Twelve Items or Fewer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 11, 2008
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 I’m thrilled to be the one who’s 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 I’m a little over the limit, but I just knew you wouldn’t 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. I’m 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 shouldn’t strain myself.”

Let me tell you, it takes every ounce of courtesy and patience in my body to simply say: “Sure thing, ma’am!” 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.

“I’m really sorry about that wait, ma’am. I apologize for any inconvenience,” I say, as the total sums up to $7.41.

“Oh no, don’t worry about it,” she replies in a way that makes me want to smile. “That wasn’t 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 don’t know who my customers are; I don’t know anything about their incomes, their lives, their struggles – and they don’t 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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 63 comments. Post your own now!

A_Dreamer said...
Jun. 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm
That's a sweet story! :) Good job with it!
momentofweakness. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm
you were able to portray such a wonderful moment perfectly. i loved it. (:
pixie5 said...
Jun. 5, 2010 at 9:40 pm
Wow! This was really nice.:)
KaiteyAmber said...
Jun. 5, 2010 at 5:34 pm
lol ... loved it ... amazn job ... keep it up
toflyaway said...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 2:31 am
This story made my day, I loved it!
horsie_luver said...
Mar. 31, 2010 at 9:08 pm
Good story. It was nice and short. I liked that it put a very good lesson in a very cute story. Nice work with the details!
L_Carshell said...
Mar. 31, 2010 at 8:10 am
I know how it is to deal with customers who don't comply with the rules. Kudos on the chocolate :D
riley1516 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm
Cute story! nice details too
ENRIQUEZ12 said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm
jules16 said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 11:06 am
i lovee thiis : ] the progression is really well done, and the moral is cute.
stargazer_lilly This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 3:45 pm
i loved the simplicity of what you were writing about... i come from a small town too, so this was easy to relate to. it was a nice reminder of how pleasant seemingly small things can be...
Savor~the~Moment This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm
Three cheers for Lauren M.! This was not only an inspiring piece, but it was thought provoking and intelligently written. Kudos to you!
tears_like_rain said...
Jan. 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm
this is definitely inspiring. thank you so much the reminder that though kindness takes patience, it can be more rewarding than looking out for yourself!!!!! God Bless.
Megan Anne S. said...
Jan. 2, 2010 at 10:24 am
This was really cute! I liked it!
Megan Anne S. said...
Jan. 2, 2010 at 10:24 am
I really liked this! Great job!
Aleece said...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 4:32 pm
Kitten111 said...
Oct. 28, 2009 at 2:13 am
Awsome ... I work in a popcorn shop so i know how customers can be annoying lol ..... and i love doing random acts of kindness to ... i try and do one evry day :)
Rambunctious said...
Oct. 6, 2009 at 6:11 pm
Awesome! Made me smile. And made me want to start giving random strangers chocolate.
Emmalee This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 6, 2009 at 11:24 am
:) Really nice.
SickImage said...
Oct. 6, 2009 at 10:01 am
Awesome. I really liked this. especially the part about her smile that soaks beside her bed lol it cracked me up.
I work at papa murphys and people always tell me to find a better job "you don't want to be asking 'would you like fries with that' for the rest of your life" and i absolutly love my job and i tell them "no, it's 'have you cooked our pizzas before?'"
I know how you feel when you can make a customer smile. It's a won... (more »)
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