Charlie (not his real name) was shopping at a Giant Eagle, one of the chain grocery stores dominating the food market in the Pittsburgh area.
He has the practice – when using a cart – of loading as many items as he can on the “seat” area (where one of those squirmy toddlers could sit when the parent doesn’t trust the little dear to be mobile with lots of things within reach).
He just piles up items in the “seat” area of the cart, and only for heavy purchases does he place things in the deep belly of the cart. For example, a 20-pound bag of dog food (he has four dogs).
All right – it isn’t some guy hiding behind “Charlie” – it’s me. Mention of the four dogs would have been a sure giveaway. But I figured I may as well “out” myself rather than worrying about others thinking I’m bucking for holiness. I did something honest.
Holiness isn’t what is being considered here – public sentiment about honesty is.
Back in the Giant Eagle, when I would arrives at the check-out counter, I would simply point to the heavy items in the bottom of the cart. They’re rung up without my having to lift them (another sure giveaway).
A few days ago, I had finished checking out, walked to the parking lot, located his car, popped open the trunk, began placing items into the trunk – when I went to reach for the heavy purchases at the bottom of the cart (a big bag of dog food and a 12-pack of ginger ale), and realized, “I forgot to tell the cashier!”
I read over the receipt – read it again – yep, these items weren’t tabulated. I had walked out of the store without paying for these things. No beeping alarms went off; no Giant Eagle employee stopped me in the parking lot. I thought, “Is this was freedom feels like?” But it was not virtuous freedom; rather, it was sneaky freedom. I had gotten away with something.
Years previously, I was a store worker in a food co-op in Pittsburgh’s university neighborhood, Oakland. The Semple Street Food Co-op was small and crowded but with a folksy, mom & pop store in atmosphere. One day, I was working as a cashier when a young woman with a toddler bought a few items. She left – but then returned in a few minutes.
“I found out that forgot to pay for a few things,” she said. The young mom continued, “If this were Giant Eagle, I wouldn’t bother. But I didn’t want to cheat the co-op.”
That reason – and other justifications – were rifling through my mind years later out in the parking lot of the Giant Eagle. “It wasn’t my fault. I would have paid for it. The cashier never rang up the items” in addition to the populist reasoning – “It’s Giant Eagle. They’re not going to miss my twenty dollars.”
I checked the grocery receipt one more time – just to make sure. Yep – these items weren’t checked out. I locked the Chevy and walked back to the store, pushing the grocery cart with the two large items in the carriage.
I located the check-out aisle where I had just been rung up. I got back into line. As my turn approached, I looked at the name tag for the cashier. “Herman.” When I got there, I said, “Herman – we forgot to check out these items.”
He looked at me – stunned!
He remained looking stunned as he tabulated the items, and when we were finished, he said, “Thank you for your honesty!”
He never asked me, “Why did you do it?” I never volunteered, “I’m a minister.” I preferred that an act of honesty just occur as something that could be regarded as normal.