Checkout Ertel: Express Lane Only


It started off like any other grocery store excursion, but I had spent the week leading up to this trip in preparation. Long, sleepless nights spent staring intently at a blank notepad, a pencil resting uselessly by its side. Frustration builds up quickly when you’re in a creative rut. I suppose I was no different from my writing forefathers: Hemingway, Wilde, even Danielle Steele got their creative wheels stuck in the mud now and again. But I knew inspiration would come. And it did. Oh, did it…

Soon, my empty page was full of ideas, which I had honed down to a razor-sharp comedic timing. Rough lumps of comedy were honed to fine, crystalline diamonds. Now these witty gems only needed the perfect setting. I knew where to put the jokes in, I knew what jokes I wanted to use. Heck, I even cut material that on another week would have made the grade. When my masterpiece was finished, I had the material that THEY would remember me by.

I’m a comedian. But I don’t work the circuits, and I don’t do open-mic nights at PJ’s Chucklehut, or the Laff Emporium. I’ve got a racket all my own, and I aim to keep it that way.

So I decided to work the checkout lines at the grocery store. These were my people.

Oh sure, my sets are only as long as it takes the cashier to ring me up, but boy… I leave ‘em laughing every time. And I’d imagine the cashier thinks quietly to herself during her pre-designated ten-minute break, “Geez, that guy was on FIRE today! A regular Gallagher, minus the senseless destruction of fruit. God, I wonder WHAT he’ll come up with next week!” She’s was already a fan…hell, even Ray Charles could see that.

This week, I had my A material. I figured I’d start light with some easy observational humor. Checkout lines are FULL of low hanging observational fruit just waiting to be plucked and devoured. Maybe I’ll work in a few sight gags with my grocery items (a la Carrot Top). I mean, why ELSE would I buy a can of whipped cream, a bunch of banana and a box of condoms?! Or a 30-pack of Coors Light, a jar of Vaseline and a rather large cucumber? Well, I don’t want to talk about it.

Then, when I had them in the palm of my hand, that’s when I’d spring it on them. Bam! Topical humor: “Geez, what is up with Obama these days?! I mean, come on!”

I actually don’t have a joke prepared for this… I get my news from The Daily Discord, so I think he’s battling some type of cough medicine addiction or something. Still, this would be the set they would remember me by. Other lines would become my positive reviews. I could hear them talking about me long after I’d left. This was to be my Citizen Kane!

“Hi… you find everything okay?” Debra asked me.

Way to serve up that softball, Debra. You’re about to be part of comedic histo–”

Then I hear, “Oprah Magazine, huh?! Every time I come in here, she’s on the cover! Is she really that egotistical?!”

“Who said that?!” I thought to myself. “It’s brilliant! Why didn’t I ever notice that before?!”

“And what is up with all these rag mags?! Bigfoot spotted on top of Loch Ness Monster with Elvis?! Who reads this crap?!”
This son-of-a-bitch was barging in on my act! And worse than that, he was doing a damn good job of it, too! I craned my head over the candy rack separating lanes 5 and 6 to see who was performing. Apparently, I wasn’t alone on the checkout-line comedy circuit. But I booked this gig weeks ago!

I became flushed with panic and started grasping at straws: “What is up with that hairdo, Debra… Oh no, I didn’t mean… I’m sorry. No no, I wasn’t insulting you… Fuck me! Oh no… I don’t mean you Debra, not literally… look, what… where… Paper or plastic… save a plastic tree?” Ugh! God! I’m bombing, and I can’t stop the freefall! I feel like Obama at that last debate.

“Would you like a bag?” she asked him.

And, with perfect comedic timing, he replied, “Oh no, I left her at home!” Bam!

“You son of a bitch!” I cried, as I lunged over the candy rack between our lanes. “This was MY time! I was supposed to be the star!” In a murderous rage, I picked up a giant jar of pickles and brought them down repeatedly on his hea…
After the trial and the sentencing (14 to 30 years, if you’re wondering), I did a lot of soul searching. And finally, I decided to give up my dreams of comedic stardom. Daily mouth rapings will do that to a fella.

I still observe things in my own weird little way, though. Sometimes I even get a chuckle out of my cellie, but mostly I keep them to myself. After all, it’s kinda hard to talk with your mouth full.

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