My favorite part of every trip to a store is the checkout line. The checkout line offers you a variety of people watching opportunities as well as a chance to do experiments on other shoppers. And you get to count it as an independent study credit in college! (This statement is not based on reality.)
I always do that final once-over of my cart, which provides its own entertainment: Going to the store for cotton balls, I usually end up with a basket that contains: cotton balls, a pencil tray, white nail polish and a little glass cube that has a 3D unicorn etched into it (to put on the desk that I don’t have.) If I have a long wait, I use this time to figure out how I settled on this assortment:
“Let’s see, I need cotton balls…Oh, there they are on the bottom shelf! (I bend down to pick up a bag.) My goodness, will you look at that! I need to repaint my toenails, they’re chipping! (off to the nail polish aisle) Red polish is too sassy….I have blue polish at home, so…white. White would be great because of my tan (that I don’t and won’t have.) If I’m going to get a tan, I’m going to need sunscreen. When am I going out in the sun again? Probably not for a few weeks. I’ll wait. I really should start making lists so I don’t forget something…(off to the stationary aisle). Let’s see, pencils…I have pencils at home…but where are they? I KNOW I have pencils..I need to organize my paper supplies. Oh look at that, they have a pencil tray. I could put that in a drawer and then I’d never be lost for a pencil. I need a desk… I should buy a desk (off to the furniture aisle) That one’s too expensive, but I really like that one! I don’t have room for a desk. But I like the idea of a desk’s personal touches: inbox, outbox, nameplate, paperweight…maybe I’ll just get a paperweight and set it on my coffee table and that will satisfy my desk craving(off to the crap-for-one-dollar aisle) It’s a 3D unicorn! In a glass square! Mine!”
Now I feel better because I have justified my random purchases while simultaneously moving up to the best spot.
I’m the third person in line. The first person is being checked out. The second person has put their stuff halfway down the belt, wasting the first two feet of conveyor belt closest to the checker. So I take my stuff out of the basket and I start putting it on the conveyor belt, less than a foot from Second Person’s stuff. On purpose.
Second Person notices that my stuff is on the conveyor belt too and they panic a little bit (I say they panic because I know I panic; therefore everyone must panic.) Recourse? Put that little hollow plastic barrier between our items. The boundary setter of the retail world, it says, “Don’t touch my stuff! I don’t want your stuff touching my stuff! I don’t want this clerk thinking I would buy a glass cube with a 3D unicorn in it. I’m not paying for that.”
If I’m the Second Person, I’m always sure that the Third Person is going to be offended when I set my little hollow plastic boundary. As if I am saying, “Hey, buddy. I see you putting that stuff on the belt. Why aren’t you leaving at least a foot between your stuff and mine? You better have money for that baby formula because if you don’t, I.WILL.NOT.HELP.YOU. Stop eye-ing my 3D unicorn! Mine!” Then I give them that half-smile that says “I know you’ve been the Second Person. I hope you understand it’s nothing personal, I’m just not going to feed your kid.”
Really the person who SHOULD be offended is the clerk, because we are essentially telling this person that we don’t think that they are smart enough to understand that the gap between the items means that it’s a totally different order.
Putting up the little hollow plastic barrier is the most power that you will ever have in a checkout line. Literally. You are never more in control in a checkout line than when wielding a tiny hollow plastic square tube…unless you are the First Person and you are paying for one hundred and fifty-two dollars’ and seventy-four cents worth of groceries in pennies.
Check. And. Mate.