A Hill to Die On
On a Sunday morning in the spring of 2012, a frantic woman approached my cash register. I was working at Harris Teeter as a personal shopper, a program set up to publicly acknowledge the impossibility of finding anything in the store.
The original slogan was “it’s so miserable, we’re going to make high-schoolers do it for you.”
It was a little after 7 a.m., and I was attending the only open register while waiting for the first online order of the Holy day. I watched as the woman walked to me from the parking lot entrance, to unleash the unmistakable rage of middle-aged white women who have been wronged by employees of the service industry.
“Do y’all sell peanut butter in here? I looked alllllll over for it and I can’t find it anywhere in the whole damn store,” she lied.
“Store” had two syllables, the way she said it, as did “here.” Her drawl indicated that she had driven from the outskirts of town just to yell in my face at the break of dawn. She drew a circle in the air — to represent the whole damn store, I guess — and used both hands to tuck her auburn hair behind her ears, as her turbulence had dislodged it from place.
As she looked at me expectantly, I wiped her spit from my face and thought about her word choice. She asked if we sold the most popular staple of America’s “choosy moms,” and not where it was located in the store.
Grammar is the hill I’m willing to to die on, so if she was giving me Hell, I had my reciprocity locked and loaded.
The customer service desk was unchaperoned, as people did not usually come to complain on their way to church. My manager was on break, and I was left to my own millennial devices.
I decided in this moment, she simply did not deserve to have peanut butter.
“Funny you ask,” I said sincerely. “Harris Teeter stopped selling peanut butter just this last week!”
She believed me.
To be this petty was, without question, the most powerful I have ever felt in my life.
“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience!” She stormed out of the store, shouting that she had already been to three other grocery stores in northwest Greensboro just that morning.
I rode that victorious high for the next five years.
When I think back on my days at the Sheeter — a term of endearment coined by my dad — I re-imagine my meat juice-stained uniform and delivery bag of crumbling sugar cookies as a velvet cape and a jewel-encrusted staff. I was truly on top of the world, a powerful gatekeeper for America’s most fundamental goods and services.
I am now an aspiring adult at the ripe age of 23, trying desperately to remember the produce codes I once learned as the reigning Queen of Halah’s Teeter.
Each week, I enter the sliding doors to a new display of products for a far-off holiday, thinking, “what fresh Hell is this?” and begin a fruitless quest for something as basic as tomato sauce. It seems only yesterday I used to be so good at this, helping confused customers find canned pimentos — the very front of aisle 1, top shelf on the left — and cornstarch — halfway down aisle 4, bottom shelf on the right.
Grocery stores of America, why are you like this?
Sure, the expensive feta is with the fancier cheese by the bakery, but do you really have to move the store-brand feta to a new corner of the dairy section every six weeks?
Tonight, I wander aimlessly below the fluorescent flood lights that blind me in my futile search for reduced fat cream cheese, only to pick up five different pumpkin spice flavored items that I would never have sought out in the first place.
Surely this is a ploy to get people to buy shit they don’t need.
They say not to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, so I got here at 5 p.m. — just enough time to grab a few items for dinner. But now it’s 9 o’clock and I’ve been lost in the maze of wine for what feels like days and I have no choice but to open a bag of chips and leave a trail of lime tortilla crumbs so some kind custodian can find me in the Portugal section.
Who decided to organize wine by country of origin?
I consider the irony of starving in the midst of a grocery store. Slumping against my cart, hands covered in lime seasoning, I think about the poor woman who just wanted a jar of peanut butter five years ago. Did she ever find it? Is she lost in a grocery store right now too?
Is this Karma, or is this just adulthood?
Somebody help me.