Tuesday, November 29, 2005


At the supermarket there are many roles played. Some people are simply customers, oblivious to the world around them, just getting by, trying to avoid hassle.

There are those who work in the supermarket. Shelf stockers, the meat and fish people, the produce managers, janitors and last but not least, the people you see at the end of your shopping experience: Checkers and Sackers.

Checkers are the people who scan your merchandise glacially or, if you’re very lucky, with some modicum of efficiency.

Sackers are the people who place frozen turkeys on top of bread and eggs, glacially or if you’re very lucky, with some modicum of efficiency.

Rarely, an individual will rise to the pinnacle of the profession and become a Master Checker or a Master Sacker.

But, the ultimate accolade, the highest honor, the Palm d’Or is accorded only to the very few. And in the sacking profession that would be the Sackmeister. An individual so skilled at bagging groceries that he has transcended into legend.

I’m the Sackmeister.

I’m the King of Sacking.

When I walk into Kroger’s the sack boys cower in my presence because they know, instinctively, that

I. Am. The. Sackmeister.

What that means is that I can beat the Checker. Any Checker. Always. Without fail. My hands are a blur when sacking groceries, my eyes swiveling like the Terminator’s scanning for the next item. I anticipate. I snatch. I sack. I am victorious.

I am the Sackmeister.

When I’m sacking by the time the checkout printer spits out the receipt I’ve got all the groceries sacked up and in the cart.

The conveyer belt loops its endless life empty. The checker is finishing his business at the cash register and I’m standing at the end of the counter, arms folder, supercilious smile on my face, gloating. Waiting on you, Dude, I imply. The Sackmeister always waits on the Checker. The Checker never waits on the Sackmeister.

Then I do the Beat the Checker Dance out the store. The other sackers form a bridge line, arms outstretched in reverence as I cruise out into the parking lot.

“Who IS that guy?” I once heard.

“He’s the fastest sacker on the planet,” a colleague whispered, “Never been beaten by a Checker. Never.”

“Not even by the Old Hand?”

“Shhhh! We don’t speak of the Old Hand and the Sackmeister together. That’s just wrong. I mean, that’s like saying Starsky beat Hutch or Yogi beat Boo Boo or Sonny beat Cher. That’s just wrong.”

I pushed my cart to my car that was parked in the special spot marked for the “Sackmeister.” Lovingly, I polished the little plaque that identified my special parking place.

“Like candy from a baby,” I thought, “like candy from a baby.”

Later, after Thanksgiving, I needed a major shop. I was out of a lot of standard items like armadillo shells, and weevils had gotten into my special Hungarian hot paprika, so that needed replenishing. Also, I cooked up all my specialty vegetables: Sonoran chipotle, southern collard greens, Klingon gaqh and Italian cheese.

I made a list, grabbed my sacker gloves off the hook, put on my shades and drove into battle.

Word must have leaked out. When I arrived at Kroger’s the lot was nearly empty. Not a problem since I owned a reserved parking spot. I eased into my Sackmeister stall and paused to reflect on my shopping strategy. A key strategy to winning is to arrange items in the cart in a particular order designed to slow down or confuse the Checker.

Easy stuff up front, weird vegetables at the back. Hide a few items below the main basket and buy a greeting card for Amy; those always take extra time to scan.

I cruised through the store like a demon possessed picking out Kroger Card Special items on instinct. Case of dog food half price. I don’t have a dog, but half price is half price. I was thinking of tacos for the soccer team picnic. Yeah, that would work nicely.

Finally, cart piled high, I approached the checkout lines.

Whoa, baby, I’m in luck! Nine lines open! I’ve never seen so many check-out lane lights lit. (Try saying THAT three times!) Glad I brought my shades.

As I cruised up to Lane 3, the light went off. Sorry, closed.

I moved to Lane 5 and the light went off. Sorry, closed.

As I looked up, all the lights blinked off one after another until only Lane 8 was open.

I cruised up to Lane 8 and as I swiveled around the magazine rack I came face to face with Carlos, aka Spot Boy. Carlos was in great form tonight sporting a zit the size of Rhode Island smack dab in the middle of his forehead. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use this cheap trick, but something told me that tonight was going to be just a little different.

Carlos looked at me, stretched out his hands and cracked his adolescent knuckles loudly. With the back of his hand he tossed his greasy hair and locked eyes with mine.

