James Lileks
See more of the story

Went to the store for poultry, popcorn and certain frozen breakfast items. They were out of poultry, popcorn and certain frozen breakfast items.

And I mean out. Bare shelves. The Florida stores the day before a hurricane looked bounteous in comparison. Not a stocker in sight, either. I didn’t want to ask an employee a stupid question, like, “Do you have any spare popcorn in the back that you save for hurricanes?” because they’d bark a query into the walkie-talkie, and then people around the store would hear the same dire recording:

“Customer needs assistance in Aisle 12. Who is responding?”

That always makes people anxious. What happens if no one responds? What happens if the response is late? Are there cameras in the ceiling, and someone at the control center has a stopwatch going to see if a clerk hustles over in a 23-second window?

Besides, it’s almost an existential question. There are times all of us want to shout “Who is responding?” to the skies above.

By the time I learned the store was out of everything I wanted, I had filled the cart with things I had no advance intention of getting. So ... I could put all that stuff back, or I could just leave the cart and go to another store. But that would be wrong. We don’t leave a cart full of things for someone else to restock.

There was a third option, of course: buying all the stuff I never intended to buy and then complaining about it later. Being a passive-aggressive Minnesotan, that’s the route I chose.

After checking out, I looked at the receipt to see if there was a survey. “Yes! I am going to bury you in 4s.”

I went online to take the survey. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company to family and friends?” In truth, zero, because I’m pretty sure no one’s hanging on my advice to go there. But I put 10, because the prices are pretty good on poultry and popcorn.

“How satisfied were you with all these things irrelevant to your particular complaint?” Well, I found everything I wasn’t looking for, so I had to go with another 10.

“Did you get everything you came for?” Finally an opening for my angst. I wanted to scream: “No. I am a citizen of the United States, pal, and I’m pretty sure that the Constitution guarantees access to chicken at 7:40 on a Monday evening.

There should have been this question: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to forget about this completely and go back in three days to buy eggs, a 24-pack of bathroom tissue, a candle, and windshield wipers?” I’d give that a 1. Next question: “OK, seriously. How likely?” Grudgingly: 10, OK?

I left my number so they could call me back to discuss the issue because it was easier than just standing on a street corner and saying, “I have no sense of perspective about what really matters in life.”

They called when I was in a meeting; I didn’t answer. By then I was somewhat ashamed and worried I would get a chicken-stocker in trouble. It’s not like I was perfect. When I put my cart in the corral I left it at an angle, so someone would have to push it to get it lined up with the rest.

We Minnesotans can have such a mean streak.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks