FoodsCo for Thought

19 Jun

“I know you guys probably think this is cute, but I don’t think it’s very cute,” I hear a slightly balding, slightly forty-year-old man say in a slightly effeminate voice. “Let me show you what you guys have done here.” I gather that the ‘you guys’ in this sentence stands for the entire staff and establishment of FoodsCo.

Because that’s where I am. FoodsCo.

FoodsCo is the giant, discount grocery store kitty-corner from the co-op where I normally shop. (If you can’t picture this, substitute in whatever giant, discount grocery store is indigenous to your region. Food4Less is pretty ubiquitous, no?). I’m there because there’s a part of me that wants to be a bargain hunter. Truth be told, I don’t have a lot of respect for people who buy any piece of crap – more likely two pieces of crap – because it’s “Buy one, get one free.” I do, however, have boatloads of respect for those who are brave enough to forgo convenience cost in favor of a good deal on something they were planning on buying anyway. It’s this admiration that’s landed me in the frozen foods aisle of FoodsCo, grossly losing perspective on almost everything, when a belligerent shopper drags a helpless clerk down the aisle to show him what he and his people have done.

“Here it says three-ninety-nine and here it says three-ninety-nine and here it says three-ninety-nine.” Wait for it. “But here,” he taps the glass vigorously, “it says three-sixty-nine.” The sheer self-righteousness of the aggrieved shopper is enough to tear my thoughts away from a decision to start eating Gardenburgers again. “So, obviously it would seem to me that these would cost…” He continues pointing at the ambiguously priced item, but I don’t see what it is. It’s just too much. I flee the scene without adding anything to my still-empty basket. In the next aisle over, I try to regain focus, but am interrupted once more by the familiar, braying voice coming up behind me. “And these!” He’s tearing down the aisle towards the next offense.

“The way you’ve got them wrapped up!” I look over my shoulder to see the subject of his ire. There’s a stack of sodas in green, plastic bottles (Sprite? Fresca?). They’re grouped in six-packs, with four six-packs nestled in a cardboard flat. The flats at the bottom of the stack are wrapped – odiously, it would seem – in plastic. The plastic has been removed from the cardboard flats at the top so that someone could grab just a six-pack if they wanted to.

“The sign says four for nine dollars,” the man announces. A pregnant pause here indicates that he assumes his point is obvious. The clerk, however, is not on board. Nor am I.

“So….” he continues. “The way you’ve got them wrapped up like this, it makes it seem like it’s four of these for nine dollars.” He floats his hand up and down beside the stack of sodas.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. It took me a moment of mental math to figure out the root of his rage on this one.

I’m standing there thinking, “So there’s already six in a six-pack so it can’t mean four individual bottles… So it’s got to mean four six-packs for nine dollars, right? Does this man think he’s entitled to… six times four… twenty-four times four… ninety six? Is he trying to pay less than ten cents a pop?!” (Auth. note: literally – a pop!)

While I’m considering this and considering what the market value of a soda is these days, the angry man goes on berating the clerk, which prompts a more important question to rise from the ether of my brain:

When is it appropriate to tell a stranger they’re being an asshole?

As a former service industry worker, I will almost always rise to the defense of my brothers and sisters in trade. And this particular clerk? He’s pretty much the most benign person you can expect to see at FoodsCo. The store is lucky to have him, really, simply for the fact that he hasn’t punched this man yet.

I stand there pondering just what I would say. Shouting, “Guy, you’re fucking nuts!” did cross my mind, but I knew that had I done that, I would have been acting just as crazily as he. Then I considered maybe saying something like “Do you think maybe there’s a better way to communicate with this man?” or “Hey, this poor guy probably isn’t the one who put these signs up.” But something stopped me.

I considered how I would act if presented with an ambassador of the myriad institutions I hold in contempt. I admit there have been times in the past when I wasn’t the friendliest to, say, a Comcast representative, a phone solicitor, an abortion protester, or a Prairie Home Companion fan (j/k!). And while I hate to see this innocent clerk take the fall for FoodsCo, maybe this man has sustained numerous, legitimate malfeasances by the grocer and, this time, he’s just finally snapped. We’ve all been there, right?

Then another thought strikes me – and this is the one that actually keeps me silent. There’s just something about FoodsCo that feels different than most places, but also familiar. It makes me want to behave more like I’m on a city street than in a private establishment. It’s because, I realize, FoodsCo accepts everyone – including signage evangelists like this guy and yuppie-bred, neo-grocery-voyeurs like me. So, if I want to shop at FoodsCo, I have to accept everyone, too. If not, I can go somewhere else. And I know that. And I’m grateful for that. But maybe this guy can’t.

I continue along the labyrinth that is the FoodsCo aisles, quietly minding my own, deal-sleuthing business.

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