Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shopping With the Poor

I went to the gym slightly earlier today because I’d finished the design project I’d been working on down here in the basement, where it’s dark and gloomy and 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the house, and a swell place to hide from the punishing heat-‘n’-humidity.

When I arrived, I had a brief interaction with the tired-looking blonde woman behind the desk who held up the scanner thing for me. She mumbled, “How you doing?” and I mumbled back, “OK.” It wasn’t two o’clock yet and already I’d interacted with a fellow human! When the software recognized the bar code on the little plastic tag on my keychain, the female robot cooed, “Welcome!” in that weirdly hearty way of hers, but I’m not counting that as an interaction.

I spent my traditional 30 minutes on the stationary bicycle, with the resistance set pretty high, while continuing to enjoy David Finkel’s harrowing book about Iraq, The Good Soldiers, if enjoy is the right word. If what I’m reading is difficult or boring, it seems as though I must pedal for hours, but I was past 24 minutes today before even thinking to see how much longer I had to go.

Many of the people at Planet Fitness pretend to be obsessive-compulsive when they finish with a particular machine. They grab a spray bottle and paper towels and scrub away as though surgery’s going to be performed on it. The only part of the stationary bike I touch is the seat (oh, all right, and a couple of the buttons on the keypad). My own neuroses don’t include OCD, so I neither spray nor wipe. Now it can be told.

I proceeded over to one of the pecs machines, which is painful for me because of my titanium right shoulder, and did only two sets of 16 reps rather than my traditional three because my shoulder hated it even more than usual. I went over to Dollar Tree, which I enjoy thinking of as Idolatry, and headed for the book section because last week I there found Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, which absolutely took my breath away, and all for a buck. I dropped three interesting-looking novels that had originally sold for no less than $23.95 each into my green plastic basket, which also came to contain a can of Del Monte’s delicious (if sweetened) mushroom spaghetti sauce, orange juice, and a spray bottle of orange degreaser.

Every day when I go into the kitchen to cook, I remember my second girlfriend, Marie, telling me that only a brief visit to my kitchen high above Sunset Blvd. made clear that I wasn’t able to adequately look after myself. Grease, you see. I am mortified by how greasy my microwave and stovetop are, and have had at ‘em with detergent, ammonia, and vinegar, all to no avail. Hence the orange degreaser, you see.

The cashier, another fellow human with whom I interacted, and all in the course of less than an hour, rang up my purchases and said I owed her $8.49. As Idolatry prides itself on selling everything for a dollar, and I’d bought six items, I thought something was fishy. It turned out I’d been charged $3 for one of the books. She solicited the help of her supervisor, and rang up two more bargain-hunters’ extensive purchases while I waited and waited.

Her supervisor was the ugliest woman in New York, with a personality to match. Do you suppose she smiled at me or uttered even a syllable of apology? Seeing that I’d put my purchase on my debit card, all she said was “shit!” I suppose if you're going to shop where the poor shop, you should expect to be treated with contempt. Her cell phone rang while she was pounding angrily on the keyboard, and she wound up handing me the two bucks and change I was owed without a syllable of apology, vividly reminding me of Ms. Patricia Carwell, the X-ray scanner attendant at Chicago’s Midway Airport whose fervent surliness inspired me to write a letter of complaint in 2008 to both Mayor Daley and the Transportation Security Administration.

I’m back home and in front of my computer now, and anticipate no further tastes of the milk of human kindness this afternoon. But there’s a Netflix DVD in the mailbox with three new (to me) episodes of the sublime Friday Night Lights, so I'll probably live through it, albeit not indefinitely.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

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