Friday, October 14, 2016

An Evening at Dollar General

It was a typical Friday night at our home. My wife and I had just gotten the kids in bed and realized that we did not have enough milk or peanut butter to sustain our Saturday morning routine. So I drove to the closest Dollar General. Upon enter the store, I noticed an unusually long line, but hoped that once I located my items perhaps it would have dissipated.

Unfortunately, I found myself 7 people from the cashier while juggling a gallon of Clover Valley’s finest dairy and a jar of JIF. Glancing around at the impulse items, I noticed a display for a bag of “Hot & Crispy” Microwavable Bacon Curls Pork Rinds. Having never encountered this culinary delight before, I awkwardly shifted the two items in my hands so that I could retrieve my cell phone to take a picture.

About the time I raised the phone to eye-level, the woman who was currently being checked out (hereafter referred to as customer 1) turned and loudly addressed another customer several people back. In the interest of decency, I will replace a words used quite frequently with “cuddle” “rainbow” and “peppermint.”

Customer 1 – What the cuddle did you say!?
Customer 2 – (Instantly matching customer 1’s volume & intensity) It is none of you mothercuddling business what I said!
Customer 1 – It’s my mothercuddling business if you are trying to insert yourself into my business! I will knock you the cuddle out!
It is at this juncture I realized that I was still holding my phone in a manner that could be easily misconstrued as filming this altercation. Wishing to avoid being cuddled-up by these two, I slowly moved to place it back into my pocket.

Their conversation continued in form and intensity until the man who was next in line (attempting to buy anti-freeze) finally broke his silence and exclaimed, “Lord Jesus! Why can’t there be peace on Earth?!” There was a moment of respite where both women briefly contemplated his question before returned to threats of “cuddlin’-up a mother-cuddler” all the while never acknowledging the gentleman’s presence.

There were two teenage girls in front of me who turned around to look at me for some sort of direction and I believe I mouthed something along the lines of “be cool….” The worst part about this was that customer 1 was unable to complete her transaction due to her preoccupation with customer 2. This meant that the line went absolutely nowhere which further ratcheted up tensions.

Valiantly attempting to defuse the situation once again, the gentleman next in line implored the ladies to cease lest they find their shenanigans “all over SnapChat” and reminded them that there was a long line and they were “scaring the Hell out of the other customers.” Once again, they simply leaned around him to continue their conversation.

Eventually, an employee came from the back and