“Delicious Potato Tots! Frozen and baked in the oven, for only $1.99! ” Daphne announced it in the exact same forced sugar-y sweet way every time a customer arrived.
Daphne was in her late thirties with red hair, lavender plastic framed glasses and waxy coral lipstick. She was loud, sassy and outspoken with the crew, but on the floor, she spoke to customers as if she were speaking to a class of preschoolers, repeating the same thing over and over.
Andre and I relieved Daphne, jazzed to have three hours together to officially rate the shirtless cell phone pics of his latest dates. Andre was my first friend at freshman orientation at BU. He was a voice major in college, with gorgeous mocha skin and a comically bright white smile.
Andre held his phone under the counter. "Isn't he so gorgeous? He's short, but he's half Filipino and half Japanese, so whatever. Oh! We ran out of tater tots. I don’t know what’s up next. Oh yeah, and Charles wants us to wear the baseball caps. No exceptions. Sorry, I know it makes you look a bit butch with that short hair.”
A couple of customers stood by the sneeze guard staring at us, expecting to be fed.
“Sorry, we’re all done with the Potato Tots!” Andre said with a big smile.
One shrugged and kept shopping. The other huffed and shook her head.
Andre whispered to me as we faced the back counter. “Accept it, bitch! WE GOT NO MORE TOTS!”
Another customer appeared. “What’s for lunch today? Oh!” she looked up at the sign. “I’ll have a tater tot!”
“Sorry, we’re switching to something new,” I said over my shoulder as I wiped down the back counter.
“You mean there aren’t any at all back there? Am I going to get to try anything else?” she whined.
I saw her eye the couple of tots Andre and I saved on a paper plate for Ruby.
“Yeah! Cheese and crackers are coming at some point," I turned around and re-engaged the lady.
"Okay, I'll have that then," she said and leaned on the counter.
"Sorry, but it'll be about ten minutes while we set up," Andre said, flashing his ultra-white smile.
The lady looked dissatisfied. "Well I only came in here for a little snack so I guess I'll be going."
Customers flocked to the Demo counter as soon as they heard the cracker boxes rip open.
“Welcome to Trader Joe’s, Coolidge Corner! Would you like some Cotswold and Rosemary Melba Crackers?” Andre said in a nasally, cartoonish voice.
Some customers said thank you, some left their paper plate on the counter, some came back for multiple samples, gobbling them down with crumbs falling on their chests.
"These are for my...cousin," one guy announced as he grabbed three plates at once.
One person reached right under the sneeze guard to grab a hunk of cheese from our supply. I felt like stabbing him with my twelve inch knife.
Contain yourself, man! I thought, as I smiled and politely stopped him with, “Oops! No hands behind the sneeze guard, please!”
I was starting to talk like Daphne.
“I’m liking this,” said a man with wire glasses and grey hair, tall and slightly hunched. He pet a grey stuffed animal sitting in the child seat of his cart.
“Well, Wanda,” he told the toy, “it’s getting late and I think we should go.”
Andre didn’t seem phased. “Bye, Wanda!”
“I like your seal,” I told the man.
“Its. A. Walrus!” he retorted, insulted and shocked. He grabbed another sample, swung his cart around, head held high, and stomped to an express register.
Just then, a shrill voice called out from the other end of the store. “CHOW MAN IS COMIN TUHMARROWWWWWW…… I know who’s comin' tomorroooow! …...Chowman’s comin' tomorrow, Chow man’s comin' tomorrow!”
Like a kid on a playground, a woman’s voice sing-songed the prophecy.
I finally saw her as the howls grew closer: she was maybe fifty, with buzzed white hair, a backpack, and a Red Socks jacket. She had a bit of a hook nose, a childlike lopsided grin, and an unpeeled banana clutched to her chest. She repeated her mantra over and over again. The volume and enthusiasm increased.
Some of the customers ignored her, and some looked confused.
"Oh, that's Chow Lady," Andre answered me. "Anyway, are you opposed to viewing some dick pics?"