I hate line ups.
That may be putting things a little too emphatically. They’re usually just another part of day to day life — something that just happens. Something, if not ignorable, at least forgettable. Sometimes, though, things…. happen to change that.
One of my pet peeves, for example, is (are?) debit cards: I’m standing in line with my eight-items-or-less and the person in front of me is paying for his Jos. Louis (or whatever) with a debit card. Inevitably, using the card is like solving elliptic integrals. (Take my word for it — that’s a hard thing. And it’s not quick.) And, apparently, the odds of a befuddled debit card user (or two. or three.) being in front of you are directly proportional to how much of a hurry you’re in.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I think (but I’m not sure) that I wanted to talk about cash registers. If not, I’m pretty sure there’s a rant there so it shouldn’t be a total loss. Except for you.
Cash registers — modern ones, anyway — promote innumeracy. Or maybe encourage it. Or enable it; I’m not sure which. I mean, once upon a time I worked at, not retail exactly, but an environment where I had to take money from customers, put it into a drawer and make change. (It’s not rocket science — being a trained physicist I can say this with some moderate amount of confidence.) But these days, you hand some money to a person at a register and he or she (the problem apears to be independent of gender, at least to a first approximation) punches that sum into the register and the machine displays what change I should expect to receive. God help you if you disrupt the ritual. (“That’ll be $12.47 please.” “Here’s a twenty.” Punch punch punch. Machine displays $7.53. I find two pennies in my pocket. “Here.” Aaaand….DOOM! It’s the apocalypse! Eschaton Street! And so on. If I tried this stunt with the old guy at the used book store he wouldn’t bat an eye. And all he has is a metal box and a pad of paper. Ooo, it makes me so ANGRY!)
But I didn’t really want to talk about that either.
I wanted to talk about line ups and cash registers in the context of nondenominational gift-giving season. Maybe I’m getting closer to a point.
You should be so lucky.
I have a hard time with a lot of things. In the current context, for example, I have difficulty with many things that could be described as “creative.” Writing, for example. Just ask the nicotine-addicted Mrs. W who tried, with limited success, to teach me creative writing in 1973. If you’ve read any of my drivel, you will probably have detected (aside from an unhealthy, near-fetishistic interest in urination) an almost total lack of writing ability. Or, on the occasions that I attempt to write a story for a gaming group, I stare vacantly at a blank page for hours then fall back on the tried and true (usually a vampire with script immunity and his kung fu master elf girlfriend).
Or shopping. This is relevant at various times of the year, but none moreso than nondenominational gift-giving season. What do I get for Ms. Rose, my partner of a quarter century? Umm, maybe a link to an internet cat video. My sister? Maybe a knickknack shaped like Cthulhu. My brother-in-law? Maybe a CD. (Except he just threw all of his out. I’m DOOMED!)
You get the idea.
But I mentioned the phrase “tried and true”. There’s an idea — it doesn’t just apply to manipulative undead archvillains or other magnificent bastards. If you’re creatively challenged, it also applies to nondenominational gift-giving season as well. I mean, there are certain gifts that are perhaps a trifle hackneyed but still appreciated at some level. Socks. Underwear. Chocolate. Giant metal insects.
In Ontario, booze is sold in stores owned by a government monopoly. (Well, except for beer, most of which is sold in a chain of stores owned by three offshore corporations. I don’t much care for monopolies, but that hardly seems to be an improvement.) The booze monopoly has history of treating their stock as a cross between contraband and pornography, but to my inexpert eye these days they appear to do a pretty good job. Our ‘local’ store has a nice blonde lady who reviews stuff, the line ups usually aren’t too bad, the shelves are usually pretty well stocked, the parking lot, while busy, usually has free spaces and we’ve only been rear-ended by a woman in a Hyundai once.
Last weekend being nondenominational gift-giving season, though, it was insanely busy. Which meant that, amongst other things, the line ups were rather worse than usual. Ms. Rose and I picked up stuff for my baby sister (no Cthulhu for her this year), mother (I think she thinks I look a little like a shoggoth), sundry other friends and relatives and then hit the queue. When we were almost through the line, there was a problem — the person in front of us was trying to redeem a coupon or something. Something clearly unexpected. The clerk tried stuff and looked puzzled. The register made several booping noises but not that nice beeping noise that registers make when they’re happy. She looked more puzzled. She tried again. More puzzled looks. She called over someone to help. More boops and more puzzled looks. Until….
They hauled out the manual for the cash register and started reading it.
We had never seen such a thing before. I mean, manuals are nice and everything (RTFM and all that) but we had never seen anyone read one in a store before.
The nice ladies at register 4 were still reading when we left.