What I learned about writing in the 15 items or ‘less’ grocery store line
I was going to title this blog post: a hippy, a nun, and a guy who was trying to pretend that his wife was buying the five bags of chips in his grocery cart were in the 15 items or 'less' line up at Safeway. But it sounded too much like the intro to a really bad joke. (But seriously it happened.)
Then I was going to title this blog post: what I learned from the hippy who butted in line in front of me in the 15 items or ‘less’ line, but that was a tad long.
The first thing we’ve all learned is that the sign is grammatically incorrect. It should be 15 items or fewer … but try telling them that.
I’ve had four experiences in this line up recently that have led me to contemplation.
The first happened when apparently I had 16 items. It was the after-work rush hour and all of humanity was picking up a few items on the way home from work, and the supermarket didn’t have enough cashiers on duty.
I stood in line with my basket stretching my arms and my patience as it got heavier with every second. I finally unburdened it and my wallet when I was rung through the cash register. The cashier, thinking she’d do me a ginormous favour and impart upon me some life advice – advised me that I had 16 items, and that next time I should go in one of the other lines. I advised her that the should hire some more cashiers and then maybe I would have gone in the other line, and that I didn’t want her imposing her ‘rules’ on me.
|And don't butt in!|
The second incident went a little like this:
Me in line, arms stretched to the breaking point as I’m clutching my basket, my fingers about to break off when a hippy, guitar slung over shoulder, butts in line in front of me. And I’m all like: ‘dude, there’s a line up here.’ And he’s all like ‘oh, I’m sorry, sorry, there’s a line up? Sorry, do you want me to go behind you? I just needed some fruit.’ (Typical polite Canadian hippy).
So, I let him stay and plopped down my stuff next to his orange and banana. Then we had a lovely conversation about how there are too many rules in society (not to mention Safeway) and how he just wants to play his music for all to enjoy and didn’t realize he needed a busker’s licence. Turns out he's prevented from making a living for ten days while his licence is processed.
During third incident I was stuck behind a man and a woman with way more than 15 items. Indeed, I counted them because it took them so long to put them on the belt – there was like, 40 items. I thought they would tell the cashier to split them and ring them in separately so it would look like they had fewer items, but no, they just kept piling them on the belt. I was going to go all ‘dude, can you count …?’ on them but decided not to. Decided to practice patience. Thought karma, in the guise of the cashier, would get them. Not only did they get by karma unscathed, they held a prolonged argument with the cashier over the sale price of the multitude of boxes of individual pizzas versus the prices of the multitude of boxes of full size pizza boxes. At one point the woman of the couple went and checked the price. While I, with a scowl on my face, did the typical Canadian thing and gave them dirty looks.
Then yesterday, once again, in the slow line up, with not only the slowest cashier, but one who was in training to boot. When I got to him he asked how I was and I said: ‘fine, and I’d like to get through this as fast as possible.’ Did he increase his speed in the least? No. He was automatron slow and I was ready to bite someone.
What did I learn from all this and what does it have to do with writing?
Good question – I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
How about this: don’t tell me about the character; show me the character through action and dialogue. How I reacted in those four situations showed you something about me as a character (a complex character, I often have to remind my friends and family).
How your character reacts to stresses and barriers to getting what s/he wants shows me what the character is made of.
Oh yeah, this is also what I learned: Don’t go shopping. Don't talk to strangers (unless they are hippies and nuns). Stay in your sasquatch cave.