Best way to roast the broomstick. Must try. Five Stars.

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.


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.

  • i love it when i put my stuff in the bag just a little backasserd for the sensors, and it screams, please scan the item BEFORE you put it in the bag…and the person behind me rolls his eyes and cuts me a look like i am a stupid old lady. Apparently he is the stupid one for getting in line behind me…

  • THANK GOD I’m not the only one who has problems with those stupid self checkout things

  • ALF

    I HATE those self-check out machines. They are constantly yelling because you’ve done something wrong. God knows what you did wrong but it was obviously something terrible.

    And don’t even try to purchase alcohol if you have to use the self check out – it is next to impossible because the machine wants you to prove that you’re over 21. Try proving that to a machine.

  • Oh god, I just laughed so hard I fell out of the chair and split my pants open!! I hate those machines with a passion as well. I think we need “Your machine needs a right good fucking” t-shirts. I’ll take 2.

  • But aren’t the self-serve checkouts the way they keep their prices so low?
    /sarcasm off

    I hate them. They are somewhat new in my area of Canada and I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a dull pencil than to use one. Not that I can’t, I mean, I’m on a computer, right? I have the skills. I just hate them. If I wanted to work at WalMart, well, I would. But I don’t.

  • I generally check out via self checkout all the time. The one time that I wanted to stab myself in the eye with scissors occurred when a woman was doing this for the first time.

    She had a gigantic order and after taking forever to scan and bag the truckload of groceries she proceded to try to pay with a check. It was evident that she had never been to the store before so she didn’t have a check card saying her checks were to be accepted. Oy vey! It took another ten to fifteen minutes for this to get sorted out.

    The worst part is that she acted like this was all the store’s fault and not hers.

  • Thank the tiny baby jesus you said something. I usually think of all the good, nasty comebacks I should have said once I get home, which then means I have to drink vodka shots to get over it.

    Oh, and I’ve discovered one shot = about one minute’s worth of calmdown, just so you know.

  • For this very situation I stopped shopping at Walmart over a year ago. Not because it was trendy to stop shopping there and all the good ethical reasons, but because I literally thought I was going to go insane during the self-checkout and do something crazy to the clueless self-checkout-monitor-person’s unwillingness to help me, ever.


  • The reason I detest those machines? There is no freaking place for a woman to place a purse as we’re trying to fish our wallets out to pay for our items!!!

  • momsword

    Have you seen the commercial for Wally-world, the one where they use thier lights to play music and claim that they are opening more lanes for holiday shopping???? LIARS! I said it, and in all caps. Take that Wally-world. I went to the new one yesterday and they had one cashier working the whole store, during the day, and all the other lanes were the self-serve. I refuse to use the self-serve. It’s bad enough to be treated like a criminal retarded person by someone earning a pay check, but I draw the line at a machine treating me like that! Grrrr!

  • Monica

    I can’t stand the self-checkouts either! For something that’s supposed to speed things up, all it does is take longer than going through a regular checkout. My husband thinks that if you use the self-checkout you should be given a discount on what you’re buying for doing the work they would be paying someone else to do!

  • Ariel

    The worst is trying to pay the machine with a credit card. It cannot check IDs. It yells, PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE and you have to stand there and wait until the ONE human (per 12 machines) comes and checks it for you.

  • Tell Marta she’s not alone. That video (and the ENORMITY of Spencer Pratt’s teeth) freaks me the hell out.

    I’m not a big fan of the self-check out, but I will use them if I’m only purchasing a few items, like I did today on my lunch break. The store I was in actually has the self-checker-helper person help you bag your items. Today I purchased one of their reusable shopping bags, and instead of putting all of my items in the reusable bag, checker-lady began to place them in a plastic one. I believe that store has outsourced common sense as well.

  • Anonymous

    I really dislike the self checkouts in most stores. My husband loves them though. Everytime I try to use one I get yelled at to put items in bags, or to take items out of bags and rescann them. And the attendant is usually totally useless. I hate them. But if I’ve only got a few items and it saves me standing in long lines, I use them.

  • Red

    Vaginal discharge .. mmmmm.

