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10 Items or Fewer

Recently, I was shopping for groceries on the way home from working out. It was late, and there were few people in the local Acme. When I completed my shopping, there were only two lanes available (and the scan-it-yourself wasn’t working). In one lane was a woman who must have been expecting some kind of siege: her carts(!) were overflowing with all manner of long-lasting canned goods. She was moving glacially, so I expected that it would take me, oh, six to seven hours to check out there.

The alternative was the Express Lane, ungrammatically reminding me that it was for “10 Items or Less.” I had twenty items (yes, I continued counting even after reaching ten), but decided to throw myself on the mercy of the cashier.

But mercy, she had none.

Despite the absence of any other shoppers even approaching the line, the lateness of the hour, and the serio-comic carts piled to overflowing in the next aisle, she simply said: “Sorry, 10  items or less.”

Recognizing that correcting her grammar wasn’t my best bet, I appealed to her common sense and human decency.

“But there’s no one else here, and the only other lane will take forever. Can’t you make an exception?”

“10  items or less.”

“But I have an exact multiple of 10.”


“Might I speak to the manager?” I wondered.   By this time, the survivalist in the next aisle was excavating her second cart. The cashier, heavy of foot and heart, telephoned the manager (who was some eight feet away).

This went no better. Upon hearing my story, the manager said: “Sorry…10 items or less.”

At this point, I did what any sane person would do: I placed ten items on the belt and left the other ten in the basket. After paying for the first ten items, I bagged them and carried the bag  back to where the basket was sitting. I then removed the remaining 10 items, placed them on the basket, and paid for them. The cashier, who may not have recognized me as the same person, didn’t blink.

After all, I had followed the rules.  

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