Inez. I think that’s Spanish for “sphinx.” Inez the indestructible. Inez the indecipherable. Inez the unattainable.
Inez is the consummate checker: quick, efficient, impassionate, professional. A perfect employee. Inez the Magnificent.
I, on the other hand, am the oddball customer, although I’d prefer to be called “extraordinary.” I like to joke around, tell tall tales and play the fool. (play?)
Inez has no time for me. She’s like checkcheckcheckcheck…sign here…thankyouandpleasereturnsoon.
“And, don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” is implied.
Don’t get me wrong, Inez is an excellent employee; fast and efficient, remember. But, I want something more in a checker. I want that special relationship.
So, yesterday as I was waiting in Inez’s line I hatched a plan.
As I was checking out I started a conversation with the sacker.
“You know, I’ve been a customer here for years and years.”
“Yep, and I know all the staff. There’s Mel the store manager, and Carlos the floor supervisor (ah, Carlos we shall meet again!), and AJ in vegetables, and Evan in meats and Bud in the pharmacy.”
I could tell Inez was listening.
“But my favorite employee in the entire store is…” I paused for dramatic effect,
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Inez hesitate momentarily. It was just a brief pause in her scanning rhythm that tipped me off that she was listening. Her dark eyes narrowed slightly and her lips pursed. To the casual observer she would have been impassive, but I knew. I knew.
As the last item was scanned and the total rang up I knew there would be The Question.
“Is that all?” Inez asked, looking up, casting her Sphinx-like expression on me.
I was ready.
“No, that’s not all. I have something else.”
Inez looked impassive. The sacker looked up sensing something was about to happen.
“I’ve been coming here quite a while, haven’t I?” I didn’t wait for a response.
“I’ve checked out in your lane maybe a hundred times, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’ve been your customer for quite some time, wouldn’t you say? Several years, possibly. A long time without doubt. We know each other.”
Inez gave an infinitesimal nod.
The sacker looked up sensing something different was in the air. He looked around for support, but none was there.
I looked into Inez’s eyes, leaned close and whispered, “Knock, knock.”
Inez’s eyes narrowed. She gazed at me intently. Her hands came up from her sides and gripped the side of the counter. She turned her head slightly not taking her eyes off me.
She swallowed hard and her eyes darted from me to the sacker and back again. She licked her lips, drew a deep breath, leaned forward towards me and whispered back
It was the first time Inez had ever spoken to me and I was nearly derailed from my plan. Her breath was like a Gulf breeze across a morning stretch of sand. “Who’s there?” almost hypnotized me, but I recovered quickly and pressed on with the script.
“Oh, Inez,” I whined in my best whiney voice, “you’ve forgotten me already?”
Silence descended on the store. A lone ceiling fan somewhere over the deli creaked out a cricket’s love song. The sacker watched intently. Shoppers, checkers and sackers throughout the store stopped and wondered what was going on.
Inez looked at me.
I looked at Inez.
Then, slowly as a Spring dawn unfolding over a sheep-ridden meadow the corners of Inez’s mouth started to quiver and rise up across her cheeks as she broke out into an ear-splitting grin.
Her eyes sparkled and she began to inhale all the air in the store, and when she had done that she let loose with the heartiest guffaw known to Krogerdom. Tears sprung from her eyes as she grabbed her ribs and fell to the floor in uncontrollable mirth. She was giggling uncontrollably, kicking her heels on the floor.
As Inez pounded the floor in an attempt to gain control, I signed my ticket and quietly slipped out the door.
In the parking lot the Old Hand was collecting shopping carts near my truck.
As I approached, he turned to look at the store and back at me. I loaded my shopping into the truck and the Old Hand approached.
“Lots of laughing going on in there,” the Old Hand said.
“Yep,” I replied.
“If I had to guess, it would be the old reverse knock-knock joke. Just a guess,” the Old Hand said.
“Yep,” I said, “I figured that Inez was just ripe enough. Just ripe enough.”
“Ah, so, Sackmeister,” the Old Hand mused, “you are wise beyond your years.”
“Knock, knock,” I said.