Lori Ryan

Rachel Thompson

Aicha Zoubair

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Dumb White Husband by Benjamin Wallace (Excerpt 2)

Dumb White Husband vs. The Grocery Store Part 2

It wasn’t until he was outside the store that John realized he was still wearing his collegiate sweatshirt. He pumped his fist in celebration and accidentally struck his elbow on the minivan’s armrest, hurting himself only a little.

Nursing his elbow and stepping from the car, he checked his watch. All the dressing appropriately nonsense and the drive had taken him fifteen minutes. If he moved fast he could still catch up to live TV. Several of his friends would call him when the game was over to talk smack. If he didn’t know the outcome when the game was over, he would know it only minutes later.

The sliding doors open as if just for him and he stepped into the grocery store with the list playing over and over in his head: lemons, tomatoes, chicken breast and pasta, lemons, tomatoes, chicken breast and pasta, lemons, tomatoes, chicken breast and pasta.

Focus. Focus. Focus.


Right inside the door was a giant lobby display filled with bags and bags of potato chips. In the center of the display, rising from the bags, was a promise to him that he could win a home entertainment center—an ultimate home entertainment center!

A huge 3D-ready LED LCD TV, the latest 3D blu-ray player, a stereo with wattage that read like the specs of a military laser, non-faux-suede home theatre seating, speakers he could be buried in and a remote that, he had no doubt, could launch and land the space shuttle as well as make the Canadarm do high fives in space.

His heart contributed to the excitement with one extra beat for the satellite sports package.

All he had to do was text-to-win. He fumbled the phone from his pocket as he dutifully repeated the code and number, “Ultimate AV to chips. Ultimate AV to chips. Ultimate AV to chips.”

He brought his phone to life and hit the text icon. Never had his fingers moved so quickly across the glass screen.

Send. Entered.

Yes. It was only a matter of time before they would be contacting him.

He glanced once more at the display and noted the instruction to “enter every day.” He would be sure to come back tomorrow.

Before he could place his phone back in his pocket, it buzzed.

A message from his wife appeared across the screen. “Also need milk, cat litter and dog food. <3”

“That’s not less than three,” he said to himself as he dropped the phone into his pocket.

He struggled to undo the safety pin from his chest. She had used one of those really small ones and he found it all but impossible to undo the clasp. He tore the list from his shirt.

After doing some quick math, he winced that the three items from the text would put him over the limit for the five-items-or-less line. He could easily “forget” one of the things on the list. But, two? She would notice two.

“Well played, dear,” he muttered and turned to grab a cart. Thankfully he hadn’t wandered far from the entrance—another point in the chip display’s favor.

The wire carts were stacked tightly together. He knew the drill. The cart on the end, wedged in front with all the force and frustration that a lonely, angst-ridden teen could muster, would refuse to be separated from the line.

John grabbed the front cart on the nearest row and yanked the hell out of it. The cart, this one aberration to the rule of always-stuck-shopping-carts, flew across the lobby, bounced off an ATM and plowed into the chip display. It collided with the glorious snacks and rolled back towards him. Several yellow bags spilled to the ground, their usefulness to man crushing under the force of gravity.

The cart rolled back into his outstretched hand. He turned slowly, looking to see if he had been spotted. Behind him, a woman stood with her arms crossed. She shook her head back and forth but said nothing.

John smiled and bolted for the produce section.

He went through the list in his head again: TV, blu-ray, receiver …

Dammit! He looked at the piece of paper in his hand. The first thing was lemons and specific instructions on how to select them. He grabbed half a dozen and decided that they would be described as “the last six in the store.”

Bag. Spin. Flip. Carted.

Tomatoes. These he couldn’t cheat on. He grabbed four ripe, red tomatoes that were, according to the list “slightly larger than lemon size and not bruised.” With five quick moves he tossed three tomatoes into a produce bag, one on the floor, and a slightly bruised one in the bag.

Spin. Flip. Carted.

Chicken breast. The cart handled corners as well as the minivan. He went wide and pulled to the outside of the refrigerated meat section. Scooping up two packets of chicken breast, he checked the list again. There were no special instructions. This, the item most likely to have salmonella, and, therefore, the potential to kill the entire family, needed the least amount of description. This surprised him because, holy crap, how hard was it to buy spaghetti?

The list said pasta and was followed by specificities:

“Pasta, 1 box—spaghetti type. Barilla brand. This is a blue box. It used to be yellow, but they changed it for some reason. Don’t get the store brand, that’s blue too but it’s not as good because it tends to stick. And make sure you don’t get the whole grain. You don’t like it, remember? It gave you stomach trouble last time. If you have problems finding it, it’s on the same aisle as the SpaghettiOs, so find the SpaghettiOs and then turn around and it should be right there.”

He found the pasta, grabbed sixteen boxes and threw them into the cart.

Milk was behind him. He could see a giant cow over the top of the aisles. He backed up the cart straight and hooked it around in a maneuver that stunt drivers call the J-turn.

