I’m of the school that believes that as long as there are self-check registers in the grocery store, our quota for terrorists has been met. I’ve had paddle-wielding principals in elementary school that didn’t inspire the fear in my heart that one lone machine with a blank stare and twenty question does when it starts prowling through my personal effects.
However, since I’ve made great strides operating the toaster oven, I thought it might be time to give the self-check ninja one more try. Last time it took the produce boy, a store manager, and a passing grandmother with a customer card and a death wish to get me straightened out. This time it might not be so easy.
I checked ahead and was glad to hear that the manager that helped me the last time was still out on sick leave. Sure, I wish the man well, but anybody who goes all white around the mouth over an innocent mistake shouldn’t be in the people business. And anyway, I paid for those bananas.
I couldn’t help but wonder, though. Weren’t these touch screens a breeding ground for the kind of bacteria that closes up my head like the entrance to a nuclear reactor the day they all notice a funny smell? Or did they install touch screens on these things to make sure they’ve got a good set of fingerprints in case I make a run on the plastic bags and Tic Tacs? And couldn’t that midget behind me in the clever Boy Scout disguise lift my prints so that he could assume my place on the lower half of all the credit reports in the free world? Well, they’re not getting the goods on me without a fight.
“What’s that?” my husband asked as I snapped on my rubber gloves with the care and precision of a proctologist.
“Rubber gloves.” I picked up my broccoli and waved it at the screen like I was conducting Beethoven’s fifth for a vegan orchestra.
“What are they for?”
“Identity theft. And the common cold.”
“I didn’t know they were related. Have you alerted the government and the American Medical Association about your amazing breakthrough?”
“They already know.”
“Can we expect a Nobel Prize?”
“You’re being sarcastic. They say that people can lift your fingerprints off these machines and use them to steal your identity.”
“I don’t think Grandma Moses there has a fingerprint kit in her apron pocket.”
I surreptitiously checked out the Q-Tip of a lady behind us, flipping through Cosmo, white hair glowing softly under the fluorescent lights. She looked harmless enough if you didn’t count the keg of industrial strength prune juice she carried under one arm. If she was hosting a party, I hoped that she had more than a single bathroom in her apartment at the retirement home.
I sighed and peeled off my gloves. “Okay, maybe you’re right. Show me how to work this monster.”
Bill punched a button. The machine greeted us in a voice that passengers on an outer-Mongolion-bound stagecoach could hear without straining. He plopped a large cantaloupe on the scanner with a thud.
“Weight?” the electronic voice bellowed.
I snatched that melon off the scanner so fast it tried to quick dial the Farmer’s Market for assistance. The light above the register started flashing, and the display read, “Wait for cashier assistance” in an insulting font.
About that time my old manager friend walked in. He took in the blinking light, the angry checkout display, and me, holding a ripened cantaloupe like it was a smart bomb and the store was full of the folks in charge of gas prices. Without a word, he threw his name tag and price checker on the floor and ran out of the store so fast the automatic door flapped open and closed like a flasher on New York street corner.
“What’s the matter?” Bill’s brows were drawn together like they’d been shrink wrapped.
“I don’t discuss my weight with anybody who can’t give me a prescription for hormones.”
“Honey, the machine was asking for the weight of the cantaloupe. Not of you.”
“Oh. Perhaps I should explain to the manager when he gets back.” We listened to his car as it squealed past the outdoor furniture display and, dragging a two lawn chairs and a mini-cooler, screeched out of the parking lot.
Bill looked at me and rubbed his head. “How do you scare them off without even speaking?”
“I don’t know,” I answered trying to pull out a piece of plastic that was jammed in the payment slot. “But if he’s after my identity, he’s never going to get it.” With a tug, I pulled half of a mangled card out of the machine so fast I fell against the buggy behind me and squished some lady’s buns.
“Because I just paid for the groceries with your library card.”