been busy today? I bet. Alright, have a good one." This caffeinated steam of energy goes on for hours.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Too many people moving in the same direction at the same time and a constant beeping as I scan their products. More faces.

There is the housewife that just loves to talk. She will talk about her two sons and the kind of coffee her husband likes and the planned vacation in March in Mexico.

"I hear Mexico is great that time of year," I'll say, and feel so very cheap. Beep.

Next come a young couple wearing matching tracksuits. I am guessing they have just come from the gym. They buy milk, bottled water, exotic fruit and ultra low fat cream cheese. "Sup dude, been busy tonight?" asks the guy.

"It's been steady," I say to the girl. She smiles, I smile, we are a happy, happy, people.

They walk out laughing. Beep.

"I'm good, how are you this evening?" She is maybe thirty and smiling so I smile back and say that I am fine. "I'm fine, thanks. Still raining out there?" I am enjoying this exchange. She knows this. "Oh, it's pouring. But that's okay, we need the rain."

She is on my side; we do need the rain. Maybe there will be a flood… I could build an ark… I have no idea how to build an ark. "Thanks a lot, don't work too hard," she says as she winks and smiles and takes the bags from my hand. I smile back and watch her leave.

I have about twenty minutes left in my shift when an incredibly exhausted woman brings her groceries to me. She has the basics in her cart - milk, bread, tuna, Kraft Dinner, some discounted apples and a brick of cheese that was on sale. She has two boys with her, maybe 6 and 8. The woman's eyes are tired. Her body is tired. She is worn out; I ask her how she is anyway.

"Hi, how are you this evening"

She looks up and starts to smile but gives up halfway through. She is not fooling anyone and has lost the energy to try. The kids are bouncing up and down, yanking on their mother's arm and asking for Skittles. She is sadly shaking her head no. I want to just give this woman her groceries. I know the store could cover the loss. I'll just turn my back to grab a pen and when I turn around they will be gone. "Clearly professionals," I'd say to my boss.

But that will not happen tonight. I ring up the total and the woman hands me a bankcard. Anxious eyes watch me swipe the card. I punch in some numbers and then she punches in hers.

We wait.

She is staring hard at the little screen that will soon say either APPROVED or DENIED. I stare hard at my shoes. The machine beeps and reads DENIED. I mumble some words and ask her if she wants to try again. She mumbles some words back and tries again. The wait seems longer, but the result is the same. DENIED. I hate this machine. I ask her if she wants to try again but she just looks down hard at the floor and says, "Should have been paid by now." We are not trained for this. We are trained to smile and ask the customers how they are doing and if they found everything they were looking for. We are trained to add up totals and politely ask for money while making light comments about the weather. We are trained to laugh at your jokes even when they are not funny. We are not trained for this. And meanwhile, a couple of time zones away, the man who hired the man who hired the man who hired the man who hired me is patting himself on the back because the company is doing much better in this fiscal term than previously expected. He won't ever touch this. The woman gathers her children, puts on a brave face and says, "I'll be back tomorrow."

Where is the man that was so happy with the size of his turkey?

Where is the couple in the matching tracksuits?

There is something terribly wrong with our wheel.

It's late, I'm tired, my head hurts, and I'm hungry. I swear one day I'll take a crowbar to this monster but right now I am thinking about my paycheque and rent and bills and gas and a beer and Subway. I'd love to quit… but I need the cash. So I am going to be here next Saturday and we are going to be having a big sale on Pepsi so you are likely going to be here too. I'll be serving you with a smile, and you'll be talking about the weather. Because quite frankly, all we can afford is bliss. Open 24 hours, for your convenience. Beep.

Back to prose - main

Discuss this work in our Forum