Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Outsourced Caring™

(UPDATE: I opened up comments because I seem to have struck a nerve.)

I thought that instead of regaling you with stories about our very low-key Thanksgiving holiday — lots of butter, high fructose corn syrup, and the occasional bucket of Crisco — I would treat you to a cute little tale about inconvenience, aggression, and me losing my shit all over a complete stranger, albeit one who totally deserved it. Think of it as my way of spreading a little holiday cheer, like a roll of used toilet paper tossed high above a Christmas tree.

Last Wednesday night I had to make a late-evening run to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients we needed to make the creamed onion dish we’d been assigned to bring to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Because I was also out of my very special organic cereal, the one with the whole grains and blueberry clusters, the one that has enough dietary fiber to kill a horse, I decided to go to the grocery store that is further from our house than our normal grocery store as it is the only one of the two that carries this cereal. I know that the extra gasoline I spent driving that longer distance totally cancels out any good I am doing by buying organic, but that isn’t what keeps me awake at night. This is:

So here is where I switch to present tense because I keep reliving the horror over and over again, as if what happened that night is happening again right now. And I am normally the person in this family who just gets over these types of things, the one who is incapable of holding a grudge, whereas Jon is still mad at a mosquito that bit him on a camping trip in second grade.

So there I am chasing Leta through the grocery store, burning thousands of brain calories as I try to locate ingredients while simultaneously keeping track of a three-year-old who will not stand still. And no, do not send me email asking why I don’t just put her in a shopping cart already, because we’ve tried that, and the result was like pouring sand into a spaghetti strainer. A loud, screaming spaghetti strainer. With claws.

Thirty minutes and a basket full of bulky boxes later we head to checkout, and by this time I’ve got sweat dripping down the back of my neck, and all I want to do is set down this heavy basket and catch my breath for a second. Part of the reason I don’t normally shop at this grocery store is because of its enormity, because there are far too many places for Leta to hide, far too many miles in between those two things that I need, and by the time I’m done shopping I’ve got shin splints.

Another reason I don’t like shopping here is the fact that they force customers to use the self-checkout machines. Poorly designed, unusable self-checkout machines that routinely eat fingers. And when Leta and I walk to the front of the store we find that they have only one regular checkout open in an attempt to force almost everyone into two 12-person lines for the self-checkout machines. This is what Jon refers to as Outsourced Caringâ„¢, when a company cannot be bothered anymore with basic service and hires someone else to do the caring for them. It’s why you’re always getting transferred to someone else when you call customer service, because the person who answered the phone doesn’t get paid to care.

In this instance they are so fed up with caring that they’ve hired ROBOTS.

Now, I understand why self-checkout machines are a good idea. Ideally they’re supposed to save the store money because you’re doing the work someone else would have to be paid to do, and eventually this might trickle down and affect the price of those pickles you just bought. But this is PLANET EARTH where no such thing as IDEAL actually exists, and these particular self-checkout machines are so fundamentally broken that it takes the average person no less than 15 minutes to pay for an apple.

So it’s finally my turn to walk up to a machine with my bulky basket and jittery child, and I start to panic a little bit because I haven’t ever had to operate this towering piece of crap while also trying to manage a toddler. With limbs. And a brain independent of mine that operates those limbs. And at first, everything goes okay, I scan a box of cereal and it reads aloud a price. But then Leta touches that box of cereal with her finger and all of a sudden the machine starts to have a seizure.

“PLEASE PUT THE ITEM BACK IN THE BAG!” it shouts at me AS IF IT IS LOOKING DIRECTLY INTO MY SOUL.

But the cereal is still sitting in the bag, I have not taken it out, so this machine has clearly lost its mind.

Not knowing exactly what to do, I remove the cereal and then put it back again, just to make the machine happy. But apparently the machine was mistaken. That is not what it wanted at all. It wanted me to re-scan the item, or excuse me, RE-SCAN THE ITEM! RE-SCAN THE ITEM! as clearly its voice has been programmed by someone who forgot to turn off caps-lock.

I gladly re-scan my box of organic cereal only to be told to PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE! and then I hear a loud voice over my right shoulder scream, “TELL YOUR KID TO STOP TOUCHING THE MACHINE!” And the word KID is pronounced like it is some sort of vaginal discharge.

