We had to do some shopping after work on Monday, the 11th. So on the way home we stopped at a nearby supermarket to get what we needed. It was busy, but all we had on our list were a couple of items; some dill and mushrooms for a soup we were going to make, and one of two other little things. We grabbed what we came for and headed for one of the two express checkout lanes (12 items only…under pain of death) with our stuff.
In front of us we saw a young woman in the nearest express lane. She stood with a shopping cart filled with boxes of packaged foods, a gallon jug of milk and a yellow colored plastic tub of an oil based spread bearing a large bright blue “Light” label. But, there were at least five more people in the other line than this one we were aiming for. A quick calculation of the odds made up my mind, and we began our descent.
She was small, about 5 feet tall wearing a dark blue several-sizes-too-big windbreaker. This jacket, I saw later, bore the label “Honey-Do Donuts”, a much smaller local competitor of Dunkin Donuts, stitched in red on its front. Her short dirty blond hair was gathered in a straggly rat tail in back and hung limply over her forehead in front. We saw her from the right side as we came up to her and took our place in line behind her. One customer was checking out at the cash register. One other woman was in line before it would be the young lady’s turn who waited, her head bowed in an attitude of concentration or prayer. The latter impression was reinforced by her arms which she had gathered in front holding some small object as if with great reverence.
(Full disclosure here: I used to earn more than I thought the work was worth watching people as they went about their business, making note of where they went, what they did, who they saw, what they said. Old habits die hard.)
We coupled ourselves in train behind her and waited. She continued as before, totally absorbed in whatever was happening within her cone of concentration. I peeked over her shoulder to see what it was and beheld. In her hands she cradled a “device”. I think that is the generic term for them. They have other names also I believe: androids and “iThises” and “iThats”, players and apps, words whose definitions shift and change and update like New England’s weather.
The device connected her to a world beyond a place in line in front of us. As I looked I saw what the world inside the device looked like. It was a tumbling series of lines of “glyphs”; alternations of letter and sign; the thing called “Text” which is replacing what you are now reading. As they passed by swiftly, she stopped at some, pausing their speedy cascade from the screen into some place I’ll never know…(perhaps oblivion?). I couldn’t see her eyes, but a slight movement of her head, like the twitch a cat’s tail makes before it pounces on the bird, told me she was gazing intently at some particular thing. And, when her thumbs began to move furiously across a miniature keyboard I knew. She was Texting. Ahhh.
The customer at the cash register had left. The one behind was being taken care of. The long counter with the moving belt was empty. And, a ten foot gap existed between it and the young lady. I glanced at the other express lane and saw people moving along in line, more customers taking their place at the rear. I looked at Mariellen. She looked at me and smiled. She had stood in the other line briefly, and then joined me when we both judged the one we finally chose would get us out faster. Alas for the smile of resignation and regret which comes at times like these.
There was the young lady, us and ten empty feet out there, and a cashier waiting, looking lonely. There was no one behind us. I began to feel lonely, too.
Smiling at me in a knowing way Mariellen reminded me of that saying about being in a line; the “universal law” which states that every line will move faster than the line on which you are standing. I’m reasonably certain this law was discovered by a woman. They have been the only ones to remind me of it.
Time passed. Who knows how much time, since it, too, does not move in line. But, it passed while Mariellen and I in the manner of married couples down through the ages silently debated the options. With a series of glances, head moves, slight shrugs we considered staying, leaving or tapping the Mistress of Texts on the shoulder and pointing ahead at the Gap. I was about to take action when she looked up from her device and noticed her turn had come. She pocketed the thing and moved ahead. We trailed along. The die was cast.
Once at the head of the counter she began unloading her cargo while the young cashier stared. Was she counting? I did not know. But, soon, the boxes and bags, the gallon of milk, the things aluminum and cardboard and the yellow tub of goo were spread the whole length of the counter. While the things were tolled and packed I had some time to consider what was there, to notice that it was all prepared food of some kind or other, cakes and cookies and snacks for the most part, and the odd frozen dinner.
She had gone by the limit of twelve item, but only by eight. Maybe there is some allowance, some generous amendment to the rules for the bemused, the distracted, the “texter”? I don’t know.
We leaned against the rail between the two lanes and relaxed while the total appeared on the register screen. It was a bit north of $50.00. I couldn’t help thinking that had it all been unprepared and fresh food it might have cost quite a bit less, perhaps half. But then, time would have been needed to cook, time which could have been used to…
As the cashier told her what was the total…our lady had returned to texting while all this was going on and had not noticed anything…she holstered her device, looked into her purse and said, “Can you postpone this for a minute? I left my wallet in the car.” She dashed out without another word.
“Tell me there is a sign,” said the young cashier. “Tell me it says twelve items only.” We said there was, indeed, a sign. We reassured her that she, at least, was in the right place.
In two or three trices she was back. We and the one or two people in line behind us had just about begun to trade names, addresses and birthdays when she returned to complete her purchases and pay. That process had to be repeated when she failed to enter the right PIN for her debit card. I wondered silently had she mistaken the key pad there for another texting device, and simultaneously wondered if the same thought had occurred to anyone else. At last though, she was done, and soon enough gone.
Our own things were quickly rung up and quickly packaged and paid for. We smiled our goodbyes to our cashier, and nodded sympathetically to the folks behind us and made our way to the exit to the street.
As we came out the door into the gathering dusk, into the cool brisk air we saw, not ten feet away at the curb the lady of the lost wallet, the many packages, the tub of goo, the gallon of milk. She stood, her shopping cart waiting patiently. Her head was down. Her thumbs moved feverishly…texting.
(This piece first appeared on The Christian Book Corner’s FB page. Visit and “like” them; good books and much more.)