So I’m at the grocery store, rounding the bend near the frozen vegetables, and I’m not even pushing the cart at a very high speed. And the cart catches the edge of something cardboard.
Just like in a movie, what happens next was in slow motion. The cardboard was part of a display of chewing gum, and you know where this is going.
The display, which was about as tall as I am and filled with hundreds and thousands of little packs of gum, started its slow crash to the floor. I reached out to grab the cardboard stand, but I knew it was too late.
I let out a little yelp, drawing the attention of about eight customers; they all watched in distress as the tower slammed to the floor, scattering its cargo of gum packets across not only the frozen peas aisle but also into the path of customers trying to beat each other into the checkout lanes.
This is where, in movies, some worker notices and gets on the store intercom and calls for “Cleanup in Aisle Six!” But that’s not how things work in Bethie’s home movies. Customers grumbled and turned their carts around; others sidestepped the mess. Faced with a disaster of my own making and with no fresh-scrubbed stock boy in an apron to come and rescue me, I got on my knees to clean up the mess.
I’m not making this up. There were hundreds of packs of gum. Fruity and minty and bubble-gummy, all wrapped in plastic that made the packets just slippery enough to go scooting off 15 feet in all directions.
And so I parked my cart and starting picking up and stuffing the packets back into the shelves on the cardboard display. Two hands were not enough to make this go quickly enough, and so I pulled my shirt out of my pants and used it as an apron, stuffing it full of gum and waddling over to the display to download it onto the shelves. Right when I was getting sweaty and thinking I’d be there until closing, my neighbor came by, parked her cart and helped me finish.
We talked about how grocery stores tend to put teetering displays of products right in our way; they want us to run into them – although maybe not literally. The displays are called end caps, and the companies that make the products pay extra to put them there. There’s always a huge one parked right in front of the dairy case, a mesa of donuts and cookies you must circumnavigate on your way to the yogurt. I’ve learned to put my head down and avert my gaze as I go by.
It’s a common trope on sitcoms: A customer pulls an orange from the bottom of the pyramid and the whole thing collapses. I was embarrassed when I detonated the gum pyramid, but I shouldn’t have been; I was doing the right thing picking it all up. At least two workers saw me scrambling around like a bricklayer and walked right past without stopping to help.
The whole thing leaves me with a couple of thoughts. I am grateful it wasn’t a pickle display. And I wasn’t even shopping for gum.