I've had the same two bras for the past year: a black one, and a white one. The black one is in especially sad shape because it's the only bra that fit under my work shirt. So yesterday, I finally went bra shopping with my mom. My budget led us to a large retailer in the mall, where we spent quite a while rummaging through clearance racks of $6 bras. Eventually I brought several to the checkout counter and was ready to lay them by the register, when suddenly Mom nudged me, gesturing toward the cashier, and whispered, "That's a guy."
I had, in fact, been aware of this, and untroubled by it. Except now, the cashier had heard us, and we all struggled to maintain our composure, making this two-minute transaction feel like eternity.
At my retail job, there was one gift shop that contained every potentially embarrassing sundry item. Condoms and tampons caused customers the most grief--usually the tampons, since the full-time clerk in that shop was a very pleasant older man who seemed to terrify menstruating women. I was once working in another store at the opposite end of the hallway, when a woman asked if we had tampons. I told her they were back in the first shop, and she said, "Well, I saw them in there, but--" (she leaned in and lowered her voice dramatically) "--I didn't want to buy them from that man."
In the end, "that man" relayed a box of tampons to my shop so I could ring them up for her. I found it touching that I was the only person capable of selling this woman tampons.
On any given day, cashiers may be yelled at, threatened, or belittled by customers. Ringing up taboo sundry items is the least of our worries. Sometimes we barely notice what we're scanning. Ringing up a pack of condoms never bothered me--it was just another item I had to scan and bag, and another total I had to recite. I will admit, though, I never could bring myself to say "Have a good night" after selling someone condoms. I just didn't like to get that invested in the situation. Even "Come back and see us" seemed a little too judgey. I'd always just say "Thanks" instead. But I never felt embarrassed.
For my co-workers and me, these situations only got awkward if the customer was awkward. Another clerk once told me about a customer who was so edgy while buying condoms from her, he felt obligated to reveal that it was his wedding night, and he and his wife were about to have sex for the first time. I wonder what response he was expecting. Good luck? Go get 'em, tiger? Or maybe, Congratulations, you've won the celibacy challenge! Then confetti and streamers would fall from the ceiling.
Gentlemen, the jig is up: we know about the penises, and we know what they're for. And ladies, guys know about our periods, and they know about the boobs, too. A natural, inherent discomfort arises when we acknowledge the existence of these things to the opposite sex, but that's okay. When you need to buy a condom or a tampon or a bra, it's kind of like ripping off a bandage. Just keep a straight face and get through it with your dignity intact.