Living Out Loud: : "Hello, Plastic or Plastic?"

Standing in line at Keller's

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The line is rather long this evening, and I could try to sneak by in the 15-items-or-less lane but the thing is I have at least 20 items, and the girl at the register seems to always take notice of that. I don't feel like getting the look. I see that Kelly is working, so I get over to her register.

At this writing, Keller's IGA in Clifton is trying to do away with their famous paper bags. Maybe that's a joke, but actually they are kind of famous, as most who come to Keller's do so on foot and carry the paper bags, which have handles on them, back home to their houses or apartments. I've saved them up over the years and have given them away to many friends who like them. Seriously.

As I stand in line, I hear one of the cashiers say to a customer, "It's just something we're trying. The paper bags are expensive, and with the minimum wage increase which has affected us ..." I stop listening at that point.

Come on; don't blame the poor person getting paid minimum wage for the loss of those paper bags.

I look over at register four and see Jill — or I think that's her name. She's a tiny, little thing and I never know what color her hair is going to be. Sometimes it's black and green; sometimes it's black and orange. She never says much, but she always smiles and is quick at the register. Whenever I tell her I like her hair, which I do, she always says thank you.

Before getting in line, I see Harvey — or I think that's his name. He's a security guard downtown — an older guy — and sometimes we ride the bus together from downtown to get back to Clifton. Every time I see him in Keller's — and I'm in there almost every day — he's always buying Fancy Feast cat food. I can't help but wonder how many cats this Harvey has.

"We may bring the paper bags back and charge the customer, maybe 3 cents a bag," I hear one of the cashiers say to a customer. Shit, I'll pay that.

Charlene smiles at me from register three and I smile back. She's a college student at the University of Cincinnati and is a really good writer. I keep asking her to send me something for this column, but she hasn't yet.

I'm glad they got rid of that asshole kid who always commented on what I was buying. "You sure you're old enough to buy this stuff?" he said more than a few times, as I purchase vodka on a regular basis. However, I do like the nice older cashier who always insists on asking for my I.D. when I purchase the vodka. We both get a kick out of it.

There's only one guy ahead of me now in Kelly's lane. He's buying only a few cheap items and is counting out his change — looks like he has mostly nickels. Kelly waits patiently. I start to unload my groceries.

The guy with all the nickels is gone, and Kelly says "Hello, plastic or plastic?" We both laugh as she scans the groceries quickly, as there is a long line. I ask her about the paper bags, and she says she doesn't know if they will get more in or not. She asks if I need cigarettes; I say I went over to Kentucky on Friday and I start to bag up my stuff. She always thanks me for doing that.

Kelly tells me how much I owe. I give her the cash, and she gives me my change. "See you tomorrow?" she asks as I scurry away. "Of course," I reply. "I'll be out of your cheap ass vodka." Kelly laughs.

As I walk home, I contemplate bringing all those paper bags I have from Keller's and selling them outside the store. I could make a killing.

Check out the Living Out Loud Blog at Larry Gross' Book "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories" is in bookstores now or can be ordered through

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