I look down to see that Leta has rested her hand on what looks like a railing but what is apparently not a railing at all. It is a test! A test to see if she will be tempted by its resemblance to the railing along the stairs at home and reach out to touch it. And because it is illegal to shock anyone under the age of eight, the machine instead punishes me. And forces me to rescan all of my groceries.

This goes on for twenty minutes: the machine yelling at me, me trying to please the machine, the machine giving up and having the human yell at me about my kid. Around and around we go because every time Leta even so much as looks at the machine it tells the human that we’re cheating. Until finally I go to scan my debit card AND IT CANNOT READ IT. That’s when the human is forced to care and walks over to manually finish the checkout for me, and it is obvious she is not happy about having to care, it was not a part of her training.

Oddly, I’ve never been trained to tell someone that their machine needs a right good fucking, but I manage to do it as if everything in my life has been leading up to this exact moment.

  • My biggest pet peeve about the self-checkout machines is that they scream the price of your item, as in “Produce; FOUR TWENTY-NINE.”

    That way everyone knows when I’m buying 32 packages of Top Ramen.
    “TWENTY-NINE. TWENTY-NINE. TWENTY-NINE.”

  • I have not yet had a successful run at the self-checkout machine. I always need the aid of the helper chick at least once.

    I will say this though, it may have come in handy when my daughter was younger. She had a horrible habit of making confession to the checkout clerk. “I had lice TWO TIMES!” “My mommy killed my hamster with PAM.” (It was an accident. Damn, squeaky wheel) “Those are for my mom’s bottom.” (pointing to a box of tampons).

    Thankfully she is now 14. She can’t really be bothered to speak to anyone.

  • Phooka

    Personally if someone were commenting on my child’s behavior at a self check out machine I would calmly complete my transaction, allow it to close out completely and discreetly slip a penny onto the scale below the bags for the mouthy jerk-off to deal with. It will take them hours to figure out why the machine is not reading the items properly. I know this because I have done it. And if it is the same jackass that cut me off from a parking space then I will break a tooth pick off in keyhole to their car door.
    Remember it is best to not let hostile feeling brew inside. You must find a way to deal with the emotions before exploding. I just happen to be very devious.
    Better luck the next time you go to the grocery store.

  • Sarah

    ha ha ha .. paid to care, that is hilarious…

    I had the same experience at Wal-Mart with my 6 yr old son. Now I will remember next time to have him lean heavily on the bag holder, and maybe someone will come to manually checkout MY stuff too, so I can get on with it…

    (ooooohhh word verification .. *** and steamy ..)

  • Yes, I have had the grocery scanner scan right into my cerebral cortex and hit just the frequency that makes my eyes squint and my shoulders bunch together. And heaven forbid anyone between the ages of six and thirty actually wants to HELP you put stuff on the little weighing thingies. Somehow it knows when the item has been touched by another set of hands, I swear. I have not yet walked away from a beeping grocery scanning machine, because I actually don’t want to take it out on the people who’ve been waiting behind me, but I’ve been tempted!

  • Kathleen

    I love the self check-out machines as the lines go much faster at our store. Of course, when my kid was Leta’s age, I didn’t take him to the grocery store with me. Maybe the machine + toddler combo is just not a good one.

  • If you are going to fuck the self check out scanners make sure you use plastic and not paper.

  • I’ve NEVER used one of those things that worked. When I must use one, inevitably a hateful employee must come and save me from myself . . . by taking me to an actual cashier, because the employees can’t use it either!

  • Barbara E.

    You should have turned Leta loose on that human.

    I actually was pleased when the new supermarket in my town installed 3 self checkout lanes. Then I tried to check out. The scanner yelled at me and to my everlasting shame, I yelled back. I now patronize the older supermarkets in town and am really, really nice to the cashiers.

  • Sarah

    I live near a retirement community and all of the old people love to use the self check out. And you know old people and technology work so well together. Well, the store must have gotten wise and turned down the sensitivity of those machines, because they are easy to use at that one store.

    Don’t the old people know that robots eat old people?

