Those rows are for self-checkout, whispers The Sister, seeing me puzzle at the complex-looking machines that bleep and blink as goods, cash and credit cards are passed through them with ease by competent shoppers – a class into which your columnist has not graduated.
I shudder and The Sister astutely pushes us into a long line of customers opting for contact with a human. It is pensioner day, a Western retail invention designed to encourage Old Wobbly through the door. The human engages in kindly repartee with the retired, each of whom undoubtedly knows how to navigate the irrational depths of a large Australian supermarket and has surely been able to cross more than a pitiful 30 percent of items off their list.
No. No. No. I reply to questions about loyalty cards, Fly Buys and discount vouchers. Would you like any cash out today, dear? Who wouldn’t, Dimwit? But no, thanks.
We are through, and it is just a carton of cigarettes I need from the tobacco counter. I take deep breaths and count the individual packets of my brand in the display case as the attendant goes to the moon to search in vain for my carton.
I’ll have those 10 packets there, then.
But that would spoil my display.
Look, it’s not my problem if you can’t manage your stock supply. I’ll have those 10 packets. Now.
Stomp, stomp. Packets hurled into bag.
Perhaps, I privately concede, the recently canvassed bad attitude of shop assistants in Bali is a global affliction.
The Playmate and I confront a discount warehouse in search of a lightweight blanket for those cool Bali nights when a duvet is too heavy and a sheet too light. The product to be inspected is advertised in a junk mail brochure retrieved from the post box (remember those?) on a Wednesday and the search occurs on Thursday.
Look in Row 11, says the cashier, pointing into the invisible distance beyond big aisles cluttered with low-priced goods and chattels of unfathomable utility. If you can’t find them, ask someone in a blue shirt.
There are no blue shirts in the bowels of this bargain basement. But there is the blanket, on the top level of the sky-high shelving.
I leap onto a cardboard carton, then place one booted foot on a lower shelf as the carton begins to slip away from the shelf. The back seam of my jeans groans in protest, just as the Playmate rounds the corner and rushes the unbearably long length of the aisle to attempt a rescue that is far from smooth and wholly devoid of elegance.
My boot heel has embedded itself in the carton, so The Playmate wrenches my other foot from the shelf and wrestles me to the ground where I lie, seriously debilitated, as the carton – which I fear may be an awkward appendage on my foot forever – weighs me down.
As The Playmate wrenches and twists in a well-meaning but hardly helpful effort to separate heel from carton, I lie with my carton leg indecorously raised and glimpse, cunningly concealed behind an unrelated product, another stash of the coveted blankets.
Gotcha, I screech, snatching at one with a force that releases boot heel from carton, causing The Playmate to rocket backwards and clatter into the adjacent array of tin pot kitchen pans and utensils.
You’re more of a fedora man, I giggle. He is wearing a baking pan. It’s too big anyway, I offer, dusting him off with the hand that isn’t clutching the blanket.
We hobble the long and silent trek back to the cashier, who, being unable to confirm that my prize is the one in the catalogue, though it bears the same label and prices, uses long-distance technology to summons a blue shirt.
As we wait, a light flashes in what passes for the cashier’s head. Through deadpan features she asks to see the brochure and declares: Oh, this is Friday’s catalogue.
But today is Thursday and we got it yesterday, and that would be Wednesday (you moron).
Blue Shirt, sweating its way from beyond row 11, snatches the blanket from my grip, takes a defensive step back and asserts: Today this product is $40; tomorrow it will be $25.
See you tomorrow then, Lovey, smirks Deadpan.
In your dreams, Dumbo.
Age is teaching me that most things in life happen for a reason and, as it turns out, we are now the delighted owners of two far superior throw rugs. Hmmm, mine feels like Thomas, croons The Playmate, stroking his blanket and referring to a recently departed feline of whom he was very fond.
And mine feels like Sally, I realise, applying the same strokes to the furry rug that I would to the much-loved and ageing golden retriever who insistently presents herself for a full-body massage whenever I’m in her neck of the Southwest Australian forests.
So now Thomas and Sally are keeping us warm through the chill of Bali’s July nights with their furry coats and quirky characters. And that’s cool.