“I have a discount for the laxatives,” the old man sputtered, shoving a crinkled coupon in my face.
I was an overwhelmed part-time cashier/full-time high school student. Grimacing, I took the piece of paper out of his hands and scanned it; right on cue, an error occurred.
"MINIMUM SALE NOT SATISFIED," the computer read.
The old man must have sensed something was wrong with his precious coupon.
“I got everything,” he said, panicking. “Look, see!” He took a box out of his bag and handed it to me. I took it from him and looked it over. They seemed to match the coupon requirements: he only needed to buy one, he had the right brand…
And that’s when it hit me.
“Sir, this coupon is for stool softener,” I tried to explain. “You can’t use it the coupon for this.”
“But I got what it wanted!”
“No, sir, these are laxatives, not stool softener.” This was probably the worst conversation I’d ever had, and that's saying a lot because I once had to explain to my female friend where the vagina is.
“But it’s what the doctor said to get!”
“Sir that doesn’t matter, this coupon—”
“Oh, just give it to him,” interrupted the middle-aged woman behind the old man. “Just give it to him,” she smiled. She was challenging me.
“I’m going to need a key,” I stated, unsuccessfully trying not to glare at the woman and thus demonstrating my excellent customer service skills; I was becoming rather impatient.
“That’s fine,” she snapped, crossing her arms. “I’ll wait.” Instantly, she had become my sworn enemy.
After an uncomfortable five-minute wait that felt like an eternity, my manager, a 20-year old college frat boy named Anthony showed up.
“What’s the problem?” he asked. I explained the whole feces situation to him while he did his best to conceal his laughter, which he wasn’t very good at. It was as if the situation came right out of an Adam Sandler movie, which I’m sure were Anthony's favorite kind.
“Yeah, sir, you can’t use this. It’s not the same thing,” Anthony tried explaining while smirking.
“But it’s what my doctor wanted,” the old man said.
“Oh, just give it to him,” the woman interrupted again.
“Ma’am, it’s not the same type of product,” Anthony repeated.
For the next two-and-a-half minutes, Anthony, the old man, the middle-aged woman, and a customer behind her, all argued over whether stool softener and laxatives were the same thing.
“Fine,” Anthony said, exasperated. “Just give him the coupon.” He tossed his keys at me. He was no longer smirking.
Drained and defeated, I swiped the key, and the old man got his discount.
The woman behind him smiled smugly at me, proud she had won. I felt like such a failure, and even a bit bad about myself. The middle-aged woman had undermined what little authority I had and even made me feel small; she challenged me to a match of “the customer is always right,” and of course, she crushed me.
But then, the old man smiled, and a wave of guilt washed over me. It didn’t matter if the woman had gotten her way, because at the end of the day, the old man had his discount, and that’s all that counts, really. The poor guy was old and not as sharp as he probably used to be; he didn’t know the difference between stool softener and laxatives. All he wanted was to be able to poop at a moderate price. If I were in his situation, wouldn’t I want the cashier to be friendly, and help me out?
Also, why was I so mad at that woman? She was just trying to help out a little old man, maybe rack up some good karma. Perhapss I was the one who was being a jerk — not her. No, in fact, I was being the jerk. Did it really matter to me if the old man got an unearned discount? The supermarket I worked at was making some serious bank anyway, so it’s not like one little coupon was going to bankrupt them.
Suddenly, I felt less cynical towards the whole situation. After all, helping people out is what’s most important.
I felt a newfound appreciation for the middle-aged woman. Thanks to her, the old man was going to have the one of the best shits of his life. Like every kindergarten teacher has once said, you’ve got to treat people the way you want to be treated.
“Have a great day,” I said to the old man while handing him his receipt. I turned to the middle-aged woman and smiled politely; she smiled back.
Grinning, I turned back to the register and started scanning her groceries; I was on my way to becoming a decent human being.