| [Photo: Bill Keay,
The Vancouver Sun]
Don't even think about it.
A few days ago I ran into my local grocery store to pick up my favourite fresh bread. As I approached the crusty bread counter, I couldn't help noticing a middle-aged woman (OK, she was about my age) dressed in high-end tennis wear, looking sweaty and hot -- probably fresh off the court, I thought. She appeared to be in a rush as she quickly grabbed a loaf of bread and gave it a good squeeze. She then threw the bread back on the shelf and proceeded to squeeze other loaves.
Now keep in mind, this manhandled bread was half-wrapped in a paper bag, so she could have squeezed the bagged end. But no, the "lady" in question pushed the bag aside in each case and proceeded to squeeze the naked end, sometimes using both hands to do her dastardly deed. I must admit she showed no prejudice in her squeezing, first grabbing the French stick and then the challah, the pumpernickel, the rye, the Italian-style -- no loaf was safe from her probing, sweaty mitts.
After she had rejected and thrown back about a dozen loaves, I finally sputtered, "I can't believe you did that! You touched all the bread, and now I can't have any." Arrogantly, she glared at me and announced, "I didn't touch all the bread."
Walking through the store fuming, I decided to confront the offender again and, as I passed her in an aisle, I hissed, "You didn't touch all the bread, but you touched most of it!" She kept walking, totally unconcerned, but another shopper politely asked, "Are you talking to me?" I told her I wasn't but related the story of the bread squeezer.
She was as shocked as I was and encouraged me to report the woman. Spurred on by her reaction -- and the prepackaged mixture of not-too-fresh buns under my arm -- I headed for the customer service counter. I did feel a little silly, but I rationalized my zeal by focusing on the fact that I'd been denied my beloved French stick. And what about SARS? I don't even touch my own bread until I've washed my hands.
Once at the counter, the clerk seemed very sympathetic, especially when a second customer jumped on the bandwagon and backed me up. Buoyed by growing support, I insisted the manager be paged.
In the meantime, the bread squeezer was trying to make her escape through the express checkout, her own crusty bread tucked safely under her arm. I was afraid she might leave before the manager arrived, but no fear, she wasn't going anywhere without her fresh loaf, and lucky for me the express checkout wasn't living up to its name. The manager arrived and appeared aghast by my tale of woe, although he did admit there is no way to police this kind of thing.
"You just expect people to do the right thing," he said.
I pointed out the bread squeezer and started to feel pretty good about what I was trying to do -- standing up for unsuspecting bread lovers everywhere.
Wanting to do even more, I decided to try to come up with a way to prevent this kind of situation. Oh, I know what you're thinking -- no big deal, a store can just hire a security guard. But you'd be wrong, and here's why. I recently upset a carton of strawberries that ended up strewn across a grocery floor. A security guard came over and offered to pick them up for me. I thanked him and continued on my merry way, only to look back and see that, after he had collected the berries off the floor, he placed them back on the shelf! I still feel bad for the poor, unsuspecting customer who was none the wiser and ended up paying top dollar for the well-travelled berries. I wanted to say something, I really did, but the security guard had been so nice to me, offering to help and all.
Determined to never again let my guard down, I decided to do an in-depth investigation on bread squeezing (yes, this is how I spend my days). Finally, my efforts paid off. I've discovered there is at least one bread squeezer who's gotten his just desserts.
It happened in Philadelphia in November, 2000. A 38-year-old advertising executive was convicted of bread squeezing and given a US$1000 fine and 90-day suspended sentence (he was given an extra 90 days for cookie crumbling). In his remarks the judge said, "You engaged in behaviour that caused harm to people." After manhandling bread and cookies over a two-year period, the judge pointed out that the accused's actions amounted to vandalism. He also noted a psychiatric report that quoted the accused as saying the real bread squeezer was still on the loose. Aha! He was charged after the grocery manager gave police a surveillance videotape that showed the accused poking and squeezing his way through the store's bread aisle.
So there is a way to stop these bread-squeezing bandits. I'm getting out my video camera, since things are not always what they seem -- like that freshly baked bread you just bought, or those healthy, ripe strawberries. Not even my bread squeezer. After the manager approached her, she denied everything before adding, as though to prove her case, "I'm a nurse." A nurse? Who would have guessed?