Tweaker at the store

Everything on my list is in my shopping cart, and I’m rolling toward the cash register. It's the middle of the night, so there’s only one register open. A horizontal aisle runs the width of the store past all the closed registers, and far in the distance by frozen foods, a woman walks toward me.

Its obvious even at a glance, that woman ain’t right. She’s walking with her head down, and taking slow, carefully unbalanced steps. She’s holding several items in her hands and arms despite the ample availability of shopping carts, and towers of shopping baskets at the door, and at each register she's walking past.

As she comes closer, I can hear that she’s talking to herself, loudly. Not yelling, but full talking volume, like she’s discussing and reiterating her opinion about which brand of soup is superior, Campbell’s or Progresso. Two cans of soup are among the 6-9 items she’s carrying, but they’re both generic, so her conversation is more philosophical than practical. And also, there’s no-one she’s talking too.

We got a tweaker here, or someone wired on something, or perhaps an all-natural brain discombobulation. I’m no expert, haven’t seen much of this since I lived in San Francisco’s slums, but tweaker is my first thought, because she looks like a more realistic and sadder Wendy from Breaking Bad

Also as evidence of meth, she has a prominent tooth missing up front, and her other teeth are yellowish-gray instead of white, but who am I to talk? I’ve lost 7-10 teeth over the years, all yellowish-gray, and I talk to myself sometimes, and none of the above makes me a tweaker. Pretty sure she’s a tweaker, though.

Whatever’s going on with this lady, she’s a customer most grocery stores don’t want, and I’m wondering what they’ll do. My preference is that they do nothing, because whenever stores or other businesses deal with something like this it’s usually ugly. They’ll send their biggest, toughest employee to talk her toward the parking lot. If that doesn’t work or if she loiters in the lot, they’ll call the cops, and everyone knows that no matter how awful this woman’s life is going, it’ll be going worse when the cops get here.

The store employs a bouncer — a security guard who works the overnight shift, usually stationed by the main entrance. Guess tonight he'll have something to do, someone to hassle, instead of just sitting there saying hello when insomniac shoppers come in.

I glance at him, and what’s he doing? He’s sitting where he always sits, with his back to the store, so maybe he hasn’t seen. He’d have to have heard, though, so he’s either ignoring it or he’s deaf. The tweaker is talking louder than the girl from Ipanema on the public address, but the security guard is saying a cheery hello to someone who's walking in.

The next nominee for handling this would be the man I assume is an assistant manager. He’s maybe 40, wears a tie, and tells employees what to do. He’s been working here for at least ten years, and I’ve never said a word to him nor he to me, so who knows whether he has the temperament that’s needed in this situation. I’m not even sure what temperament is needed. Is it even a situation? 

Now there’s only one customer ahead of me in line, and he and me are both watching this woman, and this is going to be unpleasant. Someone always does something, and it's always awful. Every time.

Unlike the security guard, the presumed assistant manager is aware of what’s going on. He’s standing near the front, watching the tweaker, but he doesn’t approach her. Instead he walks over and says a few words to the man bagging groceries at the only open register. They seem to agree to do nothing.

Am I gonna get involved? Nope. I once said something helpful-I’d-hoped to a man who was acting crazy like this, and he didn’t accept my kindness in the intended spirit. Instead he took a swing at my head. He missed by about a yard, but it's the thought that counts, so this time I’ll just watch, thanks.

Whoops, it's my time at the cash register. “Paper or plastic?” Neither. Use these milk crates I always bring. I lift the crates from the bottom of the shopping cart, and hand them to the bagger, then turn my eyes back to the drama behind me.

While I wasn’t looking, one of the stockers has approached the tweaker. They’re not standing; the tweaker has folded herself onto the floor, and the stocker is kneeling beside her.

She’s a 50-something white woman, and she’s been working here forever. She’s always been nice to me, but more chatty than I want when she’s my cashier. Tonight she’s been stocking the shelves, but now she has her hand on the tweaker’s shoulder and she’s saying softly, “What’s wrong, lady?”

I'm relieved that someone's at least trying to handle this nicely, but also worried that the tweaker might try to hurt the stocker-lady. It's definitely a risk, what she's doing. Then she says, “It looks like a basket might make it easier carrying all this.”

In front of me is a stack of 14 hand-held plastic carrying baskets. I lift one, and since no-one’s behind me in line, I walk over to them and hand a basket to the stock-lady. She says thank you, I think, or maybe she doesn’t, but she takes the basket, and then gently takes a feminine product from the tweaker’s hand and puts it in the basket.

The tweaker smiles and dumps all her groceries in — the soups, a package of noodles, Draino, milk, and multi-vitamins. She definitely seems short on a few essential minerals or whatnot.

Back at the register I pay, and instead of leaving I stand and watch. The stocker-lady is talking gently to the tweaker, asking her if she found everything she needed. The tweaker says no, she couldn’t find the meatballs, but she says it wrong, with an unnatural rush to the words, and stressing meatballs as if she’s going to cry.

The stocker-lady says, “Oh, I know just where those are, come on, I’ll show you!” She gently tugs on the tweaker’s sleeve, and they’re off to the meat department. “You’d think the frozen meatballs are in frozen foods,” the employee is saying as they walk away, “but they’re by the butcher’s counter…”

I make a mental note to tell that lady she handled this well, next time she’s ringing up my groceries. I’m old, though, and mental notes are unreliable, so I also jot it on the back of my shopping list, and head for home.



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  1. Progresso is the best soup in a can. Great story, Doug.

    1. I don't know if I agrre that Progreso is the best. But it's better than Campbells, that's for sure.

    2. Generic is the best canned soup.

  2. I've seen this happen in places with drug addicts and homeless people, always so sad. I have never seen a happy ending like this, and it was nice. Thank you for sharing this.


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