It happened. If finally happened. It was Saturday afternoon, just after 4 p.m. at Hannaford when, after years of trying, I finally reached grocery bagging Nirvana. Everything just came together in one glorious bagging moment right there at the self checkout, where hundreds of strangers fiercely compete to see who can bag up their goods in the most tidy and efficient manner.  

Mark LaFlamme

At least I assume that’s not just me. 

I’d been practicing my bagging skills hard ever since self-checkout became a thing, and on this day, all that toil and study came together in a moment of geometric perfection. 

The jar of peanuts fit in precisely next to the box of (not chocolate) Graham crackers. The packets of cat food slid obediently into a little space at the corner of the bag and the fit was perfect. All dangerously heavy items had been packed first so the thin-sliced Swiss cheese was protected near the top and made the ride home in confidence. 

I had packed my store-bought bag with such finesse, I fully expected a high-ranking store official to come running out of a hidden room all aglow with stunned admiration for what I had done. Bells would sound and hundreds of colored balloons would fall around us as the fawning store manager rushed out with champagne in hand. 

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” he would say, all trembling and breathless in his awe. “Not since the Schmidt boy’s four-bag miracle of 2004. You have achieved what every bagger dreams of at night when his tired head hits the pillow. My friend, we’d like to formally invite you to this year’s Bagging Grand Prix in Honolulu, Hawaii. YOU are the champion we’ve been waiting for!” 

Of course, by this point all the shoppers in the store would have come to a halt to bear witness to such inspiring history. Hands to foreheads, women would swoon and faint in the aisles. Envious men would grit their teeth and vow that from this day forward, they would train even harder on the bags so that one day this glory might be their own. 

The applause, slow and tentative at first, would gradually grow into a thunderous ovation that could be heard for blocks and, what can I do? I’ve got to take a bow here . . . 

Weirdly, none of that happened. I paid for my groceries, glanced around to see if anyone at all had witnessed the majesty of my feat, and then, deflated, slunk out of the store with my bag of perfection tucked under an arm. I didn’t get any champagne or even a stupid balloon. 

I fancied that one of the bag boys gave me an appreciative nod as I passed, but I could have been imagining that.  

I tell you, for most of my adult life, I have appreciated the men and women who bag groceries at the store. It’s not just that they manage such a variety of oddly shaped items with such Tetris-like precision, but that they do it with distractions of all kinds raging around them. 

I once saw a bag girl tidily fit a mountain of groceries into a single bag even as the shopper viciously berated her, with an array of four-letter words and ad hominem insults, for failing to honor a seven-year-old coupon. I’ve seen baggers smile and nod politely in the face of neurotic rages that bordered on violence. 

“Yes, sir; no, sir; I’m sorry, sir. I have placed your chuck roast in a separate bag for your convenience. Be mindful of this bag, sir, it contains the eggs.” 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. A checkout line is like a broiling petri dish of human behavior and a lot of those behaviors are ugly. 

The brave men and women who bag groceries, many of them teenagers, routinely endure misdirected verbal abuses all while taking great care to never bruise the bananas or squish the bread. Even the most unrestrained harangue cannot distract them from the art of arranging groceries according to shape and size and fragility so that no goods will be damaged as the sharp-tongued shopper hauls them home. 

When I was a money-starved teen, I pumped gas for dough, and I tell you sincerely that there are a lot of lessons to be learned in dispensing fuel, checking oil and washing the windshields for people who treat you with less respect than something scraped from the bottom of their shoes. 

I reckon it’s the same for grocery baggers, who spend long hours maintaining strict order within the bags even as a distinct lack of order rules the world around them. Anyone who can make heavy canned goods and weirdly shaped vegetables play nice with soft fruit and delicate cartons of eggs — all while a shrieking harpy demands to see a manager — is probably going to be OK no matter what the broader world throws at them. 

They develop fortitude, these baggers, and patience that borders on inhuman. They’ve either had good upbringing, good training or both.

So, you can hardly blame me for admiring these folks and wanting to emulate them the best I can, even though I’m typically horrendous at bagging groceries. (Don’t even get me started on the pudding disaster of 2019. I had no idea that ham was so heavy!) 

Sadly, though, the days of grocery baggers seem to be dwindling as more and more people opt for self-checkout and just about everybody brings their own bags to the stores — bags they will insist on filling on their own, as if these amateurs have the training and aforementioned fortitude to do so. 

My moment of bagging glory passed unnoticed, but I’ve come to accept it. Why should I be showered with praise, no matter how richly deserved, when these hardworking men and women perform their bagging miracles all day, every day with almost no recognition or thanks at all? 

I, too, shall bag my groceries with quiet humility and unwavering grace, expecting nothing at all in return for the breathtaking mastery of my work. 

Which is not to say that if the store wants to give me a little trophy or something I’d refuse it outright . . . 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: