Don’t Make a Scene!

CartAs the Blizzard of the Century howled its way across the Dakotas, everyone in Southern Minnesota scrambled for The Big Box Store to stock up.

By the time we got there, the checkout lines were backed up all the way to the meat counter.

After a long agonizing shuffle across the store, only one couple stood between us and the parking lot.

He kept a sharp eye on the cashier’s monitor while she bagged the groceries.

The cashier worked as fast as she could.  Paddling with both hands, she deftly twisted each item across the scanner until it emitted a reassuring beep then with an effortless back-stroke, sent it spinning into the bagging area.

Grab, twist, beep, spin.

Grab, twist, beep, spin.

Grab, twist, beep, spin.

….

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” The guy’s voice cracked like a gunshot.

His wife looked up, mortified. “Don’t make a scene,” she hissed.

“THAT IS NOT CORRECT,” he shouted, rattling a bony finger at the monitor.

His wife ducked behind a bale of toilet paper.

His voice quivered with outrage. “You’re trying to screw us…..”

“Hiram,” she cut him off, “You’re making a SCENE!!”

The cashier pleaded with him to be reasonable. It was after all only a matter of pennies and a blizzard was coming – but Hiram stood his ground.

Perhaps fearing a riot, the cashier leaned into a small microphone mounted on her register and whispered ever so softly – but her amplified voice boomed throughout the store.

PRICE CHECK!”

A groan rose up from Fresh Produce and rippled all the way back to the dairy case.

Outside the Big Box Store, the blizzard of the century howled into the parking lot. Inside, all activity stopped so everyone could stare at Hiram.

Now there is something you must understand about our region. In Minnesota, traffic backs up on our freeways whenever a car gets a flat, lectures go silent whenever a student drops a pencil and all activity ceases whenever someone sneezes. When something stops here, everything stops. We do this so we can all stare at whoever it was who made a scene.

Again, “PRICE CHECK!”

Hiram had made a scene but he also touched a nerve by standing up for himself and couples who hadn’t bickered for years found themselves glaring at each other as old tensions wormed their way to the surface.

They asked each other which is worse: to let The Big Box Store walk all over you or to risk making an ass of yourself? It is the kind of question that few marriages can handle gracefully.

Finally, a lone voice called out, “What’s yer item?”

“TUCKS,” Hiram yelled to the abject horror of his wife.

“What’s the price on TUCKS?” the voice called back toward the pharmacy section.

Another voice relayed the question and soon a cacophony of calls returned the shelf price.

Hiram had been dead-on accurate. The register price did not match the shelf press. Half the crowd felt vindicated as the other half, in empathy with Hiram’s wife, felt mortified.

Then things got ugly.

People started thinking….. What if The Big Box Store was exploiting the regional aversion to making a scene? What if they were deliberately displaying the wrong price and counting on people to not stand up for themselves?

All eyes turned toward the manager’s office.

After a few moments, a young woman in an official Big Box Store vest sheepishly trotted to the register and with the magic twist of the price override key, resumed the flow of commerce.

Later in the parking lot, my wife and I continued to explore the vein of discord begun at the register. I loathe making a scene about as much as she enjoys taking a stand.

We spun our tires, both figuratively and literally, across the lot as we rehashed an argument as old as our marriage.

We were not alone.

Ahead of us, a long line of couples, silhouetted by the flash of brake-lights, faced-off, gesturing and bickering until they faded, one by one, into the white of the oncoming blizzard.

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