John found himself face-to-face with the woman he had seen at the front of the store. She was buying soy sauce but took a moment to shake her head in a clear show of disapproval.

John smiled, made engine noises and pushed his way to the dairy cooler.

The text bore no special instructions. It just said milk. Fine, milk was milk.

He reached the cooler and threw up his arms. Red caps, blue caps, white caps, big jugs, little jugs. What did organic mean? He pondered it a second and decided it meant expensive. His favorite color had always been, when one was required to have a favorite color, blue. Two blue-capped jugs went into the cart.

Pet supplies were near the front of the store next to the pharmacy window because, he figured, old people had cats and prescriptions.

Sixteen boxes of pasta rattled as he took the cart to the top speed that barely-not-running could produce.

The kitty litter weighed thirty pounds. It was a testament to his desperation that he was able to grab it from the shelf without breaking stride, hurting himself only a little.

The dog food weighed forty pounds and didn’t have a handle because the people at Purina were “dicks.” He had to put the large bag on the bottom of the cart since the inside was filled with pasta. It settled onto the lower shelf and he turned the cart for the final dash to the checkout.

The cart struggled to turn under the weight of the dog food, kitty litter and milk. He realized at that moment that his wife always sent him to the store to get the heavy stuff: water, soft drinks, dog food, litter, sack of lead. Never had he been handed a list with marshmallows, bag of feathers, light bulbs or helium balloons. It was always bricks and boulders and such.

Despite the weight, he got the cart moving and trusted the momentum to take him the rest of the way. He built up a good speed as he eyed an open lane. The clerk was just getting there. She hadn’t even turned on the light yet.

There came a rattling from behind him. Another cart entered his field of vision. It was gaining. It was passing. And, it was heading for the open aisle. It was his neighbor Erik.

“Hey, John.”

“Erik,” John quickened his pace.

Unencumbered by pet supplies, Erik took an easy lead.

John, peering into his neighbor’s cart, swore under his breath. It contained only a few items: marshmallows, dental floss, and … were those cotton balls?

Erik took the inside track and got to the counter just as the light snapped on. John strained to turn his cart, ran long and bumped into the magazine rack.

Erik smiled, “Tough break, neighbor, but I’ve only got a couple of things. It won’t take a second.”

John checked his watch. He’d be lucky to catch up by halftime.

“I think those were on sale,” Erik told the cashier as she scanned a box of Q-tips.

“Do you remember for how much?” she asked.

“No. Less?”

“I’ll have someone check.”

“Let me lend you the nickel, Erik.”

“You’re right, it’s silly,” but it was also too late. The page had been made. The cashier had assumed the waiting position—light flashing, back to customer, picking at nails. In a few moments she would apologize for it taking so long.

John sighed just as his phone buzzed. A new text popped up on his screen. “Could you please get me pads?”

John fired back, “Already checked out. Almost home. Sorry.”

“I apologize that this is taking so long.” The cashier didn’t even look up from her nails.

“Sir?” An apron-draped employee appeared behind him. “The self-checkout lane is open.”

John had principles. The first one was let no man touch your junk. This was closely followed by, SCREW SELF-CHECKOUT LANES. They saved the store money by making him do the work. He was a checker in high school. Now, almost thirty years later, after working long hours and kissing big asses to climb to a position of respect in a Fortune 500 company, he would be doing the same job he did at sixteen and not getting paid for it.

But, great men are flexible, in a non-physical kind of way. John backed the cart out of the lane as Erik scrambled to put the few, light items back into his cart. His neighbor was reaching for the Q-tips when a store employee scooped them from the belt and headed deep into the store to check the price. Erik hung his head in defeat as John shouted back, “Don’t feel bad, neighbor. Now you can use those coupons Cindy sent with you.”

Erik opened his mouth, but no insult came out. He simply turned back to the cashier and produced a stack of coupons from his back pocket.

The idiot that had designed the self-checkout lane was an idiot. Bagging area before the scanner? It ruined the flow of his swing. Still, if he moved quickly enough, it could save him some time. He jumped in front of the cart and stopped it with his hip, hurting himself only a little.

Litter. Beep. Set.

Milk. Beep. Set.

Milk. Set.

“Unexpected item in bagging area.”

“Dammit.” He grabbed the second jug of milk from the bagging area and scanned it again.

Milk. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Spaghetti. Beep. Set.

Each packet of pasta rattled as it landed on the stainless steel tray. He would bag them all at once when he had the receipt in his hand.

Lemons. Set.

“Unexpected item in bagging area.”

He picked the lemons back up and realized his mistake. Mother nature didn’t use barcodes. He stared in frustration at the machine in front of him. He had beaten Super Mario Brothers at eight. He had mastered the stick shift at fifteen. He had figured out the coffee maker at work within a week of his start date. Now, a machine had finally gotten the best of him.

He stared at the machine and said, “Lemons.”

He was losing precious time.

He held the bag in front of the scanner and repeated it—louder this time—“Lemons!”

