I’m standing in a Walmart self-checkout line behind four elderly men. They are wearing polo shirts, tucked into khakis. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re on vacation.
They are pushing a cart full of food, toiletries, and beer. The checkout line is long.
One man says, “I don’t know why they have these god-forsaken self-checkout lanes. I don’t wanna check my ownself out.”
One of my favorite old-man words happens to be “ownself.” It’s even better in its plural form, “ownselfs.”
“Yeah,” adds another man. “It’s just like when they did away with full-service gas stations, remember those?”
“Back when you could get your windshield cleaned, tank filled, a Ko-Kola, and didn’t even have to get outta your car.”
“You know, I reckon if someone tried to wash a fella’s windshield today, the driver would be so shocked he’d think he was getting mugged.”
“Hey, I got mugged once. In Chicago. I thought it was a joke at first.”
“Did he beat you up?”
“Wasn’t a he. It was a woman.”
“A woman mugged you? Did she want your wallet?”
“She certainly didn’t want my body.”
“I’ve never been mugged.”
“Me neither. Ain’t never even been to Chicago.”
“Heard they have a bad smell downtown.”
“Ain’t that bad. Just watch out for the lady muggers.”
“How does this self-checkout thingy work? Are we supposed to just scan things our ownselfs?”
“Here, let me do it, Don, I self-checkout stuff all the time back home.”
“I don’t understand, why we can’t just have a cashier, what was wrong with cashiers?”
“The world’s changing.”
“It sure is. Just yesterday, my grandson asked me to watch a movie on his iPad, he kept pausing it every two seconds to answer texts. He can’t focus for more than a minute.”
“I don’t text.”
“Yeah, I can’t text because of autocorrect. Last week, I texted my son’s wife and my text ended up saying: ‘Excited you’re in town, I can’t wait to see those big beautiful nipples again.’”
The men completely lose it.
“I was trying to spell DIMPLES.”
“No wonder you got mugged by a woman.”
“Hey, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with this self-checkout. Do we just start scanning things or what?”
“Don’t ask me. I can’t read the screen without my glasses.”
“Just raise your hand, they’ll send someone over to help us.”
“Yeah, raise your hand, Don, let us see those big beautiful nipples.”
“Ma’am? I need help! Ma’am! Please, I need service over here!”
“Did a woman really mug you?”
“Yes. She was very athletic.”
“Wow, I think I woulda asked her to marry me.”
“Ma’am! Please! Over here! I don’t know what the screen is telling me to do.”
A woman in an official vest approaches. The screen is blinking. The man has apparently tried to ring up a six-pack, but the machine won’t let him proceed without identification.
She says, “Gonna need to see some ID.”
“ID?” he says. “Seriously? Do I look like a nineteen-year-old to you?”
She frowns. “I dunno, maybe.”
The man shows her a driver’s license. The woman glances at it, then presses a few numbers on a keypad and leaves.
“Hey,” says one man, “she wasn’t bad looking.”
“Shut up, she can still hear you.”
“She can’t hear me, I’m whispering.”
“You’ve haven’t whispered since you got those five-and-dime hearing aids.”
“Hey, the machine’s making a noise again.”
The man hits it with his palm. “Stupid computer, you stupid, stupid computer.”
“Why don’t you call your girlfriend again?”
“Ma’am! Over here! Ma’am! I need help, please!”
“Good going, Fonz, you broke the dumb machine.”
The woman approaches again. Her arms are folded. “What is it this time?” she asks.
“The machine’s making noises again.”
She touches a few buttons, then laughs and says, “It wants you to insert a card or cash.”
She walks away and the old men finally figure it out. When they finish paying, they shuffle to the parking lot together. I am behind them.
One man says, “Well, that was an ordeal.”
“You know what my daddy always said the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is?”
“I know, attitude, my daddy used that saying all the time, too.”
“Nope. Wrong. The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is big beautiful nipples.”
Next, I see them loading groceries with stiff backs and careful movements. There are at least five decades between us, but I share their feelings about how our world is turning out.
Sometimes, I don’t understand what’s happened to society. I do not understand why text messages are more prevalent than postcards. And I miss the golden age of newspapers.
I don’t know why lemon juice is made with artificial flavoring, but dishwashing detergent is made with “real lemons.”
I liked it better when children felt safe enough to ride bikes to the drugstore. I miss the era when people counted coins on shop counters instead of inserting cards into chip readers. I miss full-service gas stations.
And no matter how old I get, I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the self-checkout lane my ownself.