A Grocery-Cart Stoplight

Realizing that this is my platform to capture people’s attentions, even for the most mundane, everyday occurrence, I will take full advantage of this. Since when has it become mandatory to have the plastic divider on the conveyor belt at the grocery store, before you put your items down. I have noticed in the past few years, with increasing curiosity, that using this has become an unwritten rule in our culture? When did the plastic divider become necessary?

Standing in line, I notice the stench of B.O. emanating from the large man in front of me. His Mossy Oak head to toe camouflage outfit seems to ooze this stink about the customer line, as if peeled onions are shoved into the pockets of his coat. If this isn’t enough, I could reach over and grab his hair, and probably wring out enough oil from his hair to deep fry a whole chicken, but hey, who am I to judge. We all have our bad hair days, all have those times when we have woken up, hungover, face peeling off the floor where we passed out the night before, stumbling to the commons on campus in our pajamas, the stink of whisky, cheap beer, and vomit lingering on our lips, so again, who the hell am I to judge. I’m older now, cleaned up, well-dressed, but hey, I was there once, and now I stand in line, waiting to check out.

My food lays on the conveyer belt, next to the bright foil bags filled with corn chips and triangular shaped nachos. And then I see it, the look, the look of death. As if somehow my food will infect his, I see it, the casual flick of the hand, sending the little plastic bar, the guardian of groceries, to land atop my pile. All I receive is a gruff, “use it.” Choking back any snarky comments that would fly from my mouth toward this man who has not seen a bar of soap in weeks, I casually take the divider, and place it between our foods. This bar somehow delineates food property, conveyer belt real estate. The six inches between our two piles, somehow is not enough of a demarcation between the differing purchases. The fact that my food is, well, much different than his, or maybe, just maybe, the fact that the cashier saw me place my items on the belt isn’t good enough, no, he has to make sure that it is known to all, those few piddly items of food are his.

So, ok, one time doesn’t make this a thing, but so many times I have noticed customers standing behind me, not placing their items on the belt, without that plastic bar up there. I will sometimes wait so long without placing that divider up there, just to see people’s reactions. I have almost had all my groceries in the express line rung up, before the person behind me grasped the divider with an annoyed look, placed it on the belt, even though almost all my items were gone, and then took their groceries out of their basket. This whole thing is puzzling to me, it is an enigma, an odd phenomenon.

Maybe people are afraid of food touching. I mean I wouldn’t want that cheap ass Natty Light touching my craft beer, it might instantly skunk it. Or maybe they are afraid of the devious ones in society. I think it would be great. You can let random items spill into other people’s groceries, stand there with Depends adult diapers, and just let them mix into the pile in front of mine, looking at the cashier with a face of pure innocence, “They’re not mine. No, I didn’t put them up here. It’s ok, it happens to the best of us. You’ll persevere.” Maybe, people are afraid, that for some reason we are going to sabotage them, placing high end foods in their pile, which the average, unsuspecting American, would never notice until they got home. You would never return it, because we all know it is tacky to return food to the grocery store. Yeah, I need to bring back these two bunches of grapes, they weren’t up to my standards–Can you return produce?

Anyway, when the hell did this little plastic divider, that people are so afraid of, become king of the conveyor belt. Since when did this divider become the absolute dictator of when to put your food down for checkout. Seriously, I wonder, if you drew a red line on the floor in the grocery, right before the checkout line, people would stand behind it, waiting to be waved on from the cashier, without ever being told what it was. Like a dog confused at the other canines on television, people would stare at this line, touching it with their toes, as if it would turn green, a grocery cart stoplight. I say screw the divider and go for broke. Throw your groceries on top of the other customers, and purchase the whole lot. It will be exciting when you get home, you won’t know what you bought, till unveiling the purchase in the safety of your own kitchen. Surprise, tampons. Surprise, capers. Surprise, coconut. Ah, what a great dinner this will be. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, don’t use the divider, and put your items as close to the other customer’s, just to watch the look of absolute concern wash over their face, as fear of grocery integration swirls around their imagination.

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