Checking out. By @PhilipLeBrun
By Phil Le Brun
I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in supermarkets recently. More than I’ve ever spent. At times I’ve never been there before.
Weekdays. 11:15 or 14:45.
Prime ‘I have an actual job that I can’t leave for a slow jaunt around to do my weekly shop’ time.
I’ve started to notice a couple of things:
Firstly I should clarify, I’ve been visiting supermarkets as part of my ‘Passion Project’.
No, my new passion isn’t the liberating thrill of trying to sneak avocados through the self-service checkout by masquerading them as heavy onions. This isn’t really a ‘passion’ of mine per-say, and it certainly isn’t ‘new’.
My project does involve food, but I will leave it at that.
I can’t bear to compromise the anticipatory buzz of excitement everyone is feeling ahead of the premiere screening of these films at the start of term. I just hope for all our sakes these HBO hackers don’t get their data-snatching hands on our scripts or edits ahead of then.
The supermarket I have been frequenting is as standard as they come. Middle of the pack. Not a place where you have to choose products that sort of resemble brands you’re familiar with and not the kind of shit-Whole where the floors are made of turf and your shopping trolley is a giant pumpkin.
This supermarket does however, feature a ‘Welcome man’. This man may always be there, but in my usual survivalist hunt for discounted yoghurts, I certainly have never clocked him. But now I was a middle-of-the-day shopper there he was. What happens when he isn’t there? Are there unwelcome(d) people just bumping into trolleys and trying to open parked cars? Who welcomes him in when he arrives? Does he hate to entertain people at his house because the initial welcome is just too familiar to work?: ‘Could you get the door?’… ‘Fuck off Jill, I just want my life back!’
At these times in the day there are also lots of young children ‘doing the shopping run with Granny’. I watched such a child sat in a trolley meticulously hollow out a baguette until the check-out, where there was nothing left to scan but a crusty shell. The same children sneak items into the trolley, exploiting their grandparents impaired vision or memory, which begs the question: who is really taking whom shopping?
The check-out is where the real magic happens; you get a basket-shaped window into the life of another person. Tender-stem broccoli, icing-sugar and a Good Housekeeping magazine. Chicken dippers, Stella and a Lucozade sport. A cucumber, vaseline and wait what?
Another feature of the check-out is the ‘Divider’. It has no official name. It’s also known as the ‘Separator’ or the ‘Barrier of Justice’. It’s the thing that goes on the belt to separate customers’ goods before the scanner. It keeps the order, it stops Uncle Ben getting too close to Ben & Jerry and keeps Mr Kipling from pressing up against poor Aunt Bessy. But where was it? The ‘Green Block’ the ‘Thingy’ for Christ’s sake! The woman in front of me froze in a moment of sheer panic and instinctively grabbed an item from her shopping which somewhat resembled it. Exasperation. It would have to suffice as a blockade. A box of Old El Paso tortillas was now the only thing that stood between her sacred Kingdom of shopping and my Wildling invasion of items. The hilarity of using a Mexican item as a literal wall was seemingly lost on everyone but me in that moment.