“Ah, it’s you,” he said as if he didn’t know, “All the sackers are on break. Pity. You’ll have to sack your own groceries.”

He paused, then spat out, “Up to it, Old Man?”

I fixed Carlos with my steely gaze and smoothly pulled out my Binford 3000 Sacker Gloves from my back pocket and slowly pulled them on. The Cordovian leather hugged my muscled fingers and I pulled the Velcro tight around my wrist. The theme song from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” played in the background. Whoo-eee-whooooo, wha-wah-wahhhhhh.

My spurs clinked and my boots beat a sad tattoo as I strode to the sacking position.

Not breaking his gaze Carlos sprayed Windex on the scanner and wiped the glass surface with a practiced hand, clockwise three times then counterclockwise twice. Carlos was a pro.

“Yeah, Carlos, I think I’m up to it,” I sneered as I fanned the plastic bags and loosened my neck muscles.

“Ready when you are…Carlos.” I was in a crouch, shades down, feet firmly planted, bags open. Ready.

“Oh, by the way, Carlos,” I injected, “nice spot!” I pointed to my forehead.

Carlos looked self-conscious. Rattled he instinctively placed his hand on his forehead directly over the Cyclopsian zit dominating his skull.

This was my advantage! With Carlos focused on his blemish he would be unfocused on scanning groceries and that was an edge, however slim. But in the Olympian event of grocery sacking, every advantage, however cheap, was an advantage. It was survival of the fittest and the sneakiest. I knew Spot Boy’s Achilles’ Heel was his forehead.

Then Carlos grinned a face-splitting grin, dug his fingers under the volcanic eruption and ripped it off. Ewwww, I thought, how gross!

What? Instead of cascades of pus running down his face his forehead was as smooth as an overripe mango. It was apparent that the giant pimple was a ruse. A diversion. Carlos planned the whole thing!

“Fake zit, loser!” Carlos spat, and with that started zinging cans, boxes and packages across the scanner like a demon possessed.

I confess I was caught off guard. Gloating over my zit reference I missed the first three cans and nearly dropped a package of bacon on the floor. Two bags of flour piled up against the rail as 40 cans of cat foot came streaming down the belt. I was behind. That would have been all she wrote, but I compensated with a double axel, pike position and bagged like a man possessed.

I switched to Riverdance mode as Clint Eastwood became a giant Leprechaun.

Next came the wine bottles but I was ready with a special wine box that I produced from under the counter. Zip zip zip and I was done.

Carlos’ hands were a blur as he scanned product after product. Anticipating the vegetable produce at the back of the cart, Carlos activated his Heads-Up display of produce numbers and began to key in items before he weighed them. Whoa, this guy was good!

My game plan is to bank on a slowdown as the checker gets to produce. One call to the manager and I’ve won!

“Lane 8 needs a product code for Peruvian Llama hooves.” Ah, sweet victory would be mine.

But, Carlos with his Heads-Up produce display had the entire catalog in front of him.

It was going to be close.

Check, check, check. Carlos threw llama hooves, Mongolian turnips, purple sage blossoms and Not Too Hot peppers without so much as a flinch.

I was getting behind.

By the time I had the Pima fava beans in my grasp, Carlos was pressing the total button.

The receipt ticked out of the printer. Hastily, I sacked the fava beans and slam-dunked them in to the cart.

I heard a rip.

Looking around there must have been fractions of a second between the time I dunked the beans into the cart and the receipt was torn from the printer.

The store manager watched us from the balcony above. His was the final decision.

I felt confident I had won. Carlos looked worried, then he brightened somewhat. Pointing to the counter he positively beamed.

What? I thought.

And there, nestled against the wine bottle bags at the far end of the checkout counter lay a single kumquat, tiny and orange. Unmoving. I had failed to pack an item. It’s possible that Carlos won. Dejectedly, I picked up the kumquat and dropped in a bag, tossed it into the cart.

“Miss sacking something?”, Carlos sneered.

Yes, so I had. I was done for. In my confusion I couldn’t even remember buying kumquats.

I looked up as Caesar Gaius Krogerus gave me the thumbs down.

Defeated I pushed my cart through the door amid the shouting and derision of the Kroger employees.

“Ya, boo!” they shouted as they threw vegetables and fruit at me.