“Sir?” The apron-shrouded teen that had first set him on the self-checkout course stood behind him. “Can I help you?”

John turned and thrust forward the produce bag, “Lemons!”

“Just put them on the scale.” The teenager in the apron helped him place the lemons on the scanner and punched in a code.


“There you go, sir.” The clerk turned and stepped away.

John grabbed him by the apron strings around his neck and pulled him back. The employee turned and was startled to see another produce bag shoved in his face.


The teenager set the tomatoes down, entered the code and backed away cautiously.

“Thank you!”

Chicken breast. Beep. Set.

Chicken breast. Beep. Set.

Behind him he could hear Erik speaking on his phone.

“I’m waiting. No, they had to do a price check,” his neighbor said. “Yes, I have the coupons. Oh, I ran into our neighbor and guess what; John got to wear his college sweater … Well, you should be thankful I’m not John … What do you mean? Like bungee jumping off a bridge?”

With frantic abandon, John forced his purchases into bags as he waited for the total.


John turned to see apron-boy standing behind a central podium that oversaw the self-checkout area.


“The dog food.”

John looked to the bottom of the cart and the green bag of dog food that proclaimed to be “now tastier than ever.” He thought for a second about how much he didn’t care if his dog thought the dog food was tastier than ever and then bent down to get the bag.

Halfway down he remembered the scanning gun attached to the checkout. Snatching it from its holster, he pointed it at the oversized barcode on the dog food. Beep.

“Ha,” he spun the scanning gun like a six-shooter and placed it back in the holster.

“Please place item in bagging area.”

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me! There’s no room in the bagging area, you stupid piece of …”

“Is there a problem, sir?” Apron-lad looked frightened, irritated and sixteen.

John pointed to the bag of dog food. “Really?”

The boy sighed. “Just hit total, sir.”

John did. The machine gave him his new dog food-included total.

“How do you wish to pay?”

He slammed a debit card into the machine and withdrew it fast enough to create a whistle in the air. For all the flaws of the self-checkout line, it never failed to accept money. The machine spit out a receipt—one he would have to lose to avoid being caught in the tampon lie.

The kitty litter went back in the cart. Each milk jug got its own bag. Everything else went into a single sack as the machine pleaded with him to scan his first item.

He checked his watch. He hated to give credit to the self-checkout lane, but it may have made it possible to catch up to live TV by halftime. Dropping the plastic bags into the cart, he jumped behind the bar and gave it a mighty shove to put the Purina-laden cart into motion.

The boy in the apron stepped out in front of him.

John brought the cart to an immediate stop.


“I need to see your receipt, sir.”


“I just need to check it against the items in your cart.”

“You watched me ring up every item in my cart.”

“It’s just our policy, sir.” Apron-boy took the receipt from John and put a big check across the itemized list. “Have a nice day.”

John was moving before the receipt was back in his hand. One wheel of the cart began to protest the weight of the dog food, but he pushed on through the doors and into the parking lot. He locked eyes with one driver that was pulling up in front of the store, daring her to play chicken with the eighty-plus pound cart.

She wisely backed off.

John, middle-aged and not in the best shape of life, shoved the cart with full force and hopped into the air. He landed on the bar at the back of the cart and rode full speed through the parking lot, hurting himself only a little.

He didn’t say, “Wheee!” But his face did.

A drag of his toe gave the cart a minor course correction and he arrived at the back of the minivan.

He fished out his keys and tapped the key fob twice. The tiny van chimed as if it were a dump truck in reverse. Taillights flashed and, like magic, the gate opened.

The Caravan had been a necessity. He had hated test driving it, signing for it, paying for it and driving it. But, as far as minivans went, it wasn’t all that bad. It was painted “Brilliant Black” and the doors opened at the touch of a button … exactly like the Batmobile. He had dubbed it the Bratmobile and now dutifully drove it to soccer games and on cross-country road trips.

He tossed the dog food in first and turned to grab the rest of the bags. Alleviated of the forty pounds of kibble, the cart decided to make a break for it. It quickly rolled away just out of his reach. He lunged for it and grabbed the front lip, hurting himself only a little.

He dumped the rest of the groceries into the back of the van, punched the button to close the gate and stepped aside so it wouldn’t hit him on the head—again.

He had parked close to the cart return knowing it would save him precious moments. He whirled the cart and caught it by the handle. A quick alignment and shove sent it flying across the parking lot and into the cart return. The cart flew straight and locked itself into the row of carts with twice the force any frustrated, lonely and angst-ridden teen could muster.

John pumped his fist, stepped toward the driver’s seat and struck his head on the gate. He swore, punched the button on the key fob TWICE and stepped around to the driver’s seat as the minivan chimed and the gate began to close.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Comedy / Humour

Rating – PG

More details about the author & the book

Connect with Benjamin Wallace on Facebook & Twitter

Website 1 http://benjaminwallacebooks.com/

Website 2 http://www.dumbwhitehusband.com/


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