The Broccoli Episode


Dover, Del., October 27, 2006 — Of my five-year-old granddaughter my 91-year-old mother said, “She’s just like you.” I asked her in what ways. “She’s determined,” she said. “Oh, she will do just fine in life. When she sets her mind to something, she finds a way to do it.” She recalled the time my granddaughter jumped off the steps when she was visiting and my mother told her not to, that she might get hurt. My granddaughter did it anyway and fell on her knees. My mother saw. Tears welled in my granddaughter’s eyes. Seeing that my mother saw, she was determined not to cry.

Ah, mothers … so insightful; they never cease to enlighten.

And then there’s the broccoli episode. One night at the supermarket, determined to have them get the price right, I got the broccoli free. I have a strong sense of equitableness, and believe not only in free trade but also in a fair market: If you’re a legitimate business selling a product, you ought to charge a fair price and not, oh, say, some price at random.

Not much broccoli was left in the supermarket that night. What was there was scattered sparsely across the table, but it was beautiful – fresh, moist, blue-green – that just picked appearance, no signs of burning on the tops. Also, no signs of pricing on the shelves. I knew the price was up the past few weeks. “Oh, well, I’ll take it,” I thought. I selected a beautiful, large crown. “It doesn’t quite weigh a pound. It couldn’t cost that much. Besides, it’s rare to find broccoli so beautiful and fresh and sweet. It’ll be worth it.”

At the checkout counter I said to the pretty, young cashier, “How much is that broccoli?”

“One ninety-nine,” she said. “A pound or a piece?” I asked. “It’s one ninety-nine,” she said, perfunctorily, continuing to converse with a very cute young male co-worker.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “It’s one ninety-nine a bunch,” she said. So I get out to the car and I’m looking at the broccoli and I’m thinking, “There’s no way.”

I go back into the store, carrying the broccoli and my receipt and ask the customer service woman, whom I clearly disturbed from her sleep. She read my receipt and said, “It’s one ninety-nine.”

{ !!! }

“I know that,” I said. That’s why I’m here. That’s how much I was charged, but how much is it actually?”

She pulled out the store flyer and carefully flipped the pages, running her finger up and down the items. “Well, it’s not on sale,” she said.  “So it’s one ninety-nine.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Because that’s what it was.”

“When was it that?” I asked.

“A week or so ago.”

“Well, what is it now? There are no signs back there.”

“That’s because the price fluctuates a lot.”

“Ohhh …,” I said, and left. No. Not really. I stood my ground.

Here, had I been my father, I would have said, “Let me go get you a hat so you can pull out a price.” It’s a good thing I hadn’t bought ice cream.

Instead, “Why don’t you call a produce person,” I suggested. “In fact, why don’t you call the produce person up to this counter so they can see what it is.”

After a few minutes a short, round, gray-haired woman resembling a mama duck waddled up to the counter with her price book. She was accompanied by that same cute guy who had been talking to the cashier. He was the assistant manager. She was patient and accommodating.

When I retold the assistant manager the dialog between me and the customer service woman, his reaction was subtle yet akin to that of Marie Dressler in Dinner at Eight when Jean Harlow’s blonde bombshell character tells her, “I read a book once.”  {{{     }}}

“I asked the cashier the price,” I told the assistant manager. “But she was too busy flirting with her boyfriend to care.”

At that point he demurred, tripping over his words, “Oh …. You flatter me,” he said. “I should be so young.” If he had reached 30 yet, you could call me for dinner at eight.

Mama Duck and I looked through her book together.

“Well,” she said, running her finger down the page, “We didn’t get any broccoli bunches. We ordered them, but they didn’t come in. And that’s the last of the broccoli crowns back there.”

“There,” I said, pointing to the page. “Broccoli crowns – two pounds for three dollars.”

“Let’s go weigh it,” I said.

“Why don’t you take her over there and weigh it,” said the customer service woman from behind her high counter, where the cute assistant manager had now perched.

We weighed it: 0.71 pounds.

Back at the customer service counter, I told them how much it weighed and graciously thanked Mama Duck for her help.

“Let’s see,” said the customer service woman, “Two pounds for three dollars. That’s a dollar fifty a pound.”

“Yes,” I said.

She began fumbling at the layer of air along the top of her counter.

“Do you have any change?” the assistant manager asked her.

I looked at my watch. It said 6:20. I had taken my groceries out to the car at 6. I had worked all day and I was tired and hungry. I still had a half hour drive home in the dark. Then I had to carry the groceries into the house and put them away and, well, you know…. I considered submitting a bill for my time.

Well, we went through this whole rigmarole (Sounds like some kind of lettuce, doesn’t it? “I’ll have the rigmarole with the romalade dressing.”) of calling the produce person up front, determining that it was indeed a broccoli crown and not a bunch, weighing it, finding out it weighed less than a pound and tonight was selling for $1.50 a pound and were going to give me change.

I said, “Isn’t it the policy of the supermarket to refund the customer’s money if they mischarge you?” Sigh.

They refunded my money. I drove home, exhausted. I got the groceries into the house and put them away. I poured myself a deep glass of red zinfandel. Finally, dinner was served. It was eight. The broccoli, by the way, was delicious.

–Samantha Mozart


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