Signs, signs…

Print More
Andy Sauer

I do my best to get along and go along. I’m not some kind of incorrigible troublemaker. If there are rules or procedures put in place, I’ll comply.

When a local supermarket put in place a one dozen egg purchase per visit to address corona-hoarding, I complied, even though my family goes through eggs faster than birch logs burn in a fireplace.1 Rules are rules, I told my wife, and I wasn’t going to break them.

So, when she came back from a recent shopping trip with two dozen eggs (three dozen being the norm — our daughter is a tofu-hating vegetarian), I asked how that was possible. 

“You can get more than a dozen eggs if you go to the organic section,” she said. “There’s no sign there.”  Makes sense, I thought. No sign, no rule.

A week later, when I left for a trip to the store, my wife reminded me to go to the organic section to get two dozen eggs. Got it.

I did my shopping, following the directional arrows taped to the floor and waiting for shoppers to select the right box of pasta so as to not break the six-foot social distancing boundary. And, I picked up two dozen eggs from the organic section that had no sign over the cartons of free-range chicken eggs. No sign, no rule.

Upon checkout, I was admonished by the cashier that I could only get one dozen eggs. Wait, I said, these were from the organic section where the one dozen rule doesn’t apply. She shot me a withering look and asked if I read the sign?

“There was no sign,” I said, maybe with a triumphant flourish. 

She turned to her bagger and asked her to see if there was a sign or not. The bagger returned, after an awkward amount of time, to her post and shrugged. “The sign said only one dozen eggs.”

If there is an event horizon to the limit of my compliance, when the forces of capriciousness and injustice conspire to separate me from my better angels advocating harmony and obedience, we flew by it way before I was handed my receipt. 

I walked out of the store, loaded the shopping bags into the car and marched back in. I walked to the organic section, took out my phone, snapped a photo and went to customer service.

I told the story, whereupon the service represented said that yes, there was a one dozen egg purchase rule and a sign, making it so. I held up the picture on the phone. There is no sign, I said.

She looked closely at the phone, zooming to confirm that her eyes were not deceiving her. We walked to the organic section, and she handed me a dozen eggs (I might add, not until she looked for sign.)

“I’ll ring you up, sir,” she said as we walked by the cashier who initiated this point-of-sale imbroglio. I may have smugly smirked, but she’d never know as I was wearing a facemask.

As I made my purchase, I tried to explain that the energy and time expended were not only for a dozen eggs or proof I wasn’t a liar, but for a much higher and noble purpose.

“My wife wouldn’t have understood if I came home with only one dozen eggs from the organic section,” I explained. That there was no sign, to her, was justification. That she previously bought two dozen eggs, to her, was precedent. If I didn’t buy two dozen eggs, it was because I did something wrong, ipso facto! 

“If you’re going to make a rule you intend to strictly enforce, do us both a favor and put up a sign,” I added.

There have been a lot of new rules thrown at us — ones with possibly enormous repercussions if not followed. While some choose to openly defy them and others are petrified to break them, I believe a majority comply simply because it is the right thing to do. They believe in the principle of the rule, which is a reflection of trust in the system. Nothing, however, undermines the integrity of any rule, regulation, directive or even law faster than the sloppy or capricious enforcement of it, and such a situation usually achieves the opposite of the rule’s intent.

In the case of my organic eggs, I wound up walking out of the store with two cartons in defiance of their rule.  

I’m sorry to report that upon my last trip to the store, I observed that there still was no sign over the organic section.  Come on, guys!


1 A natural truth discovered when I blithely lit the decorative birch logs that adorned our fireplace in our new house. Perhaps that is for another Observations.

Comments are closed.