I did a bad thing last night.
I was checking out at target, after having spent more money than I’d intended. This could be essentially any amount, because I was going to “browse”. Historically, it appears that I am incapable of browsing at Target. Gets me every time. So there I was, a very rapid 50 minutes later waiting in line with an arm-chair precariously balanced on top of my cart that also contained a silver ball thingy that looked cool and was on clearance, a similarly ‘priced-to-go’ African looking vase, some wall mounting hooks because you can never have too many of those, a lamp, a lamp shade, a mattress topper, 2 candles and a corresponding home plug-in refill set.
It is a pet peeve of mine that one room of my house should not be fragranced by two different air fresheners. If I am going to activate two separate methods to freshen the air (which my dog makes a requirement more than an option), they need to be the same scent. I don’t want to live in bath and body works where the silent war of statistically improbable fruits (pearberry, anyone?) leaves innocent bystanders such as myself as collateral damage after the sensory onslaught. As you might imagine, this is an expensive thing to be OCD about and often results in a scent getting benched because one arm of its defense has weakened prematurely. I end up purchasing new candles, refills and room sprays far more often than the average person.
Back to the subject at hand, I hope you can visualize me: messy hair, work-out clothes waiting in line with an overflowing cart of random unrelated selections and three full length mirrors under my arm slowly but determinedly escaping my grasp. So much for browsing. Target:1, Me: 0. (More like target: 300, but that’s beside the point.). I was seriously considering a victory lap through the home décor section (cause the only thing I needed at that moment was more things to carry) when I stepped on a screw. The screw was mounted to a small thin scrap of wood in such a way that despite lying abandoned in the middle of the floor, it sat perfectly perpendicular to the surface. A perfect trap. Of course it stabbed directly through my three dollar flip-flop and managed to cause slight discomfort, but did not break the skin. Given my status of being overburdened with merchandise, I could not easily remove the weapon from its new home. I decided this was a sign that I did not need a victory lap. Time to stop.
Limping and apparently in the middle of some sort of manic episode, I arrive at the cashier and apologize to Donnie, the friendly cashier (who looks only mildly distressed by the hurricane of UPC codes heading his way) for causing the end of his evening to be so busy. He shrugs it off rather quickly and watches, amused as I maneuver the full-length mirrors for his scanning convenience. In a moment that can only be described as truly angelic, he tells me to leave everything in the cart and circles his station to my side of the register, armed with a portable barcode scanner and shoots every single item without any required rearranging at all. (Except the hooks, because I decided that was excessive. Unfortunately, excessive could not have been met by the pricey arm chair, on-sale-but-still-too-much mattress topper or the i-don’t-actually-need-this-because-no-one-ever-does items I found on clearance. No, it was the $3.50 hooks that I could live without. So it goes.) I used his distraction to extract the screw from my foot and tuned back in as he was finishing up.
This is where I did the bad thing. As Donnie was scanning away, I was unsure if he scanned the lamp base and the lampshade separately. They were part of a mix-and-match set and I think they were priced and sold separately. Donnie boy only scanned the lampshade. I, being the wonderful helper that I am, lifted the tag from the lamp base and offered it to him, barcode up. He brushed it away and moved on to the vase in the bottom of the cart. I should have said “I think they are priced separately.” Or “Did you already get the lamp base?” stating base to clearly indicate that the lamp is two pieces of merchandise.
I didn’t. It was late, I was tired and a little overwhelmed by the amount of money Target had once again convinced me to share with them. I would like to say that I simply trusted Donnie’s expertise: if either of the two of us is going to be more versed in the world of which barcodes get scanned, it is going to be him. My sole claim to fame in the retail world comes from one less than idyllic summer spent as a cashier at Wal-Mart, from which I’ve retained only two things: the code for bananas (4011) and that people at Wal-Mart are never less weird than you think.
Regardless of my thinking or my tiredness or any other competing factor, I should have said something. By not saying something, I was willfully acquiring goods I did not pay for. It is technically stealing.
This story could have ended differently. I could be writing this right now by the light of a stolen lamp marveling at how easy it is to shirk one's morals and planning for my new life of crime. Rules don’t apply to me! Possibilities are endless!
Spoiler alert: I’m not doing that.
I suppose the story could have gone completely the other way as well, where I stopped outside the store and compare the receipt to the contents of the cart and find the lamp missing. In a valiant quest, I return to the register, bolstered by own nobility and high on honor. In reporting the error, I save Donnie’s job, his kids go to college and eat healthy well-balanced meals. The store erupts into applause (much like the scene from A Christmas Story in Ralphie’s fantasy where the teacher is so overwhelmed by his literary genius that she runs out of space on the blackboard to write all of the plus signs that follow his ‘A’ and the children around him gleefully chant his name).
That didn’t happen either.
In what is possibly the worst reason ever for not doing a simple small thing right, I pressed on towards the exit and elevator because my hands were full. Actually, full is an understatement. Donnie, in his infinite wisdom had managed to perch the mirrors on top of the chair that was on top of the mattress topper that was on top of the cart that contained random crap that I decided I needed. I had a hand on each end of the mirrors and felt not at all confident that I was in control of the situation. The cart was moving forward though and since my car was forward, I pressed on.
