July 23, 2022 • 9:00 am

Look it up and learn some Yiddish!  I decided to go grocery shopping on Saturday instead of Sunday, as it was raining and the ducks were in hiding, so NO BREAKFAST FOR THEM.

The good bit was that because of the fairly heavy thunderstorms, the grocery store, which opens at 6 a.m., was almost empty at 7. Further, I did all my shopping in record time and got bargains on yogurt, bread, tuna, grapes, my weekly t-bone (a porterhouse, actually, since they were on sale), and chicken thighs. Total bill: $23 and change.  I breezed on through the store, and when I got to the checkout counter, I saw that there was only one guy ahead of me in the express lane, and he had only one item.

Then the bad news. Here’s how he paid:

Yep, IN PILES OF PENNIES, which all had to be counted out and put into the till one by one. (It’s hard to pick them off the slippery grocery belt, too.) It took forever. Why didn’t the guy put them in rolls? (That’s what the cashier asked me when we chatted.) He must have been saving up for months.

I’m sure you know the feeling: it’s always the person just ahead of you whose debit card doesn’t work, and has to go rummaging through wallet or purse to get one. Or writes out an entire check (not pre-filled-out), with the checkbook first fished with difficulty out of a purse. Or doesn’t have enough money to pay, and has to decide which items to leave unbought at the counter.  Or has 30 items in a 15-item express line. If I were paranoid, I’d say that this guy knew I was coming, emptied his penny jar, and then found a way to get right ahead of me in line.

But of course that’s dumb. But it does seem that the slow people are always ahead of me. I think everyone must feel like that sometimes.

One more bit of tsouris. (I get to gripe because this is my site.) Above the first floor mailboxes in my department a pipe in the ceiling is dripping condensate, which fall into the office as well as the mailboxes, are set into the wall outside the office. (It can’t be fixed without removing the wall, so they’ve set drip pans inside the office. GUESS WHOSE MAILBOX IS DIRECTLY UNDER THE DRIP?  You got i!! Mine!  There’s nothing like reaching into your mailbox and grabbing a handful of soggy envelopes and magazines. No other mailbox has this problem. Fortunately, the lovely office staff moved my mailbox, so that one’s solved. But I’ll never get the time back that I waited watching the cashier count those pennies.

Oh, one more: it’s always when you’re in a hurry when your shirt catches on the door handle—and sometimes rips.

As my father used to say to me in (bad) Yiidish when I was a kid: “Tsouris mit mon”: “Troubles as numerous as poppy seeds”.

Feel free to have a Saturday vent below. Tsouris mit mon!

68 thoughts on “Tsouris!

  1. Think how embarrassed Mr. PENNYPACKER must’ve been. You & I have cards or paper…this poor soul was reduced to robbing the piggy bank

  2. You were a model of patience. Not the French.Once in a French store, there were many check out cashiers but only one quick one, called the Caisse Rapide. When one guy went there with one or two items, there was no one there to check him out. So he went around the store yelling loudly “Ou est la caisse rapide?”, over and over and over until finally someone showed up. You are right about cheaters on lines of ten items of less. No one, including the cashier, enforces this rule.

    1. Here it is ‘car guards’ (does that job exist in the US?) and the like that pay in small coins, that is what they get. I have patience with them, most are extremely poor.

    1. There’s also the Van Morrison tune “Days Like This,” which turns the usual lament about momma telling me there will be days like this on its head:

      1. Thanks much, Ken. This also brings back fond memories of my younger days when I had fun playing sax, alto, tenor, and bari.

  3. I can’t help but wonder why the guy had to pay for one item in pennies. Could he be totally broke and can’t even afford to buy coin rolls? Granted, he could have wrapped them in newspaper strips, but I doubt that anyone that broke is caring much about that. And then I wonder what if his kid broke open his piggy bank and sent him on an errand to buy something? I wonder what he bought. He might have found this Spanish treasure lying around his room and just felt like spending the motherload.

    I always wonder about the people standing in line at the grocery store. It helps to pass the time.

