I think I’m ready for a career in Hollywood based on my performance during this morning’s trip to the grocery store.
I only needed a few things: Hot Pockets for lunch, a box of cookies, and a pack of those marvelous dark chocolate raspberry ice cream bars made by Weight Watchers (note that I now accept PayPal for payment of product placement fees).
While I was in the Food Lion down the street from my office, I figured I’d also pick up a couple two-liter bottles of Pepsi Free. Despite its deceptive name, Pepsi Free is not free. It may be devoid of caffeine, nutrition and any redeeming value whatsoever except for the bubbles, but it still comes at a hefty price.
I can’t think of any product on store shelves these days whose cost varies more than carbonated soft drinks. If you watch for sales, you can get these 67-ounce brand-name bottles for as little as 79 cents a piece (limit ten with a $20 purchase through Tuesday only, and you have to pay with your left hand while standing on your right foot and singing the second verse of the National Anthem). Otherwise, you can pay upwards of $1.89 each.
Price swings like that on the world oil market would plunge the global economy into unprecedented turmoil. But Pepsi can get away with it because most of their products taste better than West Texas Light Sweet Crude.
The posted price for Pepsi on this particular morning was $1.79. However, if you were the proud owner of Food Lion’s “MVP” customer loyalty card, the product could be had for only $1.25.
I had one of these cards at one time. I swear I did. It was stashed in the deepest reaches of my wallet, right between an out-of-date dental insurance card from 1997 and a Circuit City credit card. But the last time I visited Food Lion, I couldn’t find it.
So now, as I approached the checkout, I faced a moral dilemma. I could acknowledge that I was not technically a “Most Valuable Pepsi-Buyer” and pay the full, absolutely outrageous price. Or, I could fumble through my belongings in front of the cashier, pretending that the card “must be in here somewhere,” and eventually getting the discount when their patience wore thin.
As you might guess, I opted to lie or, as we call it in the dramatic arts, inhabit the role of a properly carded customer with all the intensity I learned in years of workshopping the part with some of the finest acting teachers the world has ever known.
As I stepped into line, I noticed there seemed to be some type of commotion ahead of me. A man buying a half-dozen twelve-packs of Old Milwaukee was insisting he pay the lower price posted on the shelf, rather than the higher price indicated by the barcode scanner.
“Ah yain’t gettin’ it if I gotta pay that,” he was protesting.
The cashier stood by with a helpless look on her face. A manager had apparently been summoned to resolve the dispute though, at the pace the line was moving, he was going to have to be flown in from Food Lion’s corporate headquarters in Belgium.
This was going to allow me some time to practice my lines. Since I didn’t have a written script, I’d have the freedom to improvise. I knew my character’s motivation: to save $1.08. I knew the stage direction that would accompany the lines: dropping several coins to the floor to lend an aura of authenticity. And I knew my audience: an already-flustered cashier more interested in how many minutes till her shift ended than in having to challenge yet another surly client.
“My MVP card must be in my other pants,” I could say. Or, “My wife must have it — she’s buying thousands of dollars of groceries at one of your other stores this very minute.” Or perhaps, “Olvidé mi tarjeta.” The teenage checker would probably think I was speaking Arabic, that “tarjeta” was the word for “target,” and be willing to cut me some slack to avoid a terrorist attack.
The dispute over the cheap beer appeared resolved, and I stepped onto center stage to deliver what I hoped to be the performance of a lifetime.
“Sounds like you’re having a bad day,” I said with a smile. “Mine’s not so great either. Just finished doing a heart transplant over at the hospital, and I don’t think my mother’s going to make it.”
On the fly, I had decided to commiserate with the young woman using charm and a fantastic story I had prepared about how difficult it was to conduct major surgery on a loved one.
She wasn’t especially impressed.
“Do you have your MVP card?” she asked.
“Yes, you see, I do have one,” I fudged. “But I think it’s probably in the pocket of my surgical scrubs. I got stuck at one point in the procedure, and had to use it to scrape away some of the plaque in her primary arterial vein. You know, like you use a credit card to scrape frost off your windshield?’
“I don’t have a car,” she replied in a monotone, then reached below the counter. She produced a badge of some sort and waved it in front of the scanner. The total displayed on the readout dropped from $16.68 to $15.60, precisely the $1.08 differential I was hoping for.
She scooped up some paperwork and dropped it in with my bagged Pepsi’s.
“Here’s an MVP application form,” she said. “For next time.”
I thought I detected a momentary twinkle spread across her visage and the slightest of smiles. Then, no — I think she just had a glass eye.
“Thank you so much,” I said, collecting myself and my groceries. I bowed slightly, then added, “Have a great day.”
“Mmmph,” she grunted. It wasn’t the fervent ovation I might’ve hoped for but, after all, this was at least one full step below community theatre.
As I left the store and headed for my car, I felt like I had passed a test on the first step toward a new career. I could now be pursuing a vocation far more rewarding than catching any typo while proofreading a financial document. It was a craft that could entertain and educate and illuminate and heal all at the same time.
No, not surgery. Acting!