In the parking lot as I loaded my shopping into the car, including some extra fruits and vegetables I hadn’t purchased, (thank you Kroger staff!) The store manager was already removing my special sign. In its place read “Carlos – Kroger Employee of the Month”

The store manager smiled.

I got nose to nose with him and in my best Austrian accent said

“I’ll be back.”

Yes, I’ll be back, Carlos. You don’t beat the Sackmeister by a kumquat. No, revenge will be mine!

As I drove through the parking lot to the exit I passed the Old Hand who was on break, Starbucks grande in his hand, munching on a kumquat.

The Old Hand waved, and smiled wryly.


Shalee said...

Are you sure you even picked up kumquats? Carlos probably had that staged, knowing that you would buy unique fruits and veggies. He left it there, making it look like you missed it! Checkers can be really sneaky, too.

Check that receipt, Bill... You probably won fair and square. That will get your title and parking place back in a jif, and Carlos will be demoted back to cleaning up spills in aisle 9.

Bret said...

Word on the street is that Carlos is really Kaiser Sose. ROTFL. You had me from "Sonny beat Cher."

42yrold said...

brillllllllllllliance. pure brilliance. I sack for the pleasure, no tips required.

Anonymous said...

okay, I have a strategy for you. buy tampons next time, or super duper maxi pads. They always need a price check on those embarassing items. Just a suggestion.

I really think there should be a masters degree for sacking. or a phd.

are you sure they didn't change your sign to the shiny blue one with the symbol of the wheelchair? better check next time. they sound evil.

Coelecanth said...

Loose fruit man, that's the way to go. I try and use as few bags as possible so I pile my oranges on the conveyer in a heap. Only so many will fit on the scale at a time and occasionaly one will roll off, it really slows 'em down.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Shalee. Carlos totally planted that kumquat. Check your receipt. I'll bet he even miscoded some produce as well, or double charged you on a container of yougurt.

Anonymous said...

Please, PLEASE, PLEASE write a novella or collection of short stories. Your ability to fib and stretch stories is monumental and must be shared with the world!! Besides, I've read most of Christopher Moore's books and you could EASILY top his stuff..

But Jesus learning kung-fu and a soap opera addicted Angel is a tough tall tale to beat. Go for it though; you got my 20 bucks (per book that is).

Oh yeah, and if you're going to buy fruit, get something with grips like starfruit or gourds with long stems. They stick out and are easy to grab. Plus, leaving parsley half in the bag or full stalks of carrots bagged wrong and strategically located on the belt can slow down any speedy scanner.

Flaurella said...

First I smiled, then I chortled. Soon I LOL'ed and then I guffawed. I ended up ROTFL and choking on my wine. W4D had to come and slap me on the back.

Too, too funny and I know exactly where you were coming from. Thanks for the great read.


Anonymous said...

Too too funny! I'm with TheManHimself--get thee to a publisher!

MeBeth said...

The suspense was gripping! And inspiring. I've emptied my fridge and am now practicing my sacking technique.

s'kat said...

This was the perfect thing to release me from mid-day work doldrums. Such gripping suspense! I was literally on the edge of my seat. ;)

schmims said...

You can buy wine at the grocery store!?! That's it, I'm so moving to another state.

Anonymous said...

Excellent read sir. You might try pre-sacking - organizing your items in the cart and on the belt in the best order for sacking. That's typically what I do. But there are no super sackers left where I am. We're lucky if there's a sacker at all. And the checker couldn't care less about checking - she's too busy flirting with the fake sacker. I think a publisher might not be a bad idea, you have much to say and you say it very well.

Dr. J said...

Self checking failure?!

Guess ya have more respect for ol´Carlos now, huh?

Don´t worry. Even the most gifted of men find themselves performance challenged sometimes.......

Anonymous said...

Yo, yo, yo sackmeister...I am very impressed by your post, more impressed by your sack skill, BUT I am teh Sack King! I worked my way through school at Kroger's and A & P... I could bag for 2 checkers at a time...sometimnes 3, on a Saturday.. not get behind. I was a shortstop / point guard by athletic training, had video-game reflexes before there were video games, so Yeah, I think I can take you. However, I appreciate your thoughts, it brings back those fond memories of one of my first real jobs... If you are ever in Chicago aea, let me know, and we will see, but I have never seen anyone as good as bagging as me.

Anonymous said...

Nothing like the feel of plastic between ur fingers