One Potato, Two Potato

Does anyone remember the classic commercial that depicted a meticulously slow supermarket checker chanting a singsong “one potato [ching], two potato [ching]” as she rang up the individual items in the shopper’s order? I can’t even remember what it was advertising — a supermarket chain? A self-checkout technology? Latkes? — but for a while it was what is now called a “meme.” 1970’s, 80s, it’s all getting blurry.

I thought of it yesterday when I popped into the Home Goods store in the block behind my gym, one of those overstock-remainder places that offers a potluck assortment of home furnishings, kitchenware and what have you. The haul in these places is always a little random and bizarre. You go in looking for a bath mat and come out with a candelabra.

I think they are trying to upscale the “shopping experience,” because I was mugged with warmth from every store employee I encountered and the checkout area had been improved with great wide counters and LED numbers that told you where to bring your cart. The diminutive woman who checked me out, her accent unplaceable, proceeded to wrap everything in my order with two or three sheets of coarse paper, carefully taped down at three or four places on each side. The mirror and the glass picture frame, well, it made sense, and I hate to pick on obvious immigrants working shit-jobs, so I held still for the little plexiglass organizer designed to hold various unguents and small jars (a constant in my professional life). I counted backwards from 100 while she carefully inserted three or four plastic bags one into the next and then stood back from her work and said “Now I am ready,” before feeding the thickly wrapped picture frame into the resulting industrial-strength condom. But eventually I had to say gently: “I see a lot more people just finished shopping. That’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” she said, looking stricken.

“It’s fine,” I said, and gathered my bags.

She was really thorough.


I wish she worked for the people who packed the Engineer’s glass desk.


4 thoughts on “One Potato, Two Potato

  1. How endearingly maddening. I run across this same thing occasionally—and it is always people who are not native to the US who do this. It sort of gets to me, imagining the reasons (other than good customer service) why they might feel inspired to be so careful with objects and supplies that are, to me, basically disposable if they break or crack.

    • I hadn’t thought in that direction. I did get a sense that she had been told to wrap everything that might be breakable and was erring on the side of extreme caution.

  2. Ah, but what if the soap had opened and spilled everywhere? She was making sure your stuff didn’t get slimed!

    It’s probably more fun to wrap stuff than check people out. Or maybe she is having Christmas present wrapping withdrawals?

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