In town there’s this enormous grocery store that is the center of our universe. This also makes it the center for those seeking donations for everything from soccer teams to the Society for the Elimination and Prevention of Space Junk. There is usually someone or a group of someones (beggars) standing near the doorways to our beloved Grocery Guy every weekend. With a can in hand and a smile in their big, sweet hearts they thrust their money grubbing paws under your chin, mumbling something about donations to help the unfortunate or save the suffering, while all I would like to do is save my money by ignoring their pathetic pleas for funds, but there’s something in me that prevents this. I think it’s called stupidity.
Stupid is something these can shakers are not, though. Sure, they set up a begging camp at Grocery Guy. They know your friends and neighbors shop there. How would it look if Sue handed a couple of bucks to a can shaker from the Missionaries of Burundi and I pass him by saying “I gave at the office.” While from the corner of my eye I see Millie Funt yanking a shopping cart from its cronkite (a group or chain of shopping carts is known as a cronkite), even as she’s watching whether or not I dole out some dough. Something like that could destroy your life in my community.
Last Saturday I was pushing my shopping cart through a smoke fog billowing around a group of addicts huddled defiantly near the Grocery Guy entrance. For some reason there seems to be a great animosity between smokers and nonsmokers when the smokers are feebly succumbing to their habit. I took out my hankie and my tiny can of air freshener. I placed the hankie over my nose, and as I dashed past them, shot the air freshener along my path. We traded hostile glances through the haze, but no words were exchanged, although I did notice a cigarette butt fly past my head. This is the entrance obstacle I must negotiate before I can trade my entire paycheck for a week’s worth of groceries.
Anyway, I finished my shopping. At the checkout, I swiped my debit card through the swiper. A message popped up on its small screen, “You must be kidding,” it said.
Oh, no. I knew I shouldn’t have bought my daughter that special edition Justin Bieber lithograph with the lifelike hair and the certification that he actually spit Justin Bieber saliva on the lithograph’s corner. (Yes, there’s a small spit stain right where they said he let a loogie go.) That purchase left me with no money in my account giving a megaphone of a checkout chick an opportunity to squawk, “Not approved!”
The entire store went quiet. All heads turned my way. Who is this deadbeat their inquisitive faces asked? My head dropped in shame. I had nowhere near what I needed in cash – just enough for the beggars outside. The woman behind me sighed a, “I can’t believe this.” Then she pushed her cart into my butt. I fumbled for another card – a credit card. They always work.
“What’s the matter, Mommy?” the woman’s kid said.
“The person in front of us can’t pay for the groceries.”
“Is that person homeless?” the kid said.
“No. I don’t think homeless. Probably just a loser.”
That was it. I turned around. “No, I am not homeless,” I said to the kid. “And I can pay for my groceries,” I said to the woman. With that, I whipped out my credit card and paid for my stuff.
“Yeah, well you’re still a loser,” the kid called after me.
No, I am not sorry I flipped a little kid the bird.
Outside the pearly gates of Grocery Guy, I stood face-to-face with a can shaker. I was in no mood for this. He held out his can.
“Our school’s history club is collecting for a trip to Washington,” the beggar-boy said.
“Yeah?” I said staring down at the kid. “Your club collect dues?”
“Use that,” I said and started off until I noticed Louise Lawanna watching from the cart cronkite. I stuffed my last few dollars in the kid’s can. I looked up to see if Louise was watching. She waved. I left.
Back in the smoke-fog, someone shoved a can under my nose. “Collecting for Smokers Anonymous,” he said.
I coughed through my hankie and sprayed him with my air freshener.