Just the other day whilst out and about, I thought I’d pop into a local supermarket to pick up a few essentials, so in I went, scooping up a basket from the double-door entrance as I strode inside. Almost immediately, I came to the refrigerated vegetable section and realising I was short of a decent lettuce, I started to search around in the four-tiered, shelved greenery: I found pre-packed Rocket leaves, tossed salads, loose Spinach and watercress’ of various shapes and sizes but no lettuces - iceberg, curly, Gem or round - were anywhere to be seen.
Then, tucked away beneath a crate of cucumber halves, I got lucky: the telltale orange sticker of a reduced-price bargain was haphazardly stuck onto a tatty plastic wrapper. With a little persuasion, I was rewarded with a stunted but still-green, round-leafed last lettuce in the shop, reduced to the bargain price of just 19 pence. I checked the use-by date and found it was yesterday’s date, but as beggars can’t be choosers and I would be eating it all in the next hour or so on my ham butties, I figured I could live with this lettuce’s temporarily extended, life expectancy.
Luckily, I checked my pockets at this point for my buying list and discovered two very interesting facts: firstly, I’d forgotten to bring my buying list; and secondly, I’d left all my money at home two miles distant to the East of my current position. Rummaging through my denim weave and Gore-Tex zippers, I came up with the sum total of a single 20 pence piece; the perfect plus-one amount to cover the cost of the last, out-of-date lettuce, so off to the checkout I headed.
A Young Girl, aged around 17 years old, was sitting behind the checkout till looking bored and she glanced at me through chewing her gum as I placed the lettuce on the conveyer belt. She pressed a button and the last, unwanted green veg slowly made its way towards her, matched by my own paced steps; once in her hands, a quick movement across the price scanner brought the sound of an error and a squinted look of confusion to her face. She scanned the limp lettuce again and once more the electronic noise of no-way-forward further creased her already furrowed brow.
Young Girl: Er, it’s not scanning...
Me: Oh right, well it says 19 pence on the label - here are...
I pulled the 20 pence out and held it out to the Young Girl; she ignored it and continued staring at the orange reduced-price label as another scan resulted in the same rejection, so I lowered my hand.
Young Girl: Can you get another cause this isn’t going through?
Me: Er, there aren’t any more lettuces over there -
Young Girl: (sighing) None at all?
I now felt my own brow beginning to crease with this inane dialogue as more shoppers arrived in my checkout aisle and began dumping their produce onto the conveyer.
Me: (pointing) No, there’s no lettuces left, that’s why I want to buy that thing...
Young Girl: (sat staring off to the veg section) Mmm, right...
Me: So I’ll just have this last one, ta -
Young Girl: (shaking her head) Can’t sell it to you though.
I waited for more explanation but nothing was forthcoming. With growing annoyance, I continued.
Me: Right, why’s that then?
Young Girl: Cause it’s out of date, see -
At this, she held up the lettuce and pointed to the orange reduced-price sticker as if I was oblivious of its neon existence. I stared at the moronic idiocy seated before me.
Me: Yeah I know, that’s why I want to buy it -
Young Girl: (confused look on her face) But it’s out of date, don’t you understand?!
Me: (my voice rising slightly) I know it’s out of date! Its price has been lowered! That’s why I’m queuing up with it now and trying to explain all this to you!
This exchange instigated a peering standoff between us; the other shoppers lining up watched with growing surprise.
Young Girl: I can’t sell this lettuce to you because it’s a day under the sell-by date, okay?
She pointed at the date and it finally clicked: the lettuce was indeed a day over.
Me: (apologetically) Oh sorry! Er, well it’s only a couple of hours over, so i won’t tell anyone!
I laughed slightly in the hope that this attempt at humour would break the now frosty atmosphere. It didn’t.
Young Girl: If it won’t scan, then I can’t sell it to you, yeah? It’s over the sell-by date and that’s why it won’t scan, so you’ll have to get another lettuce.
Me: (shaking my head) But there aren’t any more lettuces, I’ve told you -
Young Girl: (quietly spitting out her words) And I’ve told you that you can’t buy this lettuce, so stop holding the line up!
My smile dropped as the Young Girl’s glower grew. I glanced to the other shoppers and realised it was now time to vacate the area as soon as possible. She made this decision easier with her next uttered sentence.
Young Girl: (ignoring me and now wearing a smile) Right, who’s next please?
I skulked away from the supermarket feeling dejected, embarrassed and consumed with hatred for this latest generation of absolute numpty-headed kids. As I made my way back home, empty handed and lettuce-free, I was suddenly hit with a realisation: I had breached middle-age, found offence with the youth of today’s attitude and inevitably had finally become my parents, something I never believed would happen in the last 39 years. In those few moments, I’d been reduced to analysing my entire existence because of a combination of an empty pocket lacking money, an overlooked, wilting lettuce and an obtuse teenager who was old enough to be my child!
Sweet Jesus Christ and Life’s supposed to begin at 40, isn’t it?!