Grocery Tales

Dedicated to the everyday lunacy that occurs in the food store universe!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Color My World

A Grocery Tale - by Dave

I had been working at the same store for about 6 years as a stocker. I don’t want to sound cocky here but, after all that time, I had a pretty good grasp on where stuff was in the store.

This particular event happened during late November or early December one year, I don’t remember if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I know that we were busier than hell and the stock crew was doing our best to keep everything full.

I was on the sales floor trying to get down a crowded aisle of busy shoppers to fill up the stinking cranberry sauce when I was summoned with the generic and rude “Hey, you!” I turned to see a rather portly lady carrying one of those plastic hand baskets loaded to the top with stuff. I guess she never heard of a shopping cart. She briefly explained that she was in a hurry and had searched the entire store for the red food coloring, but was still unable to find it.

As I mentioned before, I had worked there for a while and knew where everything was, so I explained that she should go to aisle number 2, go all the way to the far end of the aisle to the spice section, look on the top shelf next to the cake decorations about 5 feet from the end, she would find individual boxes of red food coloring, as well as a box with red, yellow, green, and blue food coloring in it.

Aside: I never understood why they put the little green bottle in the 4-pack. If you already have blue and yellow, make you own damn green.

I resumed stocking the cranberry sauce and was verbally accosted a few moments later when the aforementioned fluffy lady returned without the red food coloring.

“It wasn’t on aisle 2, would you like to make another wild guess?” This abuse was at a fairly loud volume, thus attracting the attention of several other fraus on the aisle. Luckily, I suppressed the urge to ask her if she was blind. I don’t remember exactly what I said to her at that point, but the gist of it was that she should follow me to aisle 2 and we would see where it was. I am positive I was not as courteous as the manager would have liked.

Another aside: Each stocker had assigned aisles in the store. Aisle 2 was one of mine, so I knew for damn sure where the freaking red food coloring was.

We went over a couple of aisles to aisle 2 with her following about 10 paces behind. She couldn’t keep up, because I was about 20 years younger, 100 pounds lighter, and a lot more pissed off than she was. If you have ever seen a cartoon where the character was red-faced with steam emerging from his ears, you might have a small idea of what I looked like.

I got to the spice section and, without even looking up, put my hand up to the top shelf. When I brought my hand back down, lo and behold, it contained a box of red food coloring. As she caught up with me huffing and puffing from our long journey, I handed it to her. “Was this what you needed?” I asked sarcastically.

She sheepishly said “Yes” and took the box from hand as she turned away to leave. Not “Thank you” or “I’m sorry to have bothered you.” Just “Yes.”

Thankfully, she didn’t hear what I said under my breath as I turned the other direction.

“Happy Holidays, Bitch.”

Just another day in paradise! I went back to my cranberry sauce and many more stressed out shoppers testing my knowledge of the store.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Too Much Information

a Grocery Tale - by Dave

Around this time every year, I am reminded of one of the most uncomfortable customer experiences in my entire career in management. Oddly enough, it doesn’t involve any sort of theft, shoplifting, or robbery. This was caused by a good case of Too Much Information.

It was Christmas Eve almost a decade ago, and yet I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Only a few days earlier, my beautiful wife gave birth to a perfect little baby girl who looked just like her. Since a C-section was necessary, we stayed at the hospital for several days, and I finally brought them home on the 23rd of December.

I returned to work on Christmas Eve, and the store was a madhouse as usual, with customers forgetting all about the holiday cheer and goodwill in order to secure the next coveted spot in the checkout line. None of this bothered me, however, as I was on cloud nine because of my first child being born and all.

I was working on the Christmas aisle, trying to restore some sense of order to its trashed-out appearance. As I worked, I was humming and singing along to the piped-in music, looking forward to going home in a few hours to hold my brand-new bundle of joy. Very soon, a rather well dressed and dignified looking lady perhaps a year or two younger than my own mother came down the aisle. She stopped to look at some merchandise and noticed my yuletide demeanor. “Wow, you sure are happy today” she said.

I replied with something like “Yes ma’am, I have the best Christmas present of all at home” and proceeded to relate my news as if I was the only guy to ever become a father. You may have noticed that I had only been a father for a few days. You may have also assumed that family and friends were constantly at the house helping. They were, hence my assumption that this being a dad thing was going to be a piece of cake, but I digress.

My dignified lady customer began to inquire as to how long my wife was in labor, if it was a C-section delivery, and those types of questions. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. Before I could see it happening, she began to relate her own experiences.

She had given birth to two boys, both vaginally. The first one was very difficult. The baby was too big, she was too small “down there”, and she was pushing so hard that she “ripped her vagina open” before they could do an episiotomy. By now, I was about to black-out with the details. Forget the fact that I don’t handle medical things well without fainting; here was this woman I had never seen before in my life giving me extremely detailed descriptions of her childbirth experience and the effect on her most intimate of areas.

My mind was out-of-control trying to find a way out of the conversation. I know that she continued her narrative, yet I can’t remember anything else she said. Thankfully, the Angel or Mercy appeared in the form of a checker who needed an override on her register. As soon as I heard the page of “Manager assistance on 3, please” I quickly excused myself and got my now-panicked ass to the front of the store, even though taking care of the front end was not my responsibility at that time.

I didn’t see the lady after that. My jovial mood even returned after a short while, but I was very careful about saying anything that would re-create that scene again. In the years since, I have learned that people who have been through the childbirth experience are extremely at ease about sharing details about the process, but I surely was not ready to learn that fact on aisle 10 on Christmas Eve!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Stupid is as stupid does...

A Grocery Tale - by Dave

Note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the stupid.

This is a story about when I almost put myself in a serious career hole because of a bad temper. It was 1987 and I was a “Co-Manager Trainee.” It was my goal to become a Co-Manager, then and Assistant Manager, and then move on to Store Manager. During the 16 week training program, we would attend class at the Corporate Office every Monday, and then practice what we learned for the rest of the week in the store.

I got to sit beside Larry every stinking Monday. Larry was a world-class goober and irritating as hell. His most annoying habit was to wave his arms around when he spoke, while holding an ink pen in his hand. This resulted in many blue and black ink stains on my company required white dress shirt. I tried giving him the evil eye and asking him to be careful, but to no avail. Apparently, being a spastic goober is in one’s DNA, and not really a lifestyle choice.

My irritation we Larry had been building up for about 8 or 9 weeks when he crossed the line one day. We were on break and I was sitting in the classroom talking with several other trainees when the son-of-a-bitch snuck up behind me. He grabbed my chair, and in an effort to startle me, pulled it sharply. The slick industrial carpet on the floor coupled with the slick metal feet on the chair resulted in my posterior meeting the floor in a rapid fashion.

As I began my downward journey, I was thinking “what the hell does that bastard think he is doing?” Apparently the impact of my ass and the floor stopped all logic flow as I temporarily lost my mind. I can’t remember what happened during the next few seconds. My next cognitive moment was when I realized that I was standing, holding Larry's necktie in my left hand while I drew back my balled-up right fist to prepare him to meet God.

Time suddenly slowed as my brain began to pull the pieces back together. I heard nothing in the room as I saw the majority of my classmates watching with mouths agape. I suddenly realized where I was. I was in the Corporate Office, where my every move was being watched and evaluated, and the Vice President of Training was on the other side of the room observing this entire exchange. Presented with such perspective, I released Larry and backed up.

He immediately began apologizing; explaining that he only meant to startle me and that removing me from the chair was not his intent. I had the pleasure of spending the rest of the afternoon listening to him ramble about it while I dodged his spastic arm movements and the attendant ink pen.

By the end of the day, I had finally calmed down and was no longer wishing physical pain upon his person. As soon as class was over and everyone was leaving, I heard the instructor, the VP of Training, ask if she could see me in her office. I was in deep trouble for sure. Coming dangerously close to physical assault on a co-worker rarely makes for a good career move.

We got to her office and she simply asked if Larry had gotten on my nerves that day. I explained my perspective of the situation and she simply advised me to be more tolerant of others, as well as more cognizant of my surroundings, as I could have done something I would have regretted.

The training program finished with no additional confrontations with Larry and we went our separate ways, rarely to see each other again. That is, until about 10 years later when I was working for that very same VP and Larry got a job at the Corporate Office and I was his instructor…

That’s another story.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Same Thing Happens Every Night

A Grocery Tale - By Dave

I was working night crew stocking groceries when I was just out of high school. We had a good crew of guys who had been working together for a while and were pretty much able to come in, assess what needed to be done, and accomplish the job with little supervision. We had basically taken the manager out of the equation, which was pretty good since Dennis, our normal night manager, enjoyed sitting in the deli and smoking most of the night. About the only time we needed him was when the District Manager had come in and left us a list of things to do that night, and we needed someone to hold the list. Dennis was our man for that!

