August, 2006

I was on line at a my local grocery store, and a guy two places ahead of me, in the process of being checked through by the cashier, had found a package of Italian sausages on which the label price had been printed as "$0.00". The date and weight were accurate, but the price was obviously screwed up. He demanded them for free. The cashier explained that she'd have to have someone in the meat department weigh them and price them correctly for him.

"Nuh-uh! Hell, no! They cost zero dollars and zero cents! Price is already on 'em, honey! That means I get 'em for free. Ring 'em up!"

She rang for the manager, instead, while this clown stood there with his arms folded across his chest, clutching his sausages and thrusting his chin out, like Mussolini on steroids. He was a chubby, balding, florid little mutt who had "ENTITLED MIDDLE MANAGEMENT SUCKUP" stamped all over him. The rest of us gritted our teeth, rolled our eyes and looked at one another as if to say "Do you believe this putz?"

The manager came over. The cashier explained the situation to him. The manager apologized for the mistake, and reiterated that he would have them weighed and priced correctly, and at this point the guy started yelling.


The manager quite firmly stated that this particular grocery chain was not in the business of giving away free food, and that he would arrange to get the correct price for the customer immediately, and again offered an apology for the mistake. This just pissed Sausage Boy off further. The manager was starting to sweat; the rest of us, now backed up five deep at this checkstand, were grumbling.

Having worked public service gigs far too long, I knew a couple of things for damn sure: No large corporation will ever stand firmly and squarely behind an employee who --no matter how right he or she is-- tells off a customer (quite correctly, in some cases) and explains what an idiot he or she is being. It just... doesn't... happen. You have to smile and placate them and basically jump through hoops to soothe them and make them happy, and fall all over yourself to demonstrate just how willing the company is to be of service-- never mind that they're absurdly wrong and being a giant pain in the ass.

I knew that this poor store manager would get his ass handed to him if he simply told this guy to get the hell out of his store. He was trying his best to handle it politely, and this guy was getting more and more belligerent by the second. One snotty letter from this little creep to corporate headquarters and the manager would probably get canned. Or at the very least, lectured about his abysmal customer service. The customer is NOT always right. The customer is sometimes a gaping, yawning, black hole of impossible-to-satisfy, grasping, ridiculous greed.

I sort of looked around, saw that everyone else was just... standing there waiting for... who knows what. Like this was entertainment, or something. I decided, "Screw it. I don't work for this grocery chain..." I stepped between the two guys, turned my back to Sausage Boy and smiled and winked conspiratorially at the manager, and then turned my attention to Sausage Boy.

"Hey, lemme see them, huh?" I said.
He held them out to me, and pointed at the label.
I took them from him and squinted at the label for a moment,
I said to the manager: "Yeah. That's what it says-- but I'll give you $3.89 for them."
Sausage Boy said "HEY! THOSE ARE MINE!"

I said to him, quite softly, while widening my smile, lowering my head and looking at him over the tops of my glasses: "Not unless you take them back from me, Skippy. Which you're sure not going to do, today."
"HEY!" he said. "I..."
"You... screwed up, is what you did. You've held us all up, you've given this nice cashier and this very reasonable manager a load of crap they didn't deserve. You've already been apologized to *twice*. Now, how about you get out of here and let normal people shop, huh? You get one chance." (Still very softly and in a level tone of voice...)

The manager and the cashier looked on with their jaws dropped slightly; a couple of the people behind me began to snicker and laugh. Sausage Boy sputtered and blustered and said: "Who do you think you are, pal? Just what the hell do you think you're gonna do?" More chin-thrusting action.

(A little louder now, so all the rest of the people on the checkout line can hear me...)
"Well, I'll tell you, Barrymore. I'm really tired of your cheap, nasty theatrics. I'm the guy who's just decided that the only way you'll walk out of here with these sausages is if I shove them right up your ass... one by one... right here at the checkout. How's that option grab you?" (More laughter from the folks on line, now...)

"Oh, yeah? You're some... some.. tough guy, are ya?" he stammered.

I turned away and pulled a $5 bill from my pocket, handed it to the manager and said:
"I just bought these from you, sir-- right?"
"Uh... sure..." he said.

I turned back and fixed Sausage Boy with the most deeply disturbed look I could muster-- I mean real, serious, twisted, nutso, I-just-do-not-give-a-damn, evil, deranged, escaped-from-somewhere, dangerous sonofabitch stuff.

As I spoke to him next, I began to roll my head from side to side, and wave the package of sausages back and forth in counterpoint. I said: "These sausages are legally mine, now, to do with as I will. I don't actually have to be very tough to do this-- just really, really determined. I'm determined as hell, now, and with an asshole like you, I'm sure they're gonna slide right in!"

I started to bite and yank the plastic wrap from the package, leaned right into his face and shouted: "AHAHAHAHAAA!!! Bend over, Sausage Boy! Here come your free sausages...!"

Well, I think he may just have set a new land speed record for the time it took him to cover the distance between Checkstand 6 and the exit door.

Oh, how we laughed... Well-- most of us did. Pretty much everyone at Checkstand 6, anyway. I didn't really want those sausages after all, and I offered them to anyone who did. A guy next to me said he'd take them home and freeze them, and only use them as a visual aid to tell the story of this particular afternoon's little caper to his friends in the future.

The next time I came into the store, a couple of weeks later, the manager spotted me and waved me over. He said he never heard back from that guy, he got no nasty letter in his file, nor did he suffer being called on the carpet by some Grocery Chain Corporate Office Regional Poobah or District Overlord.

Hooray for the good guys. Even the crazy ones. Especially the crazy ones.

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