The Mundane Apocalypse

Apocalypse Hand

Linda is back after being trapped with her family in a stunning estate for three weeks. Her cart is full of a few hundred dollars’ worth of organic and local groceries that she picked out all by herself now that she has adjusted to life without Consuela. She fidgets with her mask as she watches me wipe down the belts and sanitize the credit card keypad. She’s annoyed. I’m OK with that because “annoyed” is a standard emotion during the pandemic and I’m used to the tested glares of strangers.

One Way Apocalypse

I frequently find myself wanting to rip off my mask and take down the plexiglass window between me and the customer. The job has lost the charm it once had when I could shoot the shit with strangers. Every conversation is mumbled and jumbled through all the layers. I’d love to smile at Linda and make a connection and build a bridge between our worlds, but frankly, it wouldn’t matter, because the collective disinterest in this apocalypse overshadows most meaningful interactions I might be able to have as a cashier.

I spray disinfectant on the moving conveyor belt, first, then move my rag in a circular motion. Wax on, wax off. It feels like am training for something but it sure as fuck isn’t a karate tournament. And Mr. Miyagi is nowhere to be found. By the end of the day I have sanitized the belt upwards of 400 times in one shift while inhaling the carbon dioxide trapped in my mask. My hot breath slowly cooks my eyeballs crock-pot-style for eight hours as I engage in a constant battle with customers trying to place their items down before I get a chance to clean it. They either don’t know about the new rules or have grown impatient, like Linda. Most of them are cordial and thankful, but their general compliance doesn’t change the mundanity of this initial step towards Armageddon.


In my own selfish and myopic way, I thought a global catastrophe would have more “oomph” to it. I’m not trying to detract from the very real suffering and pain that we have seen globally. And this isn’t an attempt to make light of a horrible situation. People are dying in isolation from complications caused by COVID-19 as they struggle to breathe. Lives are being lost far too soon from the asshole in the room. It’s unprecedented and terrifying, yet it has boiled down to a slow, insufferable grind peppered with platitudes and squabbling. I don’t know why I imagined we would all gather together like they do in Independence Day and fight for our right to live. Maybe because the real battle many of us are fighting is against our own demons. This is a test of our will more than anything.

In some ways, we have rallied together. But when you take away the masks and the plexiglass dividers and the heat check stations everything seems rather normal except the laborious tension that hangs over everyone’s head. And there is no way to pierce the anxiety with normal, friendly conversation. We are confined to our isolated bubbles. Some people try to push through by making an extra effort to compliment and praise. The effort is appreciated. I try to do the same, but I find my energy runs low later in the day. I just want to get through the shit and breathe fresh air.

Apocalypse Heat

Linda stands at a distance as I ring up and bag her groceries. She mutters something about not being able to bring her reusable bags. This is a common complaint among our customers. And I agree. The pandemic has been damn wasteful. I am concerned about the planet too. But I don’t engage because that conversation is a zero-sum game. She gets through the line, says “Thank You”, and moves quickly towards the door. As I hand her the receipt, I turn around and remind the next customer to hold up a minute while I wax on, wax off again and yell out for Mr. Miyagi help save us from ourselves.

3 thoughts on “The Mundane Apocalypse

  1. True life! I’m a grocery store cashier as well. You speak volumes in your commentary! Thank you!!

  2. Even before this virus I appreciated the grocery store cashiers just for standing on their feet all day. I would find that very difficult even if I was younger. Yet I appreciate them more than ever now as they help in the process of feeding America and without them we would be lost. I still work but I surely am not essential. Essential needs to be treated with respect and a living wage and health insurance.

    1. When the cashier asked me if i wanted a bag, i told her I’d brought my own. As I saw her eyebrows rising, i quickly said “I’ll bag them myself.” Then I told my cashier I was tired of bringing home plastic bags. She did not mind that i stood the there and bagged my own groceries.
      We can still do the environmentally correct thing. As much as i tried to recycle those plastic bags they kept getting ahead of me. That’s when I decided I could start bringing my own bag again.

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