BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – There’s a natural inclination to seek grand moral lessons in unfortunate things that happen in the world. In fact, as children we are raised on many such instructional scenarios, the lessons usually hidden within tales involving tortoises, hares, foxes, lions, grumpy farmers, misers and wolves in sheep apparel.
In ancient Greece, a guy named Aesop cornered the market on such teachable moments and would have been a hugely successful businessman is he could have registered all of his fables on the Internet under URLs like “The Tortoise and The Hare.com”, “The Ass and His Masters.com”, “The Ass in The Lion’s Skin.com” and “The Ass, The Fox and The Lion.com” … etc. Just the Ass franchise alone would have made him millions.
Sadly for Aesop there was no Internet to speak of back in those days and, besides, he was a slave, so he kind of lost out there. Instead he had to teach backward children the lessons of the fables verbally which was like leading a horse to water but not being able to teach him to drink because the water was already crowded with goats, rats, rabbits, lions and such. It is said it took Aesop three days to explain the moral of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to some kid in a toga who kept interrupting with questions like, “Why didn’t the idiot cry ‘FIRE!’ the third time instead of wolf?” and “Was that the same weird cross-dressing wolf who liked to get dolled up like a sheep?”
A real life modern day fable has been circulating for the last week or so and people who hear it argue over its moral lesson. It’s a true story and goes something like this:
“One day in Hawaii, a husband took his pregnant wife, 2-year-old daughter and a baby fox shopping at a Safeway supermarket. Wait. No, there wasn’t a fox. It was just the Leszczynski family who had recently arrived in the islands from California. Mr. L (We’re going to conserve on the unnecessary use of consonants for the rest of the fable) was a former Air Force sergeant and Mrs. L, who was, like 13 months pregnant or something, decided to go shopping with little Ms. L (aka Zophia). They got on a bus and got lost but eventually ended up at a Safeway. Mr. and Mrs. L were hungry after roaming around Honolulu so while shopping they each ate one of those gross pre-made chicken salad sandwiches that no one ever buys. They kept the wrappers with the price tag on them to show the girl at checkout and pay for them. Unfortunately, they paid about $50 for their groceries but forgot about the sandwich wrappers at the bottom of the cart and the girl at the checkout line – whose job under the Federal Supermarket Checkout Girl Guidelines it was to make sure that the entire grocery cart had been emptied – failed in her federal duty to notice the wrappers. The family proceeded to the exit where they were intercepted by a security guard who should have been out in the parking lot beating panhandlers with his flashlight. Instead, the Junior G-Man nabbed the L family trying to evade paying $5 for the sandwiches they consumed in the store. (Where was this guy when someone took a half case of Bud Lite out of the back of my pickup while ducked into Subway?) As you would expect, the couple apologized effusively for their oversight, paid for the sandwiches and went home. Wrong. Instead, they were dragged back into the store, the police were called, they were arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station and their little Miss Zophia was taken into state custody.”
And of this fable moral is?
Wait. It’s not over yet. Safeway officials eventually refused to file charges against the couple and they were released from custody a few hours later. But the state held onto their daughter until the next day. The story was picked up by local news media and then broadcast all over creation, even making it on the CBS News and, boy, did the entire Safeway empire look pretty stupid.
Safeway released a statement in which it said it was committing families … I mean, committed to serving families and in a storegasm of understatement said, “ it appears we may not have handled this matter in the best possible way.” Hmmmm. Let’s see all the possible ways the situation could have been handled.: The family could have been shot on sight walking to the bus stop. They could have been ruffed up by the security guard. They could have been allowed to pay for the sandwiches and go their way. They could have been warmly welcomed to Hawaii by the Safeway store manager after he heard their harrowing tale of being lost and hungry and he could have comped them their groceries. Yeah. Considering all the possible manners in which the situation could have been handled, Safeway didn’t quite pick the best one.
Now, in Safeway’s defense, employees have to put up with shoplifters and “in-store eaters” and con-artists every day. I go to my local Safeway almost every day and I’ve seen the people they have to deal with. But overall, they go out of their way to make their shoppers feel wanted and needed and my only gripe with them is that they never – NEVER – put bird seed on sale. But I’ve never found them Gestapoish in any way and always eager to make your shopping a pleasure. (I better be getting points for this, Merv.) In fact, I bought a sandwich from the deli the other day (fresh made – not pre-wrapped) and when I checked out they gave me a coupon for a free sandwich on my next visit.
So what is the moral of the fable “The Safeway Shoppers And the Chicken Salad Sandwiches?” There isn’t one. Although our natural inclination may be to seek moral lessons from unfortunate incidents, we can’t. This was a just a situation where a manager in one of the Safeways in Hawaii did something stupid. He (or she) screwed up. The clue that the Leszczynskis were not a family of grifters or charlatans was that they bought $50 worth of groceries. The store manager should have given them the benefit of the doubt and simply let them pay for the sandwiches. He (or she) wildly overreacted and brought shame upon the entire Safeway realm. There’s no moral here. But I have a feeling “someone” in the Safeway family won’t be getting a Christmas bonus this year.