Sunday, February 17, 2008
Smoking and Mirrors
The scene: a suburban grocery store, 9 pm on a Saturday evening
A man and woman, both 40-ish, are at the cashier, where a huge pile of food is being rung in. The man is at the end of the checkout counter piling full bags into a cart. He murmurs something about starting to take it out to the car; the woman nods distractedly. She is talking to the cashier--a young woman I estimate to be 16--about not being able to find liquid laundry soap, only powder. The cashier looks down the closest aisle, ducks her head a little. Spots it, and seeing the recognition on her face, the woman turns around, all but smacks herself on the forehead: oh gosh, right in front of me! Can't see a thing. She walks off to get some, grabs a few other things, comes back and piles them on the end of the conveyor belt, pulls out her wallet--the cashier is almost done--then looks around and says, "oh geez, he's probably out there having a smoke!" and trundles off to wrangle errant hubby back to help carry the rest of the groceries. The cashier finishes the job no more than five seconds later, looks around; no sign of woman or hubby. She waits--we wait--then it starts to seem too long. Something in her manner alerts the night manager, another young woman, this one probably all of 20. A whispered colloquy. The manager shows the cashier how to suspend a transaction, then goes out to the parking lot to look for the missing customers. The cashier rings in our five items; we pay. The manager returns, alone; more whispers. They are examining the amount on the bottom of the receipt.
On the way out to the car, Winnifred says, I bet the smoking ban has been a real boon to the grifter community. Ready-made excuse to step outside.
(No such excuse was available to Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, who, in 1973, when I was eight, introduced me to the concept of the con man.)