Inertia is a jerk. I entered the parking garage and reached the elevator, which was necessary at this point given the amount by which I had overestimated my ability to hold things. While I managed to shepherd all of my new belongings in a relatively tight flock while the cart was moving, the same did not apply when the cart stopped. Some of my new belongings wanted to keep moving. Verbal instruction did nothing to change their trajectory and ultimately I was left to lunge in front of the cart and catch the speeding mirrors with my bare hands. No need to be impressed or anything.
There I was, feeling proud of the crisis I’d just averted when I heard the unique sound of glass hitting the floor and breaking, but not just breaking: shattering. Exploding into a million pieces. It is the sound you hear when you know whatever caused the sound is beyond repair. To continue with my theme of A Christmas Story references I will quote Ralphie to describe my reaction. “Ohhh Fudgeee. Only I didn’t say ‘fudge’. I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word.”
I must have said it rather loudly as it echoed slightly in the parking garage – largely abandoned by that time of night. A voice from the heavens said “Are you okay?”
I opted not to answer the voice. I figured the heavens weren’t too thrilled with my word choice and despite spending the past hour talking to myself as I wandered about the store, I was trying to break the habit.
The voice was not from the heavens. It was from a target employee, smoking in the shadows on a break. Because I was standing spotlighted in the overhead lights by the elevator I could not see her. She could see me however, and decided that my lack of response following my overly dramatic expletive following the sound of a tiny glass explosion indicated that I was not okay. She persisted in her inquiry and grew louder and more concerned and was even on the verge of standing up to walk 30 feet over to me when I realized she was real and waiting for me to answer her. “Yeah.” I shouted back, unenthusiastically. “Thanks.”
I lifted my eyes from the mess of glass on the ground, the shattered remains of the cute lamp that I had selected and attempted to purchase but didn’t technically own. What do you do at that point? I couldn’t take it in and ask for a refund because it wasn’t on my receipt. I couldn’t go in and buy a new one because Donnie would probably decide I’d lost my mind and I would wind up in a psychiatric hospital somewhere and then who would take home my mirrors and new chair? I figured karma had something to do with this turn of events and agreed that it did seem fair. Oh well. Apart from the now useless lampshade I had just purchased, this wouldn’t affect my life very much.
The amount of wreckage produced from this lamp was impressive. Shards of glass stretched as far as 6 feet away – farther than the height from which the lamp fell. I’m sure if I thought hard about this I could come up with some scientific reason for the discrepancy. I didn’t. Many of the pieces were tiny and would only be able to be removed with a broom. I collected the larger pieces into my hands and carried them, rolling my overloaded cart sort of with me so that it wouldn’t get stolen by the 0 other people in the garage, toward the trash can. By the time I reached the trashcan I was bleeding rather impressively from the thumb. Apparently karma was not convinced I’d gotten the message thus far.
I returned to the elevators with my slightly-less-overloaded-but-still-well-beyond-intended-capacity cart and a newfound appreciation for morals. Then I noticed the sign instructing me to enter the elevators from the other side. I circled around to find another sign that read “ELEVATORS OUT OF ORDER”. I would like to take this moment to commend the genius who decided that this message should be displayed on one side of the elevators only. Perhaps he is just taking the obesity epidemic in America seriously by forcing those of us who have chosen the elevator over the stairs to walk an extra 10 yards. Kudos to you, you are the real silent hero.
Kudos was not what I was saying to him in my head as I sized up the stairs. I like to think that I am a fairly capable person, but transporting a clown-car-esque shopping cart down six short flights of stairs was outside my abilities. Similarly, I like to think of myself as a generally intelligent person, so it is a little embarrassing that I gave significant consideration to the option of tossing everything down the center of the staircase before concluding that it was a poor idea.
Bleeding, tired and no longer enjoying myself my fun trip to target, I maneuvered my top heavy and unbalanced cart back to the doors to the store, to the inside elevator. I smiled sheepishly at my dear friend Donnie, who looked only moderately alarmed to see me again. I explained the obstacle that I’d encountered that forced me to return to the store. I left out the lamp and hid my bloody hand, wasn’t sure how to explain that to a cashier I’ve just met who will probably be using me as an anecdote in the near future. I’m flattering myself – even with a screw sticking out of my sandal, my speech set to the speed of manic and a shopping spree to match I am not all that memorable. By not explaining the lamp chapter of the story, it would appear to Donnie that I had just spent 30 minutes walking to the elevator (which at a ridiculously slow pace should take about one minute) interpreting the “out of order” sign and returning to the store. By this point, he probably decided that a half hour for a two minute journey was totally consistent with my abilities.
I hate walking back through stores when I have already paid. I am certain that someone is going to jump out of an aisle and accuse me of stealing things and it will take a lot of convincing to assure them that I am not a criminal. As I walked back to the elevator, conveniently located in the farthest corner of the store, I could feel eyes on me - I must be excessively conspicuous with the goods I was transporting – it was clear I shouldn’t be on this side of the registers anymore!
