Working as a grocery store cashier may seem boring and mundane. Many probably think it’s an after-school job for teenagers or an outlet for retired senior citizens. But as a single mother of two, I’m here to tell you, cashiering rocks.
I love my job. The sound the scanner makes when items beep across it, bagging the food just so - cans on the bottom and the bread tucked snugly on top. I even love my red vest – as dorky as some might say it is.
Most of all, I love the people. The familiar faces that come through my lane every week – Mrs. Danforth on Tuesdays, Camille Owens on Fridays, new mom Frannie, first thing every Monday right before little Lucy’s nap time.
But there’s one thing I don’t particularly love about my job. And that “thing” is barreling toward me at this very moment.
Mr. Bunkly (aka: Archie Bunker) is the biggest grouch to ever set foot in Tom’s Market. When we see him coming – which is two o’clock in the afternoon on the dot, either Tuesday or Thursday depending on when his knee therapy appointment that week – we cashiers close our eyes and breathe an enormous prayer.
We pray he doesn’t choose our lane.
Today Mr. Bunkly has chosen mine. And I brace myself. The person who coined the phrase, “Service with a smile” has never had to deal with Mr. Bunkly.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Bunkly.” My smile is automatic, but tight. I silently say another prayer for the ability to remain calm in the face of confrontation and not break into the defensive, tit-for-tat mode, as many cashiers have been known to do. I pray for the ability to be kind and cheerful, regardless of Mr. Bunkly’s criticism, the fifteen times he’ll stop me, convinced an item didn’t ring up at sale price, or how many times he points a finger in my face.
“What’s good about it?” The typical reply. “You people are out of them pot pies I like.”
“Sorry about that. I can check and see if we have any more in the back,” I offer.
He scowls. “Forget it. I don’t have time to wait. Anyways, last time I ate one of them pies, I was sick all night. One of them delinquents in the back probably poisoned me.”
I chuckle. “I doubt they’d do something like that.”
“You callin’ me a liar?” Mr. Bunkly’s finger is in my face. I swallow and take a baby step back.
“Of course not, Mr. Bunkly. But it seems unlikely that one of our employees would poison you.”
“You think I don’t know you all hate me? That you cringe when you see me comin’? I know all about your conspiracy against me.”
I stop and look at Mr. Bunkly. Truthfully, I’m at a loss for words. I wasn’t about to say what I was thinking (“You’re a crazy lunatic!”). He’d already pointed a finger at me. I’d rather not escalate to gun.
Spontaneously, the Holy Spirit decides to speak up. Ask Mr. Bunkly how he’s doing. How he’s really doing.
I scan and bag a half gallon of milk and a loaf of raisin bread before I gather the courage to obey. I stop and calmly look directly into Mr. Bunkly’s eyes.
“Hey, Mr. Bunkly,” I say softly, with compassion. “How are you? I mean, is everything okay?”
“No it aint okay!” His voice is booming and I could swear fire is coming out of his eyes. “Do I look okay?”
I pause and take a deep breath. “No, you don’t.” Oops. Did I say that out loud? Well, too late now. Might as well finish what the Holy Spirit started. “Whatever you’re going through, God wants me to tell you He loves you, Mr. Bunkly. And there’s no conspiracy about that.”
I can’t explain it, but suddenly, Mr. Bunkly is not just a cranky old man. As I look at him through the eyes of Jesus, I see him as a broken and battered child of God.
He pays for his groceries, avoids my eyes, and amazingly leaves without another word.
Some cashiers still freak out when they see him coming. But not me; I remain calm. I know the crotchety-old-man-act isn’t who Mr. Bunkly really is. It’s just a matter of time before he knows it too. And, for some reason, Mr. Bunkly always chooses my lane.
Yep, there’s absolutely no doubt about it: I love my job.
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