One of the grocery stores I frequent to spend my $300 a week is a clean and pleasant Safeway, just off a busy street that winds down to my little yup town. Most often, it is quiet and uncrowded when I get there after dropping off the surly silent teen and his coolly-disheveled self at school. I yank a cart out of the stack, after perusing the line of them to get one that is not wet from the CONSTANT RAIN HERE or has any leftover peoples’ crap in it. That creeps me out. It’s like if someone leaves their shopping list or Starbucks cup in the cart I think I will get their cooties, and I get pissed off. Damn filthy apes.

The first thing I go by is the floral department, where a couple of middle-aged ladies (older than me, of course) tend to the many gorgeous bouquets. I never buy any, and something stops me from standing and appreciating them longer. Perhaps it is too pretty. I wonder what happens to the unsold cut flowers. Do they get dumpstered? That would be the loveliest dumpster ever.

I buy the same stuff every week – steaks, salad, apples, bottled water, yogurt, granola, blah blah blah – so I have mental space while heaving my cart around to pay attention to the people there. I think corporate must tell the Safeway workers that if a customer passes within 8 feet of them, they must greet you warmly and ask if you are finding everything you need. Of course, I always say I am doing just swell. I hate anyone asking me anything there, because I assume they would rather be telling me to eat lead or f-off and die or just give up and weep uncontrollably on my shoulder about the state of the broccoli. I think about how anyone ended up working at Safeway. It is not a bad place to be. It is not anyone’s dream job, is it? Maybe.

There’s the Japanese guy, maybe about 35 or 40, who works in the meat department and always wears a baseball cap. I swear he makes a beeline for me as soon as I make it to the iced jumbo shrimp refrigerator case. He is overly-enthusiastic about his meats and seems to desperately want to assist me in finding many, many pieces of beef carcass and chicken flesh to throw in my silver supersized cart. If I see him first, I duck down the Specialty and Organic Food aisle until he goes into the abattoir or whatever it is they have back behind the display case. If he catches me, his joy burbles uncontrollably and I feel I must at least let him tell me about the King Salmon for a full minute. I think he is very happy to work at Safeway. I could hardly see how a person could be happier. Maybe he drinks to excess at home, though, or beats his dog. I could see that. No one should be that happy.

The women who restock the Hallmark card displays and the magazines seem to be evil twins. They go about grimly with their mission of removing the old and unwanted paper goods, and replacing the displays with “GRANDMOTHER, WE ARE SENDING THIS CARD ON YOUR BIRTHDAY BECAUSE WE CAN’T REALLY STAND TO LISTEN TO YOUR ENDLESS REPETITIVE STORIES IN PERSON” cards, or periodicals with screaming competing headlines referring to how to beat stress, lose 15 pounds before (fill in the holiday/season), or something about Britney Spears’ genital area. The women doing these jobs seem slightly snobby, and look like they want to finish up and get the hell out. I give them wide berth.

The most interesting checkout person is Hard Rock Mom. She chews gum, nicotine I assume, like she is ready to spit it out in your eye if you cross her. Her glory days are long past, and the growing harshness in her face belies many many many smokes of all kinds, beers on tap, metal concerts long past when she had big hair, and a fair count of bad boys, some of who left her with children who looked just like Daddy. She knows my face, glad to see me because she can relax because I will shoot the shit with her. I will comment on her Van Halen t-shirt she is wearing under her blue Safeway jacket and she lights up, and I can see the 17-year-old who stole her grandpa’s truck with her giggling, stoned girlfriends to get to Tacoma to see Ratt. The ring of heavy black eyeliner she carefully paints on each morning both makes her light green eyes pop out, and drags them down. I can see her in 5 years, still furiously chewing the gum and worrying over her teenager’s toddler. Even she knows it’s coming. She’s already seen it all.

But there is one person, and one person only, that makes my Safeway experience more than just another shopping run at a well-lit, obscenely-bountiful American supermarket. She is Customer Service Girl. I have never seen her. I don’t need to go over to her counter as I am not buying cigarettes or lottery tickets or cashing a check or whatever else the hell goes on there. But I hear her. OH, HOW I HEAR HER. Every single time I am there, it is the same. I hear the click of the store’s public address system switch on and she speaks. Have you ever heard a child who whines with every single syllable and inflection? Where the sentence goes way way up in pitch at the end and the last word is held far too long? The kind of sound that makes you want to kill kittens?

Imagine this then, with a nasal, stuffy, singsong-y, INFURIATING woman’s voice. “CAAAARRRLLLLLLL??” Cawwwlllll holding on Line WUUUUUUNNNNNN???? CAAAARRRLLLLLLLLLL? CAAWWWLLLLL HOLDING ON LINE WUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNNN???????” I swear, I have stopped dead in my tracks in the dairy aisle and just said, “JESUS CHRIST!!” at the sound of this. The only way I have found to at all cope with this is that I must, the second she starts speaking, wherever I am in the store and whoever is nearby, copy and mock her perfectly as she once again asks for Carl to pick up goddamn Line One. I do not care if anyone thinks I am crazy. It stops me from going back to the Customer Service Counter and wringing her (as I imagine it to be) geeky little pencil neck. I know I am not alone. I have seen Stock Boy Jason giggle knowingly, and Soccer Mom With Baby Eating Cheerios From A Baggie smile widely in my direction.

I go to Safeway once a week. Maybe I will apply for a job in Customer Service.