by Dell Franklin
I’m in Rite Aid, with a single purchase, a tooth brush I should have bought at the Dollar Store, and at this busy hour there’s only one checker and a long line. There seems no other employee in sight to open up the other registers. There’s nine or 10 people before me and a young plump girl is struggling to wait on them. I think she’s new. I haven’t seen her here before. I should put this tooth brush back and go to the Dollar Store like a person with some sense, but even though I am poor I make sure to use a good tooth brush as well as other hygienic products.
A couple of fossils wait in line toting Preparation H, Metamucil, etc. A girl with green-streaked hair and a ring in her nose issues massive sighs. There’s a couple of middle-aged sloths with belly and dour expressions. There’s a tall, gangly guy with a close-neck-shaved hairdo, a long neck with bulging Adam’s apple, and a forehead that takes up two thirds of his face and mushes up what’s left. In the middle of the line is a local high-profile homosexual man who’s quite flamboyant and enjoys being observed wherever he goes. He’s around 30, wears bright yellow tight jeans and has bleached blond hair.
The line moves very slowly. A fossil at the register is having trouble completing the credit card process with quivering fingers. The halfwit employee is trying to guide him. Everybody’s restless and peering around for help. The geek, with his spindly arms in a short-sleeve shirt, holds three plaster grey-white, nondescript ducks, and I’m wondering what he’s going to do with them. They’re ugly ducks, to me, with no purpose. Is he going to place these ghastly ducks on a mantle to decorate his hovel? I’ve seen him around in the local Morro Bay market, herky-jerky, a stickler at the check-out counter as he prices the ribbon on the register, usually paying with cash and exact change squeezed from the coin purse in his wallet, then studying his receipt as we wait for the prick.
I have no idea what this guy does for a living, but the gay man is glancing at him with arctic distaste. This queen is one person up from me, behind the green hair, in front of a quivering fossil. He repeatedly sighs and rolls his eyes at any one of us, expressing his unhappiness with the situation.
A couple more people have lined up behind me, one a woman with tons of shit in a cart. She wants to know where all the employees are. Playing the long-suffering expert on such predicaments, I tell her my guess is they’re on a break, because it’s past lunch time. I go on to explain that their union contracts force them to take breaks at assigned hours, whether there’s 50 people in the store or not. Somebody else bitches that they’re always understaffed.
Dispirited, they shake their heads and grumble as the geek arrives at the register, and immediately he’s squabbling with the checker, insisting his fucking ducks are on sale for 99 cents. I can think of no item in this or any store except the Dollar Store that sells for 99 cents. In fact, I have no idea how any person of authority could arrive at a decision to manufacture these ducks, much less sell them to a conglomerate like Rite Aid and expect their marketing department to find a target to purchase them—save an idiot like this geek.
The checker is getting rattled. She tells the geek over and over again that the ducks are $1.49 a piece. When she runs them along the machine, $1.49 pops up on the register. The geek is having none of it. He demands the manager. The poor fat girl sighs as two people behind me leave the line. She picks up the little phone and over the intercom running throughout the cavernous store, pages the manager to come to register number one.
The green hair asks her why none of the other registers are open when they’re so busy. The checker confesses she doesn’t know why. The geek is jangling around like he’s got some kind of twitching syndrome.
“Give ‘im the goddamn ducks!” cries a fossil behind me. “I got things t’ do!”
The manager, a plain, portly man with mustache, pens in shirt pocket, copious keys hanging from belt, plastic badge on chest saying he is LARRY, arrives. Larry explains to the geek that the ducks from hell are $1.49. The geek maintains they are “on sale” for 99 cents. The manager feels that he, the geek, got the price of the ducks mixed up with an item beside them, though he maintains nothing in the store is on sale for 99 cents. The geek hems and haws while we all wait. Finally, he goes to his wallet pays with exact change, has his ducks bagged, and minces out springing up on his tippy-toes.
Everybody is relieved when the manager announces he’s opening up register number two, and those in front of the line can be waited there first. There is a mad stampede of about 15 people scurrying for position. There are still around eight people in each line. The homosexual is next in our line, but here out of nowhere comes a woman in spike heels, skinny jeans, silk blouse, hair coiffed, very pretty, but somewhat pinched. In a huff, she announces she has a “huge” appointment, is already late, bustles past all of us, including the gay man, and plunks down her basket of purchases. She offers no apologies or thanks for cutting in, indicating her comings and goings hold far more importance than ours, so deal with it.
She’s got her credit card at the ready and is also on her cell phone, which she snared from a side holster when it went “meow,” and is visibly impatient as the fat girl plods along, not noticing the homosexual furtively slither his hand into her basket and filch her Kotex and drop it in his basket. He turns toward me, meeting my gaze and haughtily lifting his nose in a manner indicating he is perfectly justified in stealing this bitch’s Kotex. I nod my approval.
Everybody witnesses his thievery. The bitch quickly collects her bag of purchases and, phone held to ear, makes a staccato of her heels as she marches out, while the gay man informs the checker he has no idea how this goddam Kotex ended up in his basket. §
Dell Franklin is founding publisher of and a regular contributor The Rogue Voice . He recently began his own blog, The Ball Player’s Son, where he will post accounts of his memoir about his father.