  • Cabbit

    I don’t have children and I had the same problem happen to me. I was at home depot. After ducking to avoid getting hit by someone wildly swinging 2 x 4’s attempting to scan them, I attempted to checkout. Everytime I reached over to scan one of my items the damn machine yelled at me to remove the item. What item? I havn’t put anything on there yet! And again, when I finished scanning all my items and went to pay with my debit card. This is approximately when I figured out it was my coat causing the problems. apparantly my long wool coat brushed the bagging area, causing the machine to have seizures.

    evil computers.

  • Hoper0829

    I too have shopped many times with a fully energized child. And putting them in a cart can be much worse for all shoppers then chasing the child down.

    My son loves to go to the self service checkouts; therefore, this knowledge is used to blackmail him into being good during the shopping trip.

    “If you are good you can scan our items!”

  • Ben

    A few days ago, the woman in front of me at the self-checkout line at Stop ‘n’ Shop actually left all of her shit there because she got so frustrated with the machine. That’s right: she just walked out.

    Stunning.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, so I just have to add this: does anyone else appreciate the fact that a kid is, in fact, a vaginal discharge? I mean no disrespect or anything, but it made me giggle. Or I’m just an ass. Either way.

  • klate

    HA! I only use them if I have 12 items or less and no veggies/fruit and nothing in a crinkly, wrinkly package that obscures the UPC code. They are designed to help save time and money but you spend ages trying to get it to work but at my store if you have the gall to use a credit card rather than cash or debit you have to go up to the attendant to sign your slip anyway. Pointless. And I don’t need that damn voice announcing to the world that I’m buying TAMPONS! or METAMUCIL! or COLT45! (which, of course, triggers a visit from the attendant, too).
    And tell all the party poopers who are bursting your “Outsource Caring” bubble to suck it. It’s funny regardless of who coined the phrase.

  • kcn

    I hate Wal-Mart. EVERY time I go there it is a horrible experience. And ditto for the Fred Meyer self-checkout lines. My temperature and pulse pick up every time I’ve tried one of those. And one time my 6 year old son was just leaning on the counter where the bags are, and it kept yelling at me to SCAN THE LAST ITEM PLEASE and I am saying WTF I have already 14 times!! Then the snooty assistant yells at me to make sure my son IS NOT TOUCHING THE COUNTER!!~!

    Somehow Home Depot self-checkouts always work for me.

  • April

    There is a button on the self checkout screen that says “large item.” GREAT BUTTON! you can push this button and skip the whole “PUT THE ITEM IN THE BAG”

    The biggest problem I have at self-checkouts is people cutting in line. I want to physically harm people who cut in line.

  • Theresa

    Okay- I posted a minute ago about how I like self checkout lanes, but I forgot to share something…

    When the machine says stuff I often talk back. I know it can’t hear me and I must look like an idiot- but I can’t help it. I feel compelled to talk to it…

    “Place item in the bag- what the $&@!- I did that- it’s in the damn bag…”

    And I still like the things. I am a grocery store masochist. And I talk to inanimate objects. There must be a support group out there for me.

  • Anonymous

    Open the gates and the flood will come! See how many people you touch? You lucky blogger!

    Forget America. Move to Australia. We get to tell ‘people’ they need a right good fucking!

  • Angeline

    I love self check out. Where I live if I use regular check out I either get stuck behind some moron that waits until the last minute to start filling out their check(when they could have filled out everthing minus their signature and price while waiting in line). Or the Cashier is so freaking slow and stupid or scans your item more then once and can’t figure out how to fix it. Has to call for help. Our walmart doesn’t have self check out. They did but then they removed them. I don’t shop there much. They are starting to remind me of kmart…junk.

    I had to laugh the other day. The grocery store near my house has about 4 self check out lanes and this guy was standing in line behind another woman not paying attention to the lane open next to him. So I went up and started scanning my stuff and he went all ape cuz he didn’t notice it was free. Using the self check out lane has made my life easier. Because I almost always get my stuff scanned and bagged and paid for before a cashier can get it done. And I rarely need help. The only thing I don’t like is how impatient the damn machines are. I luck out with my kids I guess. They’ve never acted like uncontrolable monkeys while at the self check out. But I have had to chase them around a few stores. Hence that is why they have child halters with leashes they use them in england all the time and I LOVED THEM!