  4. צרות עולם ראשון – first world tsouris.

    What I wonders is whether pennyman could only afford his purchase by those means.

    1. I refuse to be made to feel bad by kvetching about a person who might be poor. For anybody, rich or poor, CAN TAKE THEIR PENNIES TO THE DAMN BANK, have them counted in a counting machine, and get the equivalent in dollars or larger coins. And it’s free!

      1. May not even have to go to a bank. Most of the food stores I go to have DIY coin counting machines. (They charge a small fee, but very convenient.)

  5. Most supermarkets have self-checkout as an alternative to standing in line. Apparently, they believe that the revenue lost at the self-checkout due to stealing is more than made up by the money saved in reducing the number of employees.

    Self-checkout is a real pain, especially when the customer has many items. I will always stand on the human checkout line as long as I don’t perceive the wait as intolerably long.

    1. In the UK we have embraced self checkouts in a big way. If you have only a basket of goods, there may be ten or twenty self checkouts available. It’s much faster than queueing in the “basket only” queue.

      Even better, we now have smart shopping. As you enter the shop you pick up a scanner or open the app on your mobile phone and you scan the goods yourself as you pick them off the shelves. When you check out, you scan a barcode on the checkout. The list of things you have bought gets uploaded to the checkout and you just pay. You don’t even have to unload and repack all your goods. It’s vastly better than queueing up for a human.

      1. I love walking around the supermarket with my bar-code ‘gun’, both scanning and packing as I go. Was wonderful during Covid as it minimised contact with others and allowed a quick in-and-out raid. Also in the UK it’s been a long while since any supermarket allowed payment by cheque; they really were a nuisance.

    2. Call me a modern Luddite if you wanna, but I’ll start using the self-checkout once there’s a minimum guaranteed income. Until then, I’ll stand with the working men and women keeping their jobs at the registers.

      1. I don’t use self checkouts either. I wait in line for a working human even if self-checkouts are lineless. I don’t want to encourage the transfer of labor to me for free away from people who provide a useful service, get paid to do it, and need the money more than I need to save a few cents on groceries.

        High mandated minimum wages further incent the replacement of labour with machines wherever feasible.
        Welfare for all, er, guaranteed minimum income incents not working at all.
        Neither of these progressive policies seems conducive to having checkout-staff as far as I can see.

      2. In South Africa, at least in my area, I haven’t seen self-checkouts. I guess because labour is much cheaper here. Or maybe we steal much more? (Note that these reasons are not exclusive).

  6. Tsouris is a great Yiddish word, but I tend to associate it more with personal problems—such as the troubles that resulted when my sister was arrested for illegally cutting down a tree in a state park when she was a teenager. Or, marital problems. This is how my grandparents used the word. You know: Tsouris!

    But yes, the pennies incident is an example.

    1. Ugh. I totally agree with you, Robert. And those Mitsubishi or Subaru-type cars with the muffler altered to sound like a weedeater on steroids. Loathsome!

      1. When I drove a motorcycle, long long ago, my vehicle was a very refined BMW R50, which purred like kitten. One time, I cracked the muffler in a minor spill, after which the motorcycle sounded like a Harley. I delayed getting it fixed for months, to enjoy the thrill of driving a bike that at last
        sounded like a “hog”.

  7. I don’t know how many pennies there are there – it doesn’t look a huge amount, but as a shop owner I might be tempted to tell somebody using a very large number of pennies to find something else to pay with.

      1. You fell in to my trap. The law of legal tender does not come in to play here because legal tender is only about court acceptance of debt payments. There is no obligation for a private business to accept any particular form of payment – at least not in US federal law.

        There may even be restrictions on legal tender. I don’t know what the rules are in the USA but if you want to pay a debt in pennies in the UK (that’s the British coin representing £0.01, not the US coin representing $0.01) it’s only legal tender up to 20p (£0.20). If your debt is £0.21, the creditor doesn’t have to accept 21 pennies.

