I broke a boot string at work today and stopped at the nearest Dollar Store to get a new pair. I would have liked to have bought only one, but I know better than to ask. The great thing about Dollar Stores is that they have practically everything. The downside is it’s like looking in a junk drawer in the kitchen for an ink pen that isn’t dead. But I managed to find the shoestrings, and the bootstrings, right there between the plastic yard rakes and the canned meats. I’m guessing they’re all made of the same ingredients. Dollar Stores fascinate the hell out of me. There’s nothing in those places that cannot be bought at better quality nearly anywhere but there’s furniture, and tools, and food, and clothes. And people shop there every day. Uh, I’m in one at this moment buying something instead of going to the trouble to go into town to get something better.
Okay, that was unpleasant, shall we move on?
I’m fifty-four. I’m bald. When I’m in public people tell me that I grit my teeth and clench up so as to look like I’m about to start speaking in tongues or selling Avon. I’m in work boots, one of them loosely connected to my left foot, and work clothes. No woman I’ve ever dated has told me I look sexy when I dress for work. Functionality over fashion. I’m a Utilitarian on a tight budget.
“I’ve never seen a chair like that,” a woman gushes as me, “have you?”
No, I have never seen a chair like that because unless I’m planning to give Tanya a giant plastic chew toy I wouldn’t go looking for a chair like that. Frankly, it looks like something someone would find in a low- rent- three- dollar- cover- first- drink- free- strip clubs. It’s sort of round and cheesy looking and instead of a cushion it has wide netting and the first thing I think is, “No way in hell you can change a light bulb with that damn thing, hell no!” but it’s on sale for seven bucks. Be still my beating heart! Uh, wait, there’s the woman.
She’s younger than me, but who in the galaxy isn’t, and she’s smiling and petting my arm and smiling and what in the actual hell does she want? She’s like a waitress getting bonus points for selling sugar cubed sized desserts in a restaurant. I’m sorry, maybe this is why I’m still single; I think a woman smiling at me and petting me in a Dollar Store is up to no good.
Here we go: There are two women and two small children. The woman speaking to the cashier has three piles of stuff on the belt and she’s trying to pay for three different orders. Only one of those has been rang up but she doesn’t have the money to pay for it. The cashier look at the woman, frowns, looks at me, stares at me, and then says, “You need five more dollars and forty-one cents, please” but she says this with the tone of someone just about to take the nametag off and walk. The woman trying to pay for all this keeps sifting stuff from one pile to another and I wonder if she really thinks that changes how much money she has to pay versus when she has on hand.
The Gushing and Grinning Arm Petter, flings herself into action! “Don’t you worry none baby I’ll help you and them young’uns out! And she begins digging through her purse. My inner Grammar Nazi loads the Luger and prepares to commit suicide. Petter digs and digs and she’s telling the other woman she knows she has five dollars, and she’s pulling out pennies, and dimes, and a three pack of condoms, whoa! I didn’t see that coming, no pun intended. And all the while the kids are putting more stuff on the belt and the other woman is telling them not to and the cashier is looking at me like she’s going to spit or go blind.
Then the first woman asks Petter how much she needs and they start counting. They both stop, look at me, smile, and start counting again.
I’ve just hit a toll road.
This is the deal; I can make up the difference in their sale, I can give them five bucks, or I can wait them out, which they seem perfectly willing to allow. I go sit in the net chair and start reading my latest Kindle book on my phone. The cashier delivers a crushing blow to their quest, “Look, you can’t stand here all day long now. What do you want to put back?” This is a tone of voice that suggests that it’s about to be a very short day. And then the two women get serious about it. Most of the junk food goes and they keep the shampoo. I wait until they’re out of the door before I move.
“They do that every fucking time they come in here” the cashier hisses at me and then is horrified that she has just cursed aloud.
“How often does it work?” I ask.
“Nearly every time.” She relied. “That one you were talking to usually gets some guy to pay for half her stuff.” and she’s ringing my bootstrings up and looking at the two women in the parking lot. “Them kids ain’t even theirs, they just took up with’em here.”
“Them kids hang out here all the time and them two will bring in when they come in so’s people will help them out.” The Cashier looks pissed. “One day Ima gonna call the lawman to’em.”
“Call DFACS” (The department of family and children services) I tell her and I can see the suggestion take hold.
It is time for me to leave this place.
The two woman, ostensibly separate in the store, are handing the kids treats and getting into the same car. Petter smiles and waves at me and I wonder if five bucks is really worth this much effort and deceit?
But I am standing outside a Dollar Store with bootstrings that might have been potted meat tomorrow if I had not bought them today.