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February 15, 2010

Twelve items or Fewer

This Extra Ink was written by Betsy C.

About once a month, we like to highlight some of the best teen writing from TeenInk.com here on Extra Ink. This week, I've got a fun nonfiction piece by Lauren M. I hope you'll get a dose of encouragement and inspiration from this article--and a good laugh, too, especially if you've ever worked at a register.

Most Saturday afternoons, I find myself dressed in yellow, standing stationary at my designated express register in the local supermarket. Riveting, no? Most days I stand, scan, and smile because Im thrilled to be the one whos laboring away so the crazy cat lady can feed her babies luxury food. Most days I love my job, because when I really analyze the situation, although standing, scanning, and smiling is unmistakably considered mindless labor, I do have the pleasure of interacting with a fascinating variety of natives in my little community. However, there are always those off days, to say the least.

She approaches with 37 items, exactly 25 over the limit  and fully aware of it. She is the enemy. In the mocking tone that only a senile woman can have, she says, Oh hello, dearie. I think Im a little over the limit, but I just knew you wouldnt mind! She flashes her pearly smile that soaks in a glass on her bedside table every night.

Oh, of course not! Of course I mind. I always do. 1  2  As I begin to ring up her order, more customers line up behind her. 13  14  15  I can see the agitation forming in the faces of those in line, so I work faster. 29  30  31  Almost done. I punch in the last produce codes for bananas, asparagus, and a lemon and proudly proclaim the grand total of $63.47. She pays in cash, with exact change, of course, and manages to give me the most obscure combination of 47 cents using almost all pennies and nickels. After I complete the transaction and hand her the receipt, I proceed to bag the items. Im feeling relatively blessed that there were no defective coupons or refunds to further prolong the order, when the woman says, Oh, I wanted paper and plastic. And could you pack the bags lightly, dearie? The doctor said I shouldnt strain myself.

Let me tell you, it takes every ounce of courtesy and patience in my body to simply say: Sure thing, maam! After she is completely satisfied, the ultimate pesky customer walks off to purchase a pack of Marlboro Reds and several scratch tickets from James at the service desk, and then she is gone.

Acutely aware that my line is now stretched far beyond normal lengths, I begin to make up for lost time. The next woman is only buying two bagels from the bake shop, some peaches, and a bottle of water, which she evidently opened at some point during the previous transaction.

Im really sorry about that wait, maam. I apologize for any inconvenience, I say, as the total sums up to $7.41.

Oh no, dont worry about it, she replies in a way that makes me want to smile. That wasnt your fault. Some people are just plain ignorant! She hands me a $10 bill. As I finish the transaction, she reaches into her bag and pulls out not a handful of pennies, nickels, and dimes, but rather a small piece of chocolate and hands it to me.

Here. You deserve this more than I do, she says with a wink and a warm smile. I have no choice but to smile back because at this moment I realize how no kindness goes without recognition, even the smallest act of thoughtfulness.

I will never ask a customer if they have 12 items or fewer, nor will I ever refuse an order, regardless of how many items they have. In most cases, I dont know who my customers are; I dont know anything about their incomes, their lives, their struggles  and they dont know me. All I can do is help them get through the day by showing a smile and parting with a simple Have a great day!  hoping that perhaps they appreciate my two cents of kindness just as I appreciated that little piece of chocolate.

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