  • kidsmom

    Oh, you ended the story at the climax! Tell me how it ends, PUHLEEZE! Whad’ya say?

  • Heather D.

    We had those self-checkouts at our Walmart for about a year. I never liked them. I once pushed the wrong button and had it talking to me in spanish and couldn’t get it to switch back to english. My mom loved them because she prefered to deal with the finicky machine then deal with the two basic types of cashiers. The one who was grumpy and barely acknowledged your presence for any reason other then taking your money or the one who was super nicey nice and commented on every item she purchased as if thier recommendation alone would change the brand of toilet paper she purchased.

    According to the rumors I heard, the self-checkouts were finally removed because the store lost nearly $1millon in inventory while they were in use. Apparently grumpy cashiers severly lacking in people skills are cheaper.

  • Since my little one is still young enough to be imprisoned in the cart, I have to admit I love self-checkout. I know when I have one closer to Leta’s age I will hate them, because there is nowhere to put down your purchases while you sort out scanning, bagging, inserting debit card, etc. And why oh why do they yell at you, those machines?

  • I use these machines a lot, especially when I go in for only a few items. They “know” what the item weighs somehow, after you scan it and put it in the bag. The place where the bags are is kinda like a scale, so you can’t touch that part of the machine or it freaks and yells at you.

    And as for Leta, why don’t you try those car carts? My 3 and 4 year old love to ride in the car on the front of the basket while I shop. If they dare get out I threaten them that I will put whatever snack they picked out back on the shelf. The threat of not having Hello Kitty fruit snacks works like a charm.

  • I’ve been using self-checkouts for years. Never had a problem till they changed the acceptance beep from a single to a double beep. Bastards.

    My mind refused to believe I wasn’t double-scanning everything and the resultant hesitation caused me to fall behind in bagging, which of course lead to the “please place item in the bag” message, which of course I didn’t do fast enough and had to take the item out of the bag and wait for the one person managing the four self-scanners to clear it manually. This went on for every single one of my 10+ items.

    Yeah, a few people were angry with me not to mention my loud screaming spaghetti strainer 2-year-old.

    I will say that people need to get over the fact that kids are kids.

  • Kate

    I love your sarcasm! It cracks me up!
    You definitely have a gift for writing and being funny at the same time!

  • AARGH!! No one needs this kind of crap. I hate those effing machines and refuse to use them. I now shop almost exclusively at Fresh Fields, where I pay out the ying yang, but usually get very good service. I also get the privilege of identifying vegetables to the 16-year-olds at the register. And I’m not talking about unusual stuff like bok choy and rutabaga, I’m talking about regular good ole stuff grown in the USA. THIS is romaine lettuce. THIS is an avocado. THIS is yellow squash. I’m dying to ask, “What the heck do you eat at your house?”

    P.S. Your site is great–I’m a daily fan as of last week when I discovered it.

  • Kate

    p.s. I hate it that the only person in charge of the self check out lanes, is either daydreaming, or chatting with a friend or coworker, when I need help – and they pretend not to notice that I’m waiting along with a line of people behind me!

  • Marta

    I have the feeling that I’m the only one of your readers who watches The Hills.

  • (sheepish smile) I, um, like the self checkouts. I think I’m heir target audience – too stupid to realize that I’m doing the work without getting paid. When I first saw them, I was all – cool! Shiny! New toy! Fun to scan! Beep boop beep. But I quickly learned to avoid at all costs if I have produce.

    *Also, you reusable baggers don’t have to use your bags or the store bags. Just balance your stuff in a precarious tower on top of the tiny scale, and then when you’re done, scoop it all into your bags. If the tower falls over mid-shop, just run before the machine explodes.

    **Dooce, you should take Leta shopping in her chicken costume. I think that Bawk Bawk could soften the hardest grumpy-underpaid-cashier heart, and she’d probably be scooped up and played with by lots of random strangers while you scanned to your heart’s content. Then again, maybe that’s creepy.

