The trials of tempermental tech in the grocery store

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani /

With all humility, let me say that I consider myself a reasonably intelligent man.

After four years of high school Latin, I still can speak un poco. (Oops, that’s Spanish.) Sometimes I can balance my checkbook but not all the time. And I recently repaired the flapper on our toilet, with some guidance from my wife, which is an accomplishment I’m going to put on my resume.

At the school where I teach, students call me “Professor,” which has to count for something. To tell the truth, it makes me uncomfortable because I don’t consider myself in the same league as Professor Albus Dumbledore of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Professor Robert Langdon (aka Tom Hanks) of Harvard; Professor X of the Xavier Institute of Higher Learning; and Fred MacMurray, the absentminded professor who invented flubber.

Despite these credentials, there’s one thing that makes me feel like a dimwitted imbecile — those self-checkout machines that are appearing everywhere from Walmart to ShopRite and, before you know it, Saks.

They’ve turned me into one of those people who swears at machines. I NEVER swore at my car, even when I stood on the shoulder of I-95 with the hood open, looking in befuddlement at an engine that conked out for no apparent reason other than it wanted to give me a panic attack.

In my entire journalism career, I NEVER swore at my computer when it “ate” my story a few minutes before deadline. And I swear on a stack of holy Bibles that I didn’t hit the delete button.

Nevertheless, there I was, cussing in public at the self-checkout machine at the supermarket because it kept insisting, “UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT IN THE BAGGING AREA! CALL THE ATTENDANT OR RISK CRIMINAL PROSECUTION!”

For a long time, I resisted checking myself out, but I finally had to because cashiers are an endangered species. I figured if little old ladies who don’t know how to use a cell phone could do it, so could I! Wrong again.

My attempt was plagued by a series of missteps. When the machine asked for my phone number, I kept putting in the wrong digits because the keypad had a different configuration than my phone, and the 8 was where the 0 should have been. Don’t blame me. Blame the supermarket. (Attendant required.)

Then, I couldn’t find the bar code on a floral arrangement for my wife. (Attendant required.)

Then, I pressed the wrong button, and it registered a dozen doughnuts instead of one. (At that point, the swearing started.) Then, it charged me for a bag even though I brought my own.

Then, I apparently broke the scanner, so the attendant had to come with her special key and secret passcode and override my attempt to sabotage the system.

I could tell by the way she looked at me that she thought I was the problem and not the scanner. But the truth is that I can speak Latin, and the scanner can barely speak English, and it certainly can’t repair the flapper on a toilet, with or without my wife’s assistance, so I rest my case.

I sheepishly pushed my carriage out of the supermarket and said, “Thank you very much” to the attendant, but she looked the other way, probably because she thought I was a psycho who should be locked up in a maximum security prison far from civilization and modern technology.

When I told my wife about my pathetic performance, she yelled, “WHY do you insist on doing that?!? This isn’t Russia! You’re paying good money for those groceries, and you’re paying for bags, so the least they can do is check you out!” For once, I agreed with her.

The truth is that I don’t want people to think I’ve joined the ranks of raving lunatics who kick and swear and pound on machines. I want to be considered a respected member of the community and have people call me “professor” ... even if the self-checkout is smarter.

Joe Pisani can be reached at