I was next in line at the check-out counter at my local supermarket. The young man checking the groceries was going through the motions with the usual check-out patter:
“How are you today?”
“Did you find everything you wanted?”
“Do you want the meat wrapped in plastic?”
“Do you want help out with that?”
“Have a nice day.”
When it came my turn, and he got to the question, “Did you find everything you wanted?” I smiled and said, “I will know when I get home, and my wife tells me what I forgot.”
He immediately slipped into a falsetto voice and began imitating a nagging woman:
“Oh, you forgot the milk again, you idiot. Can’t you remember anything? I think you’re getting senile. You had a list. Can’t you read? I’m so sick of this. I guess I’ll have to do the grocery shopping as well as doing everything else around here. You’re absolutely worthless. Why did I marry you, you moron?”
“That sort of wife, sir?” he asked.
“Yeah, not quite that bad,” I said. I found myself making sure the milk was there. The rest of the transaction was completely normal. I couldn’t tell if the woman behind me had heard any of it. She was leafing through a magazine. I took my bag of groceries and said “You too” to his “Have a nice day.”
Driving home, I imagined he was an aspiring actor or maybe a comedian who couldn’t resist trying out a routine. Or maybe he had just been dropped by a woman because he couldn’t remember things. Could he be a seriously unhinged misogynist? The voice was high-pitched and threatening, sort of like Norman Bates’ mother’s voice in “Psycho.” The more I thought about it, the creepier it seemed.
When I got home, I started relating the incident to my wife as we unpacked the groceries.”
“Oh,” she interrupted me, “You forgot the butter. I put it on the list. Why don’t you read the list?”