  • I would have flipped at the part where they told me to “tell my kid” to stop touching the machine. I feel bad when I go through the self checkout because I’m always telling my four year old to get his hands off the weighing thingamabobber. He’s not TRYING to cause a disruption, but the five people standing behind me glare at me because the stupid green light has now turned red.

    I actually really appreciate the self checkout, but there are some problems that really need to be fixed.

  • Anonymous

    And don’t even think about using the mechanized handicapped cart while in the self-checkout line. You can’t get the cart close enough to the machine, so you have to back up then go forward while the person behind you curses and dances out of range of the wheels – really, did they not realize that you might want to back up? Of course, you have to get off the cart to manage all the tasks, which means backing up again and walking around the cart. By this time I’m usually in enough pain that I just leave the groceries there and go to Harmon’s, where they acutally have live humans who empty the cart and bag the items. Plus they have “drive and load” so I don’t have to do anything but drive over to the portico to have my groceries put neatly in my car.

  • SilverPoet

    I hate self checkout…I find it especially tedious when they have someone watching you self checkout anyway…why don’t they just flippin’ pay the person to take care of it for you? Oh, wait…because there’s no such thing as customer service anymore…

    Oh, and I’m going to have nightmares from that YouTube clip…Spencer is the king of douche. The kind that breeds massive yeast.

  • I personally love self-checkouts, and though I have experienced some issues with them (at Walmart…) I have never had such a problem that it makes me want to wait in a line.

    My oldest was so unruly and no matter how much duct tape I would use to strap her into the cart, she would manage to wriggle out and stand up threatening massive head injuries if I didn’t keep all attention on her. It was a rare occasion she would accompany me to the store or to the mall- or any location requiring her to be confined. This lasted until she was at least 3 when I had my second kiddo and she became the “Little Mommy” making her very aware of what was a proper way to act and what wasn’t.

    Dildo, you said: “Wow Heather, had I known that so many people who read this site had absolutely no concept or irony, I would have been demanding you publish hate mail everyday.
    Expect more email demands from me.”

    Sadly those individuals don’t even know you are referring to them.

  • We here in NY win the Major Award for laziness. Screw the checkout lines. Screw the automated system, VIVA LA FRESH DIRECT!

    Where men bring boxes filled with food (you pick out on the Internet) to your front door and then up your plethora of stairs into your cold, small, absurdly over-priced Brooklyn apartment.

    We are currently waiting for our 200 dollar delivery right now.

  • Beth

    The last time I went to a self-checkout I waited behind a woman who tried unsuccesfully to scan a zucchini for about ten minutes. And by zucchini I mean the vegetable. That grows out of the earth. Without a barcode.

  • What kills me about the Outsourced Caring is the bagging. The soul-less grocery store near us that has hired robots for all of its lines has not been able to find robots to bag your damn groceries, so you can scan your items, put them on a conveyor belt and send them down to the bagging area where they will sit and wait for you to bag them. Or in my case, the bagging area always gets too full and the items start coming BACK UP the belt, then they go back down the belt and then I have to stop scanning and go bag the freaking groceries so that they stop dancing around and get in the damn bags. Sure, sometimes there is one kid bagging, but that kid inevitably wanders away on break when it’s my turn to scan. Assholes.

  • Um why didn’t I get to experience your telling off of the machine or the person who is forced to care?

  • I, for one, love self-checkout, but feel your pain. There’s nothing worse than the thing beeping at you and telling you to do something you already have done. Last night I went through the same thing where my machine kept doing strange things, and the woman “in charge” of the lanes was not eager to help. Can’t imagine having to go through that while keeping a 3-year-old under control too!

    And in response to Marta’s comment above…you’re not alone. My husband & I (ages 30 and 36) are loyal watchers of The Hills…well, I’m a loyal watcher and he supposedly gets ‘forced into’ watching it with me each week. (Last time I checked he had legs and we had another television in the house.)

  • Kelly B

    Oddly enough, I saw the same thing happen last Wednesday. Only it was an adult who was playing with the bag area.

    Myself, I love those machines. The people who man them can be awful though.

  • Erica

    Heather – I so love you! That is the true Memphis attitude coming out. I personally would have thrown the item at the “worker” if they talked to me that way about my “KID”. What an ass!

