Wednesday, October 13, 2004


One of the grocery stores in the area does its part in hiring the handicapped by employing the mentally retarded/challenged/disabled (whatever of the politically-correct term de jour is) as baggers.

"Max" — obviously I’m going to be changing names — was the first one they hired several years ago and you’d be hard pressed to find a more diligent or enthusiastic employee. Unfortunately, at first, Max thought his job was to bag the groceries on every single check-out, all at the same time.

In order to do this, Max had to work fast. And work fast he did, thumping groceries into those disgusting little plastic sacks as fast as he could without rhyme or reason. Then he’d dash to the next check-out or run to another one further down to flatten yet another loaf of bread under the canned goods.

The cashiers adapted and quickly began bagging more delicate items, like eggs, themselves before handing them directly to the customers, in order to totally bypass Max’s enthusiasm.

It took time and patience, but slowly Max began to pay attention to what he was putting in those disgusting little plastic sacks. Bag like with like, I’m sure he was repeatedly instructed by someone until it finally took. It takes more time but that’s okay.

Max calmed down. A lot.

But bag-like-with-like presented another set of challenges for him. Like yes, it’s potatoes but it’s not good to put a 10-pound-sack of potatoes on top of a bag of potato chips.

The store has continued to work with and hire more people like Max. After working mumble-something years in and around social services, I’m all for it.

But the store also uses a lot more of those disgusting little plastic sacks now. On one shopping trip I bought, among other items, both a bag of pretzels and a bag of potato chips. While "Anthony" was bagging, he started putting the chips and pretzels into separate bags. When I said both the pretzels and chips could go in the same one, it really upset him. Badly.

I’d contradicted what he’d been taught, in whatever way he understood it. I’d confused him.

I told Anthony he was right, it was my mistake. It really made more sense if they were in different sacks. He calmed down immediately, smiled and said, "It’s my job!"

There are other hitches, specifically, canned goods. Like this week and the canned goods sale when I stocked up.

It doesn’t matter how much each sack weights, under like-goes-with-like "Carol" just kept putting more cans in the same one until it was full . . . beyond full, and then she triple . . . quadruple-bagged so that it didn’t rip open with the weight. And then in its own disgusting little plastic sack, all by its lonesome, was my only other purchase: a single package of dental floss.

I don’t see much of Max anymore. When I asked about him a while back, the store manager told me that Max is there only occasionally now. He had been promoted and now spends much of his workweek in the company’s other area stores helping to train their new baggers.

Today when I stopped in for a couple of gallons of milk, I saw Max for the first time in weeks. He was out in the parking lot enthusiastically rounding up the shopping carts strewn throughout. Before I could even begin pushing my empty cart back to the "cart corral," Max was at the back bumper of my car to take it.

I thanked him.

Max smiled that incredible smile he has that’s so filled with pride, a smile I’ve grown to know over the years.

"Ma’am, it’s my job!"



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