I guess Dennis started feeling left out or something because we started having planning meetings at the beginning of each shift. The interesting part was that the meeting never changed! The same thing happened every night. It went exactly like this.

We would all gather in the parking lot and talk about whatever was on our minds until right before 10:00. We would get to the clock right at 10:00 and start punching in. Dennis had already been there for a while, probably having a HyTop frozen pizza, and would say to us “All right boys, grab you a coke and let’s sit down and talk about it.”

In order to get the full effect of Dennis, you have to have a picture in your mind. He always looked like he was asleep, or had just gotten out of bed. Imagine a middle-aged white guy with frizzy blond hair, needing a shave, and squinting. If it helps, imagine what someone would look like if they got up in the middle of the night and turned on the light. Dennis also always had a lit cigarette in his hand, and had a very distinctive voice. Imagine Bill Clinton with a raspy, cigarette-induced quality to his voice.

OK, so we all go to the deli, grab a cup and some ice, fill it up with a soft drink from the fountain, and have a seat to hear the plan. The plan was “The first thing we want to do is get that truck up, then we are going to go to lunch. After that, David and Blake can do the backroom. Mike, you do the floors, and the rest of you guys block. I’ll be right here if you need me.”

That was it. Same plan every night. Occasionally, Dennis would attempt to mess us up by telling Mike to work with me in the backroom and having Blake do the floors, but that was the extent of it. Even then, we would work the original plan anyway, so it really didn’t matter.

I guess the plan worked, because Dennis got promoted to Store Manager long after that. He didn’t last long as a Store Manager, but that’s another story.

Monday, October 04, 2004

But does she play in the tuber section?

A Grocery Tale - by Dave

Here is a just a brief story today, as I have been under the weather for a few days and haven’t felt like writing. As I was brewing up some potato soup for myself today, I was reminded of a particularly clueless customer I encountered. This exact customer stands out in my mind as a good example of someone with no hint about what it takes to get food to the table.

She was a typical yuppie type customer; rushing in after work, grabbing a few items, and no doubt rushing back to her Lexus SUV – you know, she wouldn’t want to get home late, lest her cat’s dinner might be a little tardy.

She only bought a few items that day; I seem to remember some wine coolers (flavored beer) and a 5-pound bag of potatoes. As she was heading out the door, a small hole in the bag of spuds opened and the rascally tubers began dropping to the ground in an effort to escape the micro waving that was surely their destiny.

As my customer service brain washing kicked in and I rushed to pick up the runaway spuds (because it was surely my fault the bag broke and inconvenienced her highness), I watched as she began picking them up and throwing them in the trash can located by the front door.

“Here ma’am, let me help you with those” I said. She replied with “That’s OK, I need another bag anyway, these potatoes have been on the ground.”

What? Was she kidding me? They grew in the freaking ground! As in DIRT!!!! A little water and a vegetable brush and she would be good to go. But no! I had to send someone back to the produce department to get the queen another bag.

I guess if she didn’t know that potatoes came out of the ground, it was a good idea that I refrained from explaining to her how the pretty red meat gets in those white foam trays in the meat market.

How nice it must be to live a nice clean sanitized world when your damn potatoes can’t touch dirt. Little did she know that we picked up the ones still on the floor and re-packaged them. She might have even bought them on her next trip to the store.

Idiot!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Waiter, there's a fly in my soup!

A Grocery Tale - by Dave

I was working the evening shift one quiet Sunday when I was called to answer a customer phone call. I picked up the phone, identified myself, and acted as if I would be happy to assist this unknown person with his or her issue. I heard a sheepish voice on the other end of the line ask me who they should talk to if they found something strange in their can of green beans.

I believe my exact response was “excuse me, could you run that by me again, please?”

The woman wanted to know if she needed to return the green beans to me or if she needed to contact the manufacturer because she found part of a rat inside the can! Now she had my full attention. My mind was spinning out of control as all my neurons tried to process this question. Hmm… bring it back, contact the manufacturer, bring it back, contact the manufacturer? Then it hit me. There was another option she hadn’t thought of yet.

I immediately imagined a swarm of local news trucks on my front sidewalk with their satellite masts in the air broadcasting to everyone that we were selling green beans with added rodents! In my little one-act mind play, I was the one on camera going “no comment.”

“Bring it back to me and I will take care of it for you” I managed to say. Meanwhile I was resisting the urge to empty the contents of my stomach into the nearest receptacle.

