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We all go into grocery stores and come out with our wallets empty and our internal budgets guiltily assessing purchases we’ve made.  One needs a few extra dollars to take liberties at local markets, and big box grocery is all we can afford on a regular basis.  One often has to choose between having healthy greens to eat or more filling but less nutritious salty grains.  We go undernourished on rice and crackers, the high price tags of celery and eggplant mocking us from behind a dewy haze.  It was a problem, and necessity forced me to invent a solution.

The executive branches of many big box retail stores have eliminated the jobs of many cashiers with the installation of many self-checkout lines.  Each self-checkout box is equipped with a friendly voice and a weight for weighing items without bar codes.  It isn’t the same as having a real cashier, who recognizes and knows intimately things like bananas and squash, but the self -checkout lines do have their benefits.

The machine greets you; it asks you if you have a savings card, you tell it that you don’t, and begin scanning the bar codes of each of your items.  If you have a head of lettuce or a potato, you find the picture of it in the PLU bank and it weighs it and prices it according to the prices listed  in the hazy, watery section of the produce aisle.  If you have an avocado, you select the picture of an avocado from the list and pay the five dollars it costs to buy avocados.

Or, if you’re like me, you quite don’t tell the machine what you have at all.  If you have something expensive, like broccoli or celery, you tell that machine that you have something cheaper than what you really have.  Like green onions.  Or garlic cloves.  Or cabbage, the cheapest thing in the store.

I call it cabbaging.  I charge everything I can as cabbage.  My sales receipt reads like I’m throwing a party for bunny rabbits.  Eggplant is thirty-nine cents in cabbage, onions are forty.  We’re eating asparagus up in my apartment, living the dream.  If you avoid the barcode right, you can even cabbage non-produce items.  I frequent the bourgeois olive bar often, seventy-five cabbage cents for a cup of kalamatas.  I cabbage Vitamin C when I get a cold.  Once, I even cabbaged a huge bottle of cooking wine, but I wouldn’t try it again because they usually have a manager standing around watching and its hard to pretend that you didn’t mean to do that.

It would be hard to catch someone doing something like that and know what they were up to.  If a manager ever pointed out to me that my twelve pound bag of honey dew melon was not, in fact, cabbage, I would act like I didn’t understand the machine.  He would believe me, because he doesn’t completely understand the machine.  The guy behind me doesn’t completely understand the machine.  And, of course, the machine doesn’t completely understand us, because it thinks that the salad bar box full of bleu cheese and stuffed grape leaves that I’ve got is nine pounds of cabbage.

But, as with all thieveries, there is a code of honor associated with cabbaging.  Observe these five rules of cabbaging, and I trust that you’ll stay out of handcuffs and still sleep at night.

1. Dress up

Clothes make the man, or woman.   People don’t tend to look past them, and if you go into a

How many eggplants could this man cabbage?

retail grocer in a shirt and tie or a dress, or even just something neat and clean, chances are you can walk out of that place unmolested with a bag of heavily-discounted produce.  I usually just throw a blazer on.  I’ve found that it also helps to carry and refer to a grocery list.  The anonymity of the commonplace.  Who would make a list of things they wanted to steal?  Me, that’s who.

2.  Occasionally buy real cabbage

Perhaps it points to some mental infirmity, but I sometimes fear that if I buy too much faux-cabbage, that the world cabbage market will hurl out of whack and cause mass starvation in Central Asia.  Are people buying commodities shares based on the sale cabbage at the local Giant?  I really don’t know, so I make sure to occasionally buy real cabbage.  Buying real cabbage also provides insurance against getting caught.  One can scan in the real cabbage first, and then simply pretend to zone out and scan the rest as cabbage.  If someone confronts you (which hasn’t happened yet to me, and I’ve been doing it for years), just seem confused.  “Oh I guess I just scanned this twice…” or whatever.

3.  Don’t use a sales card

Even if someone has broken into their house, you will never see a drug dealer call the cops.  The idea, I think, that is if you are outside the law, you cannot use the law for its benefits.  The law isn’t a resource; it isn’t part of your lifestyle.  I take the same attitude toward the bonus cards and coupons that many of these retail grocery stores offer.   If I am operating outside of the prices given for their produce, I also can’t take their benefits.

"I make my OWN sales!"

4.  Never cabbage alcohol

Stealing produce can be seen as an accident, but there is no way that one could have mistakenly pressed the cabbage button when one has a fifteen dollar bottle of wine on the scanner.  If you try to cabbage alcohol, it will immedietely look like you’re up to something, and stores are much more likely prosecute those percieved as lowlifes than shiny, happy people with bags full of celery.

5.  Never cabbage from a grocery store with a hard wood floor

Finally- and I know it sounds arbitrary, but you’ll find that most grocery stores that respect their employees and customers above profits and bonuses tend not to include self-checkout machines.  You’ll never see a self-checkout at Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s, or Whole Foods.  And these places tend to distinguish themselves by having a wooden floor.  The businesses that do tend to install self-checkout machines are the large retail groceries, your Safeway in the West, your Food Lion in the East.  These stores often operate on a warehouse plan: few concessions are made to beauty for the customer or the employee.  They are bad places to be, and bad places to work.  One wants to steal from them.  If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.