Ever since I was 16 and was able to drive, I’ve been going grocery shopping by myself. When I was in high school, my mom would send me to Fred Meyers with a list, a paper-clipped cluster of coupons and a blank check (along with the knowledge that she could count on me not to violate the trust of that signed check). Portland, being what it was, and for the most part, what it still is, I never had a problem filling out her check and handing it over to the checker.
Tonight, I went down to the South Philly ShopRite, to fill in some of the holes in my food supply that were still empty after my stop at Trader Joe’s yesterday. One of the skills I developed in those early years of grocery shopping was the ability to keep a running estimate of how much the items in my cart will cost. I don’t add up numbers each time I place something in the cart, but somehow, I just know within a couple of dollars where I am. Tonight, when I pulled my cart up to the checkstand, I had a number in my head of what I thought my bill was going to come to. I didn’t pay much attention while the clerk rang me up, focusing on bagging up my items instead, as she had made it very clear to me that I was her last customer of the night.
When she gave me my total, I was a little shocked because it was about ten dollars more that I thought I was going to pay. I’d never been quite that off, and it made me think I was losing my touch. I stopped my cart just outside the exit doors, to give my receipt a glance, to see if I was really off, or if there was a problem. I ran my eyes down the list, and a charge for $7.99 jumped out at me. It was marked WTMLN SDLS, and I couldn’t figure out what I had picked out that had cost $7.99 or what the hell WTMLN SDLS was.
I pushed my cart back around on the entrance doors and headed to customer service. There was a young woman standing at the counter. I explained to her that I had no idea what that item was, and that I didn’t think I had purchased anything for $7.99. She told me that it was for a Seedless Watermelon. I pointed at my cart and said, “but I didn’t buy a watermelon!” Without another word, she began to process the refund. Just as silently, I pulled a penny from my wallet, so that she could give me $8. She shoved a slip of paper across the counter and asked me to sign, and then she dropped the money into my hands.
Walking back to my car, I was twitching with mixed emotions. I was really happy that I had gone back and stood up for myself. I also felt a little violated, although I still can’t know for sure whether it was a scam or a mistake. I had been trying to do the clerk a favor by bagging my own groceries, and in return, she quite possibly charges me extra because I wasn’t paying attention to the scanner screen. The manner in which the customer service woman acted after I showed her my receipt made me think that this was not the first time that something like this had happened, because she didn’t question my story at all. I still can’t figure out how the checker would have benefitted from charging me for a watermelon I didn’t actually have.
It was also nice to know that my grocery cart estimation skills aren’t at all rusty, because without the fraudulent watermelon, I was within $2 of my inital guess.