  • I feel your pain. I hate those machines. Last time I used one was when my seven-year-old octopus, I mean son, was with me. It took me five minutes to figure out why the machine was screaming at me to remove an item and scan it…yep, my kid’s fault. He was leaning on the scale.

  • After the person behind you yelled about your “kid”, I would have, at that point, let Leta finish the checkout.

    If he/she didn’t like her touching the scale, letting her touch everything would have been fabulous!!

  • OMG, I could so hear that voice, “put the item back IN the BAG!” Fortunately our grocery store has gotten new scanners and they are not quite as retarded as the old ones. I feel your pain.

  • Kirsten

    My husband DETESTS the ‘Outsourced Caring’ machines at the grocery stores and the big blue conglomerate that is taking over the world. I will use them when I’m by myself, and that is it. Otherwise I get stuck in the loop where machine charges me for 3 loaves of bread when I only scanned one, then you have to wait for uncaring soul to wander over, sigh heavily, scan card, enter password, correct YOUR mistake and please be careful with your scanning, miss, and then walk away to their desk/podium, where they twirl their hair, snap their gum, and fiddle with their store issued walkie talkie.

  • When asswipes make comments like the guy did to you?

    I usually tell Malka to go home with them. Loudly. As in: “Malka, clearly this person is a better parent than I, so you go on home with him, OK?”

    Maybe, when she’s old enough to understand that I won’t say it.

    As often.

    I LOVE the self checkouts. Here in NYC, the cashiers are tired, bored, and have better things to do with their time, so I feel all powerful and shit when I use it.

    But maybe it’s just me.

  • Marla

    I used one of those check outs the other day to purchase some various items that included an R rated DVD. The machine politely asked me to wait for a customer service specialist.. who, when she arrived, screamed at me that she HAD to see my ID for the purchase (I look well over 21) and she couldn’t BELIEVE I didn’t have my ID on my person (I just got off of work).. and on and on it went. Had I not desperately needed the other items in the cart, I would have just walked off. It was so tempting.

  • Thank you for the post!

    Apparently, it isn’t worth anything either, to try and reason with anyone about these self-using machines, or about the way the customer service reps, so to speak, handle the consumers – whether at a store, or on the phone! For any consumer who attempts to speak logically, or questions the discounted treatment from the employees, receives a look of disdain from these workers and their superiors – as though the consumer is the outcasted exception they’ve been instructed to roll their eyes at, and then be short with, within the ten minute video-training course the employees received on the first day of their job!

    And, dare I say, most of these “customer service” workers do not have children. Unless they do, where they undoubtedly treat their kids like the difficult-consumers where they work! Because children – small, young ones especially! – are curious, and are unable to sit still for very long periods of time.

    I would like to think this lack of quality customer service issue is more than just being older than others (ie. As if the next words spoken would be, “Back in my day….” ). I would like to think it is really a concern, possibly stemming from the short-term outlook individuals appear to have in this day.

    The point is I am thrilled I am not alone in this feeling. That I am not the only one who thinks ill of the self-checkout machines, and only hopes the next employee to step toward me doesn’t use the evil-eyes on me, or actually opens a can of whoop-ass.

  • Keri

    Yep, wholeheartedly agree with you. We have a Walmart Market close to us and when it opened it had the easiest self-checkout lanes EVER. So easy. So efficient. So quick.

    But apparently, since the person responsible for keeping an eye on things WAS NEVER DOING HIS/HER FREAKING JOB, people started stealing stuff. So they changed the system and now it’s a NIGHTMARE. I wanted to rip the helper-kid’s eyeballs out because he was being so condesending about the fact that apparently I wasn’t putting things in the bags “correctly” for the machine to read it. WTF??!!! I really wish I would have told him, when he said they changed it because of customer theft, that it would work JUST FINE WHEN THE STORE EMPLOYEES WERE DOING THEIR JOBS.

    Stupid.

    But unfortunately it’s still easier than dealing with incompetent checkers who are slower than molasses and can’t count change. And no, they’re not ALL that way, but those are the ones I always seem to get.

    Bleh!

  • I hate those check outs about as much as I dislike Spencer Pratt.