        1. 5103, entitled “Legal tender,” states: “United States coins and currency [including Federal Reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal Reserve Banks and national banks] are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.” This statute means that all U.S. money as identified above is a valid and legal …

      2. It’s legal tender

        So are C-notes, but I see plenty of signs in corner stores and bodegas saying they won’t cash anything over a $20 (especially in the hours after dark) — usually in neighborhoods were you don’t want to cause a ruckus by quoting to the cashier from the fine print regarding “legal tender” in the upper-right quadrant of the bill next to Ben Franklin’s face.

        1. Yeah, one of my favorite taco shops won’t accept anything over a $20 no matter what time of day it is. Sometimes I wonder if that’s still the case for orders over $20.

  8. Recently I went to the grocery down at the corner for a few items. I got in the Express line. The person in front of me had a full cart. I said, in a gentle tone, “Excuse me, were you aware this is a 12 item or less line?”. They replied, “Oh is it” and relocated to a different cashier. Truly!

    1. Isn’t there always a big sign saying “12 items or less” (it should be “fewer”)? People don’t seen to read, or don’t care, but I’ve never seen one YIELD like the one you met!

      1. Yes, they have two signs in this store in bold type. The “less” instead of “fewer” drives me a little crazy; I always correct that silently in my mind.

      2. Cashiers seem to let customers slide by with two or three items over the limit — kinda like the Highway Patrol at a speed trap letting you get away with 5 mph over the speed limit.

    2. You got off lucky. Sometimes people answer “fuck you” to suggestions, no matter how gentle.

      1. Well, Emily’s suggestion was really an admonition, nicely expressed though I’m sure it was.

    3. The definitive story about abuses of express checkouts comes courtesy of Manhattan folk singer Christine Lavin. Nemesis and schadenfreude.

      Historical note. During Mitt Romney’s presidential run, his wife made some reference to the early years of their marriage when they were just getting by and couldn’t afford a kitchen table. She said they used an ironing board instead. I’m convinced she lifted that improbable reference from Christine’s song….or play, as she styled it.

      1. I remember that! It’s a great example of where Romney could be so politically tone-deaf. It never made sense. Not only does he come from a wealthy family, one can find tables that people have put out on the curb in most neighborhoods. Eating dinner off an ironing board is Monty Pythonish.

    4. The store I go to has employees who direct (herd might be more apt) customers to particular checkout lanes to keep line lengths down. One day, my cart clearly had 20+ items, and the customer herder directed me to the 15 items or less line. I let her know that I had over 20 items – probably close to 30. She said, “That’s fine”. I refused, and I was so upset that she would put me in that situation. I wanted to break out into a Larry David style rant: “What will the cashier think?! What about the other customers?! Think of the moral implications!”

      1. You should have gone for the rant. I think the world could use a few more Larry David style rants.

  9. All the stupid in the world and all the stupid people that perpetuate it. More like Weltschmerz I guess but I’m at my breaking point. COVID levels rise but no one wants to do anything because they don’t like to so the disease spreads, worsening immune systems with each successive infection in an individual, Monkey Pox but we don’t want to bother vaccinating, extinction of monarch butterflies but no one cares because you can’t monetize a butterfly like you can pesticides, airport screw ups but airlines are greedy so sell too many tickets and no one realky cares because families sleeping in airports with lost luggage is no big deal when you are making all that money, hospitals shutting down because doctors are sick but no one cares if they aren’t the ones to use hospitals.

  10. Banks give coin wrappers away for free. When I was a young woman, waiting tables and pretty darned broke, I would take my wrapped coins to the grocery store cashier/customer assistance counter with name and address stickers on each one and the cashier would exchange them for bills. Then I would shop, so the check-out cashier didn’t have to deal with a bunch of wrapped coins. There were times I was looking for spare change beneath the couch or between the cushions to make bus fare. Guy has no excuse for dumping a bunch of pennies down like that.

  11. Many markets have coin kiosks where you pour in your loose change and get some form of money back (paper money, store credit, I don’t know). That would have been simple for this person to do (if there were one of these machines in the store). Of course, you lose something like 5-10% on your coinage, but that would be thoughtful.

  12. “Look it up and learn some Yiddish!”

    I did look it up and came across this interesting tidbit:

    “Tsuris is a Yiddish word, but its root is the Hebrew tzarah, meaning trouble; its relative, litzrot, means to become narrow or to be in a tight place, says Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. . . . Leo Rosten, writing in The Joys of Yiddish,, points out that the singular of tsuris is tsorah or tsureh. Adds Kleinbaum: ‘What is interesting is that tsuris does not really exist in the singular, because Jews don’t do trouble in the singular. It has to be in the plural.'” Your dad was right.

  13. In Canada, we ditched the penny as legal tender years ago (although banks will still accept them when rolled. They’re then returned to the mint to be taken out of circulation.). The transition provided a unique opportunity for charities to fund-raise ahead of the deadline by encouraging people to donate their pennies before they ceased to be usable. They made quite a haul.

    So far, I’ve not seen anyone try to pay for goods with a fistful of nickels.

    1. “a fistful of nickels”

      Wasn’t that the title of Sergio Leone’s 1964 spaghetti western, pre-inflation? 🙂

  14. So the common saying, “good weather for ducks”, is totally wrong? My mind is blown! (Actually, that’s what I would have guessed though I gave some chance to them coming out to be fed.)

  15. You purchased a porterhouse, chicken thighs, yogurt, bread, tuna, and grapes for…$23? In Chicago? A metsiya!

    1. The meat, bread, tuna and grapes were on sale, the yogurt was free because when I accumulate enough “points” I get free food. I am a frugal shopper and usually buy stuff when it’s on sale. Fruit and veg I get at Hyde Park Produce, where the regular prices are reasonable.

  16. On another subject, but one I have wanted to gripe about- There seems to be a recent trend in film to light scenes very darkly, to the point where sometimes the screen is almost completely black, and you have to work out what is going on by the sounds and what few glimmers of shapes are visible.
    Yes, the old technique of “day for night” was sometimes off-putting, and I am not referring to scenes like the candle lit ones in Berry Lyndon, where the screen is mostly black, but the faces and details important to the scene are clearly visible.
    I thought at first it was just me, until one evening my wife blurted out that she hates it when they do this. My night vision is fine, and we usually watch on a very large, high quality TV in a darkened room.
    We were watching the latest Dune last night, and during one such scene, all I could think of was that the FX shots that are too dark to see were likely very expensive.
    I can see how very dark shots might be effective in just the right theater, but they do this on episodic streaming shows as well.
    On the other hand, we saw “Nope” in the theater yesterday, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. The makers of these shows will just tell you that it’s all your fault that your TV is set up wrong. They need to realize we don’t all watch TV the way they do.

    2. The worst thing was old films where night scenes were filmed in the day, the next worse night scenes where everything is floodlit.. out of a city, nights are dark! If you are not in the Arctic/Antarctic summer 😁

  17. Tsuris in west coast urban life. (1) Gigantic townhouse developments under construction within 2 blocks of, uhhh, everywhere. (2) Piles of rubbish on sidewalks here and there, alongside parked live-in RVs. (3) Special, drastic discounts in certain supermarkets that are available only to illuminati who have some kind of coupon on an app in their smartphone.

  18. Pretty sure in the UK shops can refuse small change over a certain amount. Not as if you could not change this in a bank! Selfish.

  19. I recently waited in line at Safeway for quite some time while the person in front of me tried to negotiate a discount on a pot plant because she claimed that the leaves looked a bit ropey.

  20. “Small change got rained on with his thirty-eight
    And nobody flinched down by the arcade
    And the marquees weren’t weeping, they went stark-raving mad”
    Tom Waits
    could not help thinking of these lyrics in regard to the penny story. Not that you wanted to rain on ‘small change’ with his own thirty-eight. 😛
    But, in some circumstances in these days of intolerance and self-absorption, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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