– Henry James
As a rule, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but the holidays make me wonder.
I wonder if there are not a group of people (never the same ones) who follow me around whenever I go shopping, which I’ve done often in recent weeks. Somehow they always manage to get in front of me at checkout lines.
They are crafty. They are clever. They are slow. And they always seem to know whenever I happen to head for the checkout.
Let me give an example.
My friends (and I consider you readers among them) know my drink of choice is Tab – that little-noticed, flat-tasting soft drink in the ugly pink can. It’s not always easy to find. That’s why I was in the grocery store one morning last week.
It was early and the place was as quiet as a church on Monday.
With Tab in hand, I headed toward what I thought was an unused checkout line.
It was not.
There were two youngsters standing there below the rack level with some odds and ends on the counter. The clerk was watching them.
When both tykes saw me, they yelled “MOM!” so loud I’m sure it was heard back in the meat department.
Then it dawned on me. Mom had gone back to get something else. That’s OK, I thought. We’ll all wait together.
Eventually Mom appears sporting the latest in leisure wear and moving toward us at glacial speed. At least she seems to be coming in my direction. Small displays keep arresting her attention. She stops. She starts. She stops. She starts.
“Won’t take long,” I tell myself. “She’s only holding shampoo.”
Wrong again. The clerk begins to ring up stuff I hadn’t seen. Little things. Odd things. Impulse items for the chronically impulsive. Finally, the total.
But not so fast. Mom had decided she needs a pack of cigarettes. But the brand she requests is not on the counter rack. The cashier goes into the office where, she says, she thinks she saw a carton, and eventually returns.
Then we go through the check-writing ceremony. I’m sure they signed the Declaration of Independence faster.
Then the clerk looks at the check and asks, “Is all this information correct?”
(By now you know the answer.) “Well, no,” the woman says. “We’ve moved.”
More time is taken to establish and confirm legal residency.
And then, she and her kids and her packages and her cigarettes make their way from the aisle to the door.
The clerk turns to me and when she sees my lone 12-pack of soft drinks, she flashes a slight smile and nods her head. I smile back and nod as well.
In that moment we share a sort of bond of sympathy.
But it’s only a moment.
Because that’s how fast it takes me to realize that my money is in my billfold in my jacket in my car in the store parking lot.