  • Marisa

    I no longer live near a Kroger grocery store, but when I did and purchased broccoli florets, the self-scanner needed verification that I was over 21- everytime.

  • Even better is when you try to use the machines in Spanish. Particularly at Giant Supermarkets anywhere. If you choose Spanish, as opposed to English, on the machine, the volume raises several bars…cause, you know, Spanish speakers are more likely to be half deaf. Obviously.

    So in English it’s like “welcome to Giant. Please scan your item.” and in Spanish its like “BIENVENUTO A GIANT!” As if to say “warning, warning, Hispanic at the self-check out”. Just in case anyone in the Giant store in smalltown PA hadn’t noticed that there were hispanic people standing at the self check out.

  • BBM

    See now, I LOVE those machines. They are so much friendlier than the actual human cashiers. It makes me feel special when they yell BANANAS at me. No cashier has said so much as “Hello” to me in so long that I just find it endearing that the machine knows my favorite fruit. Even better, my Toddler is convinced that the machine is talking to her, so she stands there slack-jawed, just waiting for the machine to yell sweet nothings in her ear. If I could have one of those things in my living room, I’d do it just so I could get five minutes of peace.

  • Bingo!

    So frustrating.

    Automated phone customer service pisses me off too. I find myself screaming the answers to the damn voice recording.

  • doodledee

    I HATE these as well. I have a bro-in-law who worked for wally corp in bentonville and helped write the programs for the asnine little pices of chit. according to him each store is posed to calibrate the scale and machine every 24 hours. but as we all can tell they do not. I also am PISSED off about the very same commercial!

  • I frakking hate going to the grocery store because of the idiot checkout people. The last straw for me was when I offered an elderly couple my discount card because they had forgotten theirs and the checkout girl said, “No. They have to REMEMBER.”


  • The self-checkout lanes can be pretty good if you’re buying something like condoms. Except that where I shop, they often have someone running between the self-checkout lanes bagging for you, and it’s usually a teenaged girl, so you’re screwed either way.

    Also, they get a lot easier to use with practice, but they’re always slower, per shopper, than with a cashier. It’s unfathomable to me that any large store would have only three checkout lines open on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

    If my experience is any indicator, when Leta’s a few years older, she’ll demand the self-checkout lane so that she can slide the items across the scanner. This will take a while, so you may want to bring along a book.

  • doodledee

    PS: due to the fact that I am a member of the church in good standing I am forced to come home from this store and mix up a nyquil cocktail or eat enough chocolate to kill a horse (so much for the WOW egh?) 🙂

  • I really don’t know on what planet is it okay to substitute robots for humans! I hate automated tellers, and on service calls I stay pressing ZERO until a human voice comes on the other end to help me.

    I’m sorry, but if I wanted to do it all myself, I’d live on and run a farm!

    great post!!

  • That is such bullshit.

    I refuse to use the self checkout lanes. I firmly believe that the checking out should be left to the professional checker-outers.

  • I worked at Wal-Mart for about six years so by the time I left I was really proficient with the self checkouts. I don’t give the Mart my money any more but I’ve discovered that the self checkouts are different everywhere you go so I think I can use them when I go to Home Depot but then it turns out I CANNOT and my husband gets all flustered that the technology is not working properly and the human beings at the courtesy desk are inevitably yelled at. It is awful. I wouldn’t mind the damn things so much if all of these corporations would SHARE their technology to make life more consistent for the average consumer. It is the same with the card readers, they are different everywhere you shop. So annoying.

  • MiMi

    I haven’t read all 173 comments, so I may be repeating others here (sorry, be gentle).

    I actually like the self-scanning machines, and they’ve always worked well at the 2 or 3 stores here in my city that I’ve frequented (1 Home Depot, 2 supermarkets). The catch is there is a HUMAN standing at some centralized magic podium a few feet away, overseeing the 4-6 self-scan machines and what we customers are doing with/to them, and they are ready to help in a nanosecond if the machine gets wonky.

    I’m really shocked at how rude the person was who yelled to get your kid off the machine. What an ass. That wouldn’t happen in good ol’ Ohio.

