Dear Cashiers at Safeway Who Thank Me By the Wrong Name,

First of all, relax. It’s not your fault. You don’t know it’s not my real name.

Second of all, thank you.

When you read the receipt and say, “Have a good day, Mrs. Simpson,” you’re just following standard procedure, checking the last step off the list: greeting, scanning, remitting cash back, expressing gratitude. You’re trying to appease your boss, who’s been dinged an uncomfortable number of times by Corporate after secret shoppers reported they weren’t thanked by name and salutation. You’re already turning to the next customer, perhaps to pass time more quickly until you can head home with a rotisserie chicken—half-off on Mondays!—and a six pack.

I don’t blame you. I try to get out of Safeway as fast as possible, too. As often as I’m there, I don’t need to stay long!

You probably don’t even think about it anymore, how the name on the receipt is coughed up by the phone number I enter in the electronic pad, which could be anyone’s phone number, from anywhere. Well, maybe not Vancouver. Or St. Paul. Not one of you has ever mentioned that the name on my license (remember all those times you carded me for the Gewurtztraminer?) is not the same as the one on the receipt. That’s because it’s not my phone number.

I don’t even have a Safeway card!

You see, Safeway cashiers, I have involved you for the past eighteen months in what my therapist, Kevin, calls wishful thinking. “Simpson” is, in fact, the surname of my ex-boyfriend (although there’s a pretty good argument you could make for “ex-fiancé,” depending on whose version of the story you want to accept). At Safeway, “Simpson” is technically my ex’s parents’ surname, since their landline is the number I punch in to activate the significant savings that have helped grow my loyalty to your store.

Where does the wishful thinking part come in? Well, when you say, “Thank you, Mrs. Simpson,”—I’m okay with Ms., too—it sends me into a split-second alternate reality where my ex and I carried out the fulfillment of the true relationship we were meant to have—beach wedding, two kids, Labradoodle and all.

According to Kevin, this sends dopamine—a very potent pleasure hormone—shooting through my brain in a way that rarely happens since my ex moved out of state and changed his cell number. That small “hit” of pleasure reinforces the happiness I connect with the past (despite my ex’s sudden, unforeseen absence and the series of betrayals and fights that spanned the three months we were together), locking me into a recurring chain of experiencing pleasure, coming down and wanting more. In the words of one bard, “It hurts so good!”

You might have noticed I buy groceries in small but frequent amounts.

Writing this down, it’s hard not to recognize the futility of this pattern. But I can’t quite agree with Kevin that this is a bad thing. He’s hoping that this letter—exposure—will force me to face facts (my ex is gone for good, etc.) and move on. Well, Kev, now who’s doing some wishful thinking?

There’s no real harm in what I’m doing. It would take so long to fill out the form for my own Safeway club membership, and, besides, it’s not hurting you guys, is it?

I didn’t think so.

See you Monday,
Sara Hov