Free! Samples!

I used to work next door to a Trader Joe’s grocery store, and although not as famous as Costco’s, they have a pretty great free sample table. For months, every day around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I would head over (often with coworkers in tow) to see what the sampler table whiz kids were up to.

The people who worked the sample table always worked the sample table, so it didn’t long before they began to recognize us. You might think that they would be annoyed by the same freeloaders grabbing snacks daily, never buying anything. I thought so. But no. They were always happy to see us, and we even sort of became friends. We kept each other update with gossip and mundane details of each others’ lives like you do with people you see every day. The Trader Joe’s snack run became one of the best parts of the day. Make sense, I guess… it’s not like they were shareholders.

I went grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s today (a different location). It brought back memories. I even recognized Emily, a gal who used to work at my old store. Even though it had a different layout than the one I worked by, when I saw the snack table, nostalgia came rushing back, so I walked up and grabbed a sample of Southwestern salad. It was in a tiny paper cup, like the kind you’d get at the dentist with that gritty tooth polish.

I didn’t know the woman minding the booth. She was painstakingly cutting up lettuce with scissors, which at first I thought rather odd. This seemed to make preparing the prepackaged salad much less convenient. Then I realized that she was doing it just so the large leafs would fit nicely into the into the tiny sample-size cups.

The pleasure of free food brought me back to the days of TJs camaraderie. I pushed my luck. “Does the salad come with the scissors?” I said jokingly. I wanted her to laugh, to chat, to bond.

You know how sometimes people have a talent for just sucking all the funny out of the room? This women had it in spades. She looks up at me and says “These are kitchen scissors.”

That barely had anything to do with my comment. But the follow up was the killer.

“For cutting.”

I considered several possible rejoinders or explanations of the intent of my original comment, but couldn’t see it going anywhere. So I finished my salad and left without another word.

I don’t know what she could have thought I said, but she must have thought me quite the moron to feel the need to explain to me that “scissors are for cutting”. It was an amazingly paralyzing response. Genius.

I guess they’re right: you can’t go home again. Or, in this case, to the grocery store.

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