  • Jtango

    I use all my cusswords at those self-checkouts (which term, by the way, sounds vaguely masturbatory), and I once defied the monitor girl and moved my groceries to the human aisle midway. That was fun.

  • I like them — but probably only because grocery stores freak me the hell out, and I’m usually a little faster than the live checkout people (if the machine cooperates). I would never attempt one alone with a kid, though — must have a child wrangler present at all times.

  • kim

    Or how about the lady who buys a carton of cigarettes in the self check out….. LADY YOU CAN’T SELF CHECK OUT THOSE! Now we all have to wait for assistance. Now her habit is hurting me! Damn smokers!

  • justine

    cannot stop laughing… =) hate those fucking machines more than ANYthing. Leta and I have a lot in common because we both seem to be able to screw up the machine by just looking at it.

    and LOVE Outsourced Caring.

    would have paid to see you tell them to get their machines fucked.

  • Anita

    After years as a loyal dooce reader, I am compelled to add a comment. Here it is: Amen sister!

    U-Scan must be a creation of the devil himself. If you’re checking out with one item (non-produce, mind you) and no children, it’s fine. Otherwise it’s torture.

    I am a thrifty shopper. I’ve been known to use a coupon or two. But I swear, I pay extra to go to the “good” grocery store where there are plenty of staffed check-outs, and I don’t even have to put my own food on the belt. It’s grocery heaven, and I don’t care if it costs more. I’m worth it!

  • If you scan your middle finger first, that usually lets the machine and its uncaring human counterpart know what’s up.

  • keli

    Did you see this bit, too, Heather?

    “Enormity has been in frequent and continuous use in the sense “immensity” since the 18th century: The enormity of the task was overwhelming. Some hold that enormousness is the correct word in that sense and that enormity can only mean “outrageousness” or “atrociousness”: The enormity of his offenses appalled the public. Enormity occurs regularly in edited writing with the meanings both of great size and of outrageous or horrifying character, behavior, etc. Many people, however, continue to regard enormity in the sense of great size as nonstandard.”

    ( Unabridged (v 1.1)
    Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

    You’re fabulous (by which I mean “extremely pleasing” and not “purely imaginary” or “barely credible”).

  • LSL

    Spencer freaks me out, with his little, smushed up face. Yuck.

    Oh, yeah, and I almost dislike those self checkout machines as much. I have the same “rescan then place in the bag” problem nearly every week. V. frustrating.

    I second that Anita, I’ve been reading for years too. And I really like the new site Heather!

  • Screw these big stores! Did you know that you can’t even pay for your wine in the garden center at Target? That’s just plain wrong.

  • Jeff

    I don’t get why you don’t like the auto check-outs. I prefer them to dealing with real humans. C’mon, Heather, you grew up in Bartlett, so you know that the laborers in Memphis act like you’re impeding on their time when you go to get checked out by them. Nah, I’d rather deal with the machine than a person who doesn’t say ONE FREAKING WORD to you while you’re right in front of them!!

  • kelly

    My children (6 and 8 years old) laugh at me when I can’t get the self-checkout to behave. They feel it is important to tell everyone we know that Mommy can’t operate the self-checkout at the grocery store. I fail to see the humor. Some things are worth extra money….

  • It seems that things are very different down here in Miami. I have only seen the self checkouts a few times and never at wal-mart. Of course they are temperamental bitches. But the cashiers (i guess mostly older hispanic women) love to talk and i feel rude b/c i dont.

  • Oh my gosh, I HATE those damn machines. Outsourcing caring is right. I hate that the are so blatantly using them to not provide jobs (albeit crappy, low-paying jobs, but jobs nonetheless). And do we really believe that they’re going to “pass the savings on” to us? Riiiiight.

    Oh, it’s totally time for you to break out the scathing-letter-writing skills. They must have taught you that at BYU, right?

  • dsco

    Doesn’t anyone use the ‘skip bagging’ button?

