Wal-Mart. 7:15 a.m. I'm sick and weak from a bout of food poisoning, but I drag myself in to work anyway. I don't last long, but the adventures are many.
The 7 a.m. hour is always interesting. There's the brave few who are trying to "beat the rush" of Saturday shoppers. There's the stragglers who are obviously on the morning after the night before. There's would-be scammers who try to hit eleven Wal-Marts in one day. Then, there's the baby-daddies probably trying to get out of the house while Mommy cooks up a new batch of meth in the tub. Uh-huh. Got to pay that rent.
So this guy, who could have doubled for Justin Timberlake in "Alpha Dog" - prison tattoos and all - comes up to Register 14. He's got one baby in a car seat in the cart and another toddler standing in the cart.
He's dressed in a grimy wife-beater with cigarette burn holes all over it, a pair of dirty gray sweat pants and some beat-up high-tops that look like somebody mowed the lawn in them. The kids are dressed in hand-me-downs, but at least clean ones and look to be reasonably well-fed and cared for. Except for the fact that the toddler standing up in the cart is pestering him for some candy, they are reasonably well-behaved for howler monkeys.
I watch all the action from the Service Desk.
He keeps trying to swipe an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer - the new name for Food Stamps) card and is obviously not happy with the results. He starts berating the cashier, who correctly tells him that she's not the one responsible for him not having enough money in his account to cover the purchase of diapers and formula. If he doesn't have enough money, he doesn't have enough money.
For those not in the know, some people get both cash & food EBT benefits. The EBT FOOD can only be spent on government-designated food items. The EBT CASH can be spent on anything -- and can even be received as a debit cash back. I once had a woman buy four packs of gum in four individual transactions and use EBT CASH on all four and walk away from my register with $400 of taxpayer money.
The situation at Register 14 escalates, and a supervisor gets involved. The transaction gets suspended and brought over to my register. (Why do people always assume it is the REGISTER'S fault?) I take his EBT card and lo and behold, this lovely tattooed gentleman goes by the name of Martina.
Which is a no-no. Retailers who accept government payments such as WIC and EBT are supposed to verify that the name on the payment instrument (EBT card, WIC check) is who they say they are. But he obviously can't use it, so I'm not about to start a fight at 7:15 a.m. when I feel like someone took a blender to my stomach.
I ask him if he has EBT cash & EBT food benefits. He says yes. I ask him if he knows how much. "Plenty."
Wonderful. "Plenty" is now a number.
"Well sir, it's not going through. Do you have any other way to pay?"
And now he gets hostile with me. "If I had any other damn way to pay, I wouldn't be f****** standing here, now would I?"
"OK. Then you need to call the EBT number and check your balance. Because it's not like we DON'T WANT TO SELL YOU MERCHANDISE. You can use our phone or the pay phone in the corner." And for the record, yes, I was just as snarky. He was prison-hot, but a bit of a-hole.
Customer Service is deserted, so I hear him pressing buttons on the pay phone to get his balance. Then he slams the phone down. And starts hitting buttons really hard and angry like.
This was his end of the conversation that followed:
*I know you're there. Pick up the phone.*
*Did you go to the store yesterday?*
*What did you buy all that stuff for? I can't get the boys no diapers.*
*Well I ain't got no money.*
*Well what am I supposed to do?*
*Fine. You can have them then.*
**SLAMS PHONE DOWN, mutters an expletive**
Exit Grocery Door Stage Right.