I'm at the self check out line, when the screen says to wait for assistance from the cashier. I just ignore it, or push whatever button will let me keep on going and continue ringing myself up. I know the machine has just detected that I have no children with me to sabotage me today. It feels personally responsible for trying to make up for their absence. I try to avoid these encounters as these machines are out to get me, but sometimes it's inevitable. I used to avoid the auto cashier completely. I have my reasons. I'm not a total techno-idiot like you're thinking and I am not paranoid. It's simple post traumatic stress disorder. Plus, technology likes to vomit in my face. I have bad Karma that way.
The first time I ever saw a self check out was at a K-Mart in 2002. I should have been suspicious, it being K-Mart and all. However my judgment was impaired by the fact that I was with my children, then ages 11, 3, 3, 4 months and 4 months. I know what you are thinking. Haven't I heard of family planning? Sure, it just means something different in Utah. People with these demographics in their home don't get enough sleep, and they do not enjoy shopping alone with children, especially at K-Mart. They are capable of giving up their birthright to get out of that place quick. There were lines of people waiting for the cashiers, but, "AHHHH!" (Heavenly chorus) there was an aura around a new and unusual thing called the self check out. And there was NO LINE! Remember that advice your mom gave you that went something along the lines of, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is"? Don't forget that advice. Alarms should have gone off in my brain when I realized there was no one using the thing, but my brain was numb from an hour of multitasking "find it in K-Mart" with screaming, squirmy child wrestling.
So, we navigated towards this novelty. Eventually, we got there, all 6 of us and our two carts. We hadn't picked up all that much, but there were 4 boys to fit in too. Hmmm. I took in the whole setup. Here we had my own little bar scanner and screen over it, and racks with plastic bags to bag my own items on a counter to the right. The instructions were pretty simple and straightforward. I'd been a cashier before, so how hard could this be? I ran the first item over the glass. Beep! I put it in the bag. At this point the natives had gotten over the novelty of the new check out and they started getting restless. One 3 year old, we'll call him Houdini, starts trying to escape the confines of the cart. I reach over to put the boy back in the cart while trying to ring up item number two. But now three year old number two, we'll call him Rambo, had started climbing out the other end. I implore the 11 year old, whom we'll call Lucy, to handle Rambo. Beep! Two items in the bag. The 4 month old boys have gotten sick of sitting in the same spot and they start to howl-in two separate keys. I start to rock the cart. Houdini escapes again and goes running away, towards the quarter candy machines. Eleven year old runs after him, loudly threatening him with his life. I grab item number 3, while trying to rock the cart with my foot. I ring it up. I go to put it in the bag. Rambo is standing on the counter, straddling the rack that the bag is attached to. I put down the item on the scanner and grab the boy to put him down. The screen is flashing all over the place, telling me to get assistance. Yeah, I could use some assistance. The babies are wailing, and everyone in the vicinity is staring. Houdini runs laughing by, Lucy in hot pursuit. I try to clear the machine and bag my item. Rambo is climbing up again. I set him to rocking the cart, then try again.
Mercifully, a clerk comes to assist at this point. She tries to clear the screen, but it won't work. Then we discover that Rambo and Houdini, who recently returned are hanging on the bag racks. The clerk explains that the counter detects the weight when you bag the items to make sure you don't bag things you haven't rung up. So, the kids can't even touch that area, or it will not work. Now, that might have been helpful to know before I started this escapade! Of course, I didn't have the common sense to give up and go get in a line, I just toss the three year olds back into the cart and ask the eleven year old to keep them there. Except she is humiliated at the scene we are making and she has gone off to hide somewhere. I continue alone, secretly plotting to leave her there. At this point, we are the K-Mart side show and everyone is watching. There is even a second worker, who seems to have nothing else better to do, leaning against the counter across the aisle from me, snickering. Clerk number one sees I need help, so she offers to hold a baby. I tell her she can try. Baby, however most definitely does not want to be held, so he starts howling even louder and kicking her. Meanwhile, Rambo is biting Houdini and he starts to cry. I grab Houdini, quickly threaten, I mean, chastise Rambo, and start ringing up the next item. Flashing lights again. Rambo has escaped and is sitting on the counter. I pull Rambo off. Lucy shows up, with some teen magazine in hand, wondering if I will buy it. No, I will not! Would she like to hold a baby, or live at K-Mart? Sulkily, she puts the magazine on the counter and picks up a baby. Another alert! Unauthorized item in bagging area! Grrrr! Nice clerk helps clear it. Baby in her arms is purple with rage, so she puts him back in his carrier. Obnoxious employee on the sidelines is guffawing.
I ring up another item. Now I need to use another bag, but the next rack over has a set of bags that seem to have been permanently glued together. After pawing at it the best I can, I put down Houdini and manage to pry some apart, after wrestling the massive clump and ripping a few bags. Now I bag the item, but Houdini has gotten onto the counter. Nice clerk clears the screen again, and goes back to trying to get the baby 2's attention and distract him. I grab Rambo seconds before he reaches the bags again and plunk him back in the cart. Save! I quick like ring up another item and get it in the bag. Lucy is whining that baby is drooling on her arm, Rambo is yelling because he doesn't want to be in the cart, Houdini has run off again and baby number two is still testing his lung capacity. Several people over at the regular check out line are staring, mouths agape. Obnoxious employee is laughing so hard, she is crying. "I'm only too happy to provide your comic relief for the day," I think, glaring at her. She doesn't get the hint. Nice clerk is giving up for the second time at calming a baby. "I'm sorry," the nice clerk is saying, " I wish I could help more, but the babies don't seem to want to let me hold them. " That's alright. What if she just rang up the remaining items? Um, except it's a self check out and she's not supposed to do that. Nice, but not too bright. After bugging my eyes at her in disbelief for a sec, and only getting a blank stare in return, I decide the fastest thing is to just move on. I quickly ring up the remaining items, stuffing them all into the same bag in order to avoid more complications. Meanwhile, I toss Houdini out of the way approximately 5 times. I grab the bag and go to put it in the cart. It breaks. Nice clerk scrambles to help me pick it up.
I choose to pay with a debit card. The computer won't take my pin. My eardrums have ruptured from the chorus of my progeny and I feel like I'm in a tunnel. Everything around the screen is blurry. I send Lucy to find Houdini. The clerk tells me how to clear it and try again. No luck. We key in the card and pin. This time it takes, just as Lucy shows up with Houdini. "Run for the exit!" I hiss as I grab my receipt and push my howling boom box of a cart full of children out the door. The obnoxious clerk is pulling herself up off the floor so she can go waste time somewhere else. I silently bless her with quadruplets. Mercifully, the door alarm doesn't sound and we make it to the car alive. I was so shell shocked I never went near another self check out for four more years. Can you blame me?