    I’m baffled by how many techno-savvy (seemingly) have trouble with the machines. I mean, I have a degree and I can operate it, but I don’t think one is required (just a crude observation based on regular visits to the local Albertson’s.) My toddler can even do it, too. I guess we’re the exceptions? I vote buy your cereal online.


  • N

    Those self-serve machines make me rant, loudly, like a crazy lady. And don’t you try to be one of those people who insists on bringing their own cloth bags! I’ve been shopping with my own bags for 15+ years, and they confuse some human checkers enough as it is.

    Near where I live, there are 2 grocery stores within view of each other. One has those damn machines, and long waits in the few other lines that are open. The other one has quick lines, and the baggers do a decent job and they bring your groceries to your car for you! So no carts are ever left in their parking lot, either. Guess where I shop? Even though I drive an old car and don’t care so much about dings?

  • Megan

    I work at a grocery store in Canada and we were also have U-Scans, I loathe working them. I find that I get yelled at for a lot of things that I don’t even have control over. Working them sucks just as bad using them. That being said I would never had said something like that!

  • The only good self checkout machine I ever got was at a K-Mart, where it rung up a $20 Nintendo Player’s Guide for $.01. I asked the attendant to double check, thinking that could not possibly correct. She insisted that the machine was right – well, WooHoo! Deal!

    Any other time, they are the work of the Devil! When my sons (teenagers both) shop with me, they want to self checkout. We need assistance every time… I find really light things from the produce aisle are the worst, next is koolaid packs. The belt can never detect their existence! 🙂

    Sorry you and Leta were subject to the UNcaring attitude of the both the machine and the clerk. Boo, Hiss on them.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re still reading, I don’t mind the self check-outs because:

    1) I don’t have a toddler
    2) The staff and the local store that has the self-checkout is nosey and slow-moving.
    3) Where I live, many fellow shoppers are slow and nosey.

    For now, the self check-outs are faster. As an aunt to 2 lively toddlers, I’m amazed when people take children under 25 anywhere ever. More power to you!

  • E-Lo

    Heather – like I said in my email – me, non-caring human – fist fight at Walmart.

    As for what DSCO said – I used to WORK at Walmart, and I think maybe I’m just too advanced for these things. Technology savvy humans are not meant to operate these, only the ones whos knuckles are still dragging.

  • Angela

    Why couldn’t you have left Leta at home?

    I’m sorry, but I’m totally That Mean Person who yelled at you. Like the time that I was trying to check out at Wal-mart and the lady in front of me picked up her child who by my guess was barely two and let her scan all SIXTY FOUR miniature terra cotta pots, even though the child had the motor skills of, well, a two year old. And the self-check out machine doesn’t let you scan once and then enter a quantity. And THEN the nazis at the door demand to search your person even thought you only walked TEN FEET from the checkout to the door.

    I am also That Mean Person who refuses to be searched and/or show my receipt when exiting a store. No one has chased me down yet.

  • Ted Sbardella

    I always make it a point to be nice and friendly to people especially in the Grocery store. That is the very best thing about the South you can be friendly and people do not think that you are some kind of freak. Also I bribe my kids and if they do not do what I want I eat their cookie or donut in front of them. I eat it staring into their little eyes with a look of intense steely confidence that says you “will not act that way again in the grocery store – I command it” Then the next time I mention how good the treat was and how much I enjoyed it and how I do so hope that they misbehave so I can eat their cookie again. Either that or I threaten to waterboard them again.

  • Manda

    Sometimes they don’t register if the item is light. So you can often see me, throwing my tube of mascara as hard as I can into a plastic bag.

  • Andree

    I would have DIED if my kids wouldn’t ride in the cart. We’d just have had to live on drive through. Here’s a suggestion that might not work, but worked with mine. Instead of putting Leta in the cart, push the seat part of the cart (the whole front wall) into the cart and pull it up as far as you can and see if Leta will crawl in and sit in the basket part. Just make her squoosh all the way to the back before you put the thing down. It works on my kids and my stubborn nephews. (My daughter would have to get out of the car and start over if you accidentally put her in the car seat yourself.) I still make my 7 year old ride in the cart sometimes. I am mean.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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