In fact, what made me noticeable was the wide berth my pyramid of treasures required. Well, that combined with my paranoia that people were judging me – my eyes were on everyone else… not the aisle divider I ricocheted off of, nor the stack of patriotic pillows on clearance status post fourth of July that I knocked over nor on the batteries hanging on display in the “things you haven’t bought yet but we can still convince you to” section in the line of an empty cash register.
My speed increased as I approached the exit. Freedom was so close I could taste it. The security of my car beckoned enticingly. Soon this rickety contraption would be a thing of the past – everything would fit in the trunk of the RAV and I would be home free. I just had to select an empty register and stride through with confidence, knowing I had already paid.
The only register without a line of people in the process of purchasing similarly unnecessary items unfortunately was partially obstructed by a support pole. Nonetheless, I pressed on, focused solely on the goal.
I redistributed said batteries all over the floor with the help of a my increased velocity, a protruding chair leg and life-long poor depth perception that cut my basketball career tragically short.
Batteries make a lot of noise. If you ever have to choose something from the “things you haven’t bought yet but we can still convince you to” section to knock over and you would prefer not to be stared at by the various customers of target I recommend choosing something besides batteries. I can’t offer any further insight into this highly unlikely scenario where you will have to knock something over; maybe after my next trip to Target I will have more to say. As of now, I know that knocking over an entire holster of batteries will lead to judgment. So. much. Judging. I could see it in the faces of the other hard-working, God-fearing consumers around me. Clearly they thought I had purchased too many things if I did not have the ability to control those things. I was too wide. Didn’t I know I would be too wide for that path? Why had I bought the chair knowing I was going to be too wide for the path? I was taking more than my fair share of the things…. So on and so forth.
A lot of people were watching me as I briefly faced the dilemma of whether or not to pick up the batteries. Pro: It would make me look like much less of a jerk and possibly garner some favor in the eyes of the crowd. Con: it would prolong my presence in this store… which statistically means that even more could go wrong. Pro: I wouldn’t have to spend eternity wondering if someone tripped on the pile of batteries and died. Con: They have employees who are paid to handle such problems and I might be stepping on their toes if I just start willy-nilly picking up batteries without filling out an application. Pro: It might make people stop looking at me. Con: It would involve taking at least one hand off the cart and probably cause another casualty to the ranks of my carefully selected items. I was not in a position to do that.
I smiled sheepishly at no one in particular to convey to the room at large that I am generally a nice person who just happened to get stuck in the ring with target tonight and it is now round 12 and I’m exhausted and target is clearly winning. I also tried to convey “flustered” by shaking my head in amusement mixed with disgust and pushing messy hair out of my face in a motion that I use often when trying to buy time for a witty rejoinder. Flustered was probably made clear without any added effort.
Time to make a run for it.
I made it to my car largely without incident except for a few minor heart attacks when hitting bumps. I was really happy to see Tina by that point (Tina is my car. Tina the Toyota). This is where the end credits roll and happy, triumphant music plays.
Unfortunately, the parking garage for some reason has a slight decline. I was on the ground floor, nowhere near a ramp, so this was not a problem I had foreseen.
Predictably by this point, the problem was compounded by whoever was responsible for spraying WD-40 on the wheels of these carts. In my mind, it is the same person who put the signs on the far sides of the elevators. Just a guy who has his heart in the right place and takes his job very seriously and just lives to make your experience at target the best it could be. Squeaky wheels??? Not on his watch!
My cart would not remain still even for a moment. I understand physics and how an object at rest should stay at rest and all that jazz, but I broke physics. I would perfectly park my cart and ensure that there was no slight movement and begin to extract a thing from the pile of things that has become the bane of my existence at this point in the evening and it would move. The cart would move on its own no matter what I did to stop it. Ultimately, I resorted to removing small items with one hand while using the other to stabilize the cart. For larger things, I had to be a little more crafty: I would pull the cart as close to my car as I could, perform the task mentally to optimize efficiency and promote focus, then with a leap of faith let go of the cart, remove the item, set it on the ground outside my car and rush to stop the cart before it charged directly into the car parked two spots over.
Finally, everything was out of the cart. I was not able to coordinate the removal with the placing in the car because that required some strategy and the cart hated me. So, I had to trek back to the store to return the cart (I hate being that guy and just leaving it… even when it isn’t on a mission to destroy every other car in the deck) and leave behind my car that appeared to be having a small yard sale.
Once the cart was returned to the herd, I was quickly able to pack everything into Tina in a structured way such that nothing would break. Tina never lets me down.
I like to wrap up posts with connecting thoughts that at least sort of give the impression that you’ve invested the time reading it wisely, so here goes. It turns out karma is a real thing… it may only be a real thing in my head, but it is a vicious force and I will never sneaky not pay for something again. Maybe that’s not a life lesson you needed to learn… if that’s the case, I hope you have enjoyed this convoluted and lengthy story about my first world problems.