As I hung up the phone, I immediately began searching for the appropriate forms to fill out for the Corporate Office. I had no idea what else was happening in the store as this problem had become the sole focus of my existence on this planet.

She arrived about 10 minutes later carrying a can of green beans and a foil-topped bowl. I knew I was going to have to look at the contents of the bowl. We left the sales floor and stepped into a small hallway that led to the manager’s office and she removed the foil from the bowl. Sure enough, just as she had said, there was the upper portion of a rat, looking remarkably peaceful considering what it had been through.

Before I could ask if anyone had eaten any of the beans, she began telling me how she opened the can and grabbed a few beans and ate them cold before dumping them into the pot for heating. It was only after she emptied the can into the pot that she found the little beast. She then told me how she was being to feel queasy. Duh! Me too! She wanted to know if she was going to be alright.

How the hell was I supposed to know that? If I knew that, I surely wouldn’t be an Assistant Manager in a grocery store.

My problem was that I had no authority to sanction medical treatment. I told her that I couldn’t tell her to go to the doctor because I couldn’t guarantee that the company would pay for it, but that she should do whatever she felt was best. All the while, I still had the mental image of the news trucks on my sidewalk.

“Woman eats rat parts, heartless bastard Assistant Manager tells her not to see a doctor, film at 11!” I could see it happening.

Normal protocol in that situation called for me to refund her money or offer her an exchange. Somehow, giving this woman 69 cents just seemed like an insult, so I asked her what I could do to make it up to her. She was very gracious and told me it wasn’t my fault since we just put the cans on the shelf. To that end, she didn’t want me to do anything other than to make sure that the manufacturer was contacted. I finished getting all the needed information from her and she said she had some weekly shopping to do, so I asked her to please have the checker call me when she reached the register. I promised to make the situation as right as I could, but again she told me she didn’t need me to do anything. At this point, I was frustrated by her congeniality at the entire situation. I really expected her to be seriously pissed-off. I know I would have been.

She returned to the register a few minutes later with provisions for school lunches, and a case of Coors Light. I wondered to myself how much Coors Light it would take to get that taste out of her mouth, but I digress. I was determined to not let this woman out of the store without some gesture of atonement on my part. I approached her and insisted that she let me get everything but the beer. I managed to comp her purchases of chips, lunch meat, mustard and bread.

She left the offending canister (and guest) with me and I managed to secure it so that it would be waiting on the manufacturer agent the morning. Wanting to cover my ass, and the company’s liability, I set out to notify anyone who might be remotely involved with this situation. I called my store manager at home. I left voice messages for my district manager and his boss, and I called our Customer Relations Department. I even stayed very late to document on paper the entire bizarre sequence of events.

I was not scheduled until noon the following day, but I got up early and called the Customer Relations Department to make sure they got the information. I just kept on thinking about this woman taking those few beans directly from the can and having a snack, oblivious to the supplementary ingredients in the can.

When I got to work that day, I called the customer to see if she had gotten ill. She told me she was fine and that the manufacturer had already called her and said that they had actually located the other half of her little friend somewhere in Louisiana. They told her it was highly unlikely she would have gotten sick, because of the processing in place at the plant. As a peace offering, they offered to send her a gift basket of products. She declined unless they were from another manufacturer. No more green beans from them!

She continued to shop in our store every week and made sure to look me up when she came in the store. We actually had some pretty interesting conversations after that, but I haven’t eaten green beans since.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Was it good for you?

A brief grocery tale - by Dave

When you work in retail of any sort, there are the occasional times when you don’t know what to say.

I was checking out customers one evening around 10:30 or 11:00 when a man came through with 3 items – a box of condoms (ribbed), a tube of KY jelly, and a videotape.

What do you say to someone like this? After a frantic search of phrases in my brain as I made change for him, I stuck with the tried and true “Have a good evening” as he walked out the door.

Hmmm…

Can you do that?

A Grocery Tale - by Dave

One of the great things about working with the public is marveling at the creativity of your fellow men. This particular story relates an extremely creative method of being released from the confines of employment.

There was a young package clerk working for me named Thomas. He wasn’t really a bad kid, just young, hormonal, and lacking a decent work ethic. When Thomas was on duty, I had to keep a keen eye out for him, as he liked to disappear for long periods at a time. Sometimes I would find him on the parking lot talking with his buddies and occasionally I would locate him over in the Deli trying to woo the cute little Deli Clerk and procure himself a “piece” as it were.

The other managers in the store had witnessed this phenomenon as well, yet were somewhat reluctant to require him to perform the job for which he was being paid. I felt that I was not being paid enough to be his baby-sitter, and I had no desire to monitor his every move to make sure he was complying with accepted company practices. By “accepted company practices,” I really mean “doing the minimum amount of work needed to receive a paycheck.”

After speaking with my boss concerning the situation, he suggested that I simply send Thomas home the next time I found him “off-task.” When I looked at the schedule for that very evening, lo and behold, I saw Thomas’ name. Excellent! I was about to nip this little issue in the bud!

When Thomas arrived for work, I pulled him aside and explained that I needed him to stay on the front and take care of the customers. That was his only job. I did not need him to do price checks, fill sacks, clean the restrooms, or anything else. I informed him that he should always be one of two places; either on the front sacking groceries, or following a customer to their car with their groceries, followed by a swift return to the store. Any deviation from this request would result in a meeting with the Store Manager.

The first couple of hours weren’t bad; he pretty much did what I had asked. Somewhere around 9:00, I looked up and did not see him anywhere. About that time, I heard what sounded like an obscene phone call over the store’s public address system. Heavy breathing, moaning, and even a thinly disguised, obviously faked feminine voice saying “ooh, baby, give it to me, stick it in now.”

I make no claim to be a detective, but I had this one figured out. I set off in search of Thomas. I made a quick tour and check all the locations he could have used to practice his fledgling broadcasting career and did not find him. When I returned to the front, I saw him dutifully sacking groceries, as I had originally instructed, with a nice little smart-ass smirk on his face.

Now the game was on! As soon as I was occupied with doing my job, I heard volume two of the obscene call. I looked at the front and, once again, saw that Thomas was nowhere in sight. Volume two was somewhat more descriptive than the first installment, and I was amazed at the knowledge this young man had of the reproductive process. As he continued his narrative, I once again put out a mental APB on him and began my search. As before, my search was fruitless.

Not wanting to play this game anymore, I paged Thomas to the manager’s office. Surprisingly, he appeared promptly and politely, as is he had no knowledge of the evening’s events. I asked where he had been and he replied that he went to get a price check. This sparked a brief volley of ideas and interpretations about what I really meant during our initial conversation that evening. Become more frustrated by his obstinate attitude, I informed him that we could handle the rest of the evening’s duties without him, and he should go home. I asked him to return the next day to discuss his future with the store manager. He said nothing, but calmly headed downstairs to the time clock.

Thinking that my baby-sitting was complete for the evening, I hurried downstairs to assist the rest of the employees, since we were now short-handed by one employee. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next!

I heard the music on the P.A. system stop, indicating that someone was about to make an announcement for all to hear. The next thing I hear is “Hey, Mr. White, it’s Thomas! You can take this G&% D^%$ job and stick it up your f&$%ing ass!” There may have been additional comments and requests from Thomas, but by now his behavior had really pissed me off and I was in a very rapid search for the little bastard. I was moving quickly from one P.A. location to another, all the while dodging customers wanting to complain that they did not appreciate hearing that kind of language in the store. No shit! I didn’t either.

As I was searching, I kept hearing fire door alarms going off all over the store. I guess that would have made it easier to find him, but I had to lock and secure the doors before we had a mass exodus of products out the now un-secured doors. I finally got all the doors locked and made my way back to face the angry customers when I saw the little prick walking out the front door waving and smiling at me.

End of story, right? Wrong again. About 15-20 minutes later, another package clerk came in and told me that Thomas and a few of his friends were sitting in the back of my truck waiting on me. Oh boy, time to call for backup. This was supposed to be an easy night. I called the local police. I explained the situation to the responding officer. After he stopped laughing, he went out to speak with Thomas and his crew. They left without incident.

When the officer returned to the store, he told me he had talked to Thomas and informed him that if anything happened to my vehicle or to me, they would know who did it and a trip downtown in the cruiser would be necessary. He told Thomas to be smart and leave without doing anything. The officer also issued a criminal trespass warning, indicating that Thomas would be arrested if he set foot on our property again.

That was that last time I saw Thomas, and I don’t know that he even picked up his final paycheck. What Thomas didn’t know as he started this little drama was that, as an Assistant Manager, I had no authority to terminate his employment. In fact, until his personal verbal attack and his request for insertion of his job into a very personal orifice, I really did not want him terminated. I merely wanted him to have a discussion with the boss and improve his performance.

As Mick Jagger so eloquently stated, and Thomas and I learned that evening, “You can’t always get what you want.”