The Curmudgeon


Friday, April 22, 2005


It is of course untrue that supermarket cashiers are the least intelligent life form in the known universe. To take merely one example, there is no reliable evidence that any member of the Royal Family of Great Britain has ever been near a supermarket, let alone worked in one. The supermarket cashier does, however, present certain features of interest which are available for all to observe without undue risk, and which thus make this organism a fruitful subject for the enthusiastic idiotologist.

Again contrary to popular myth, not all supermarket cashiers are female. This should be obvious, given that supermarket cashiers are not known to reproduce by fission, budding or any of the other methods utilised by life forms of a similarly protozoan intellect. It is true, however, that it is rarely possible for the lay student to distinguish the male cashier from the female unless the mating season is not in progress - the lack of sexual distinctions during the mating season being one more symptom of this organism's famed stupidity.

The cashier shares with related species (the supermarket manager and so forth) an attitude towards supermarket patrons which goes beyond its natural incompetence and enters the realms of actual malice. No supermarket cashier can tolerate the presence of a superior intelligence, which it detects by means of a small gland located at the base of its organ of mathematical inability. As soon as a higher organism (i.e. anything that can drool without having to think about it too much) comes within a dozen yards of the cashier, this gland starts pumping out a hideous array of chemicals, leading to any or all of the numerous activities for which supermarket cashiers are so justly famed and reviled. At best, the creature may bang a wrong button on the cash register and have to start the transaction all over again; at worst, particularly if the queue is a long one, it may warble its battle cry, Penelopaaaaay, kyde tew-ooooooooo, over the intercom, and then sit for the next half hour recovering from the mental strain of having been forced to whine and chew gum at the same time.

The creatures' relationship with their cash registers is a matter which has occupied many of the most respected minds in the field of idiotology. In general it is true to say that the supermarket cashier has decreased in intelligence as the cash register has increased. Most cash registers nowadays are capable not only of adding up bills, but of identifying goods via bar codes, weighing and wrapping them, dispensing change, bleeping and infringing the blasphemy laws. At this very moment, a new model is at the development stage, which when operational should include the useful capacity to beat old ladies about the back of the head if they fail to unload their trolleys fast enough.

This ever-increasing complexity of cash registers means that the cashiers have to occupy more and more of their dismally limited intelligence in trying to operate them correctly. From being relatively simple machines with ten number keys plus one for TOTAL, one for NO SALE and one to send the cash drawer flying across the room, cash registers have evolved almost into computerised cashiers, lacking only the ability to reproduce themselves and the characteristic semi-infuriating drone. This means in effect that each cashier is having to work a machine very nearly as complicated as itself, and infinitely less fallible. However dimly realised (and there is some debate on this point), the situation in their view cannot be altogether pleasant.

Partly for this reason, a number of schemes have been suggested, mostly along the lines of automating all aspects of supermarket shopping while giving the cashiers early retirement, or preferably death. In a purely practical sense, such ideas have much to recommend them, but it would still be a pity to see this fascinating species of imbecile disappear from our country's shopscape. Tabloid readers, though common in every sense and nearly as intelligent, have a regrettable tendency to aggression which makes them unfit for study except by those equipped to deal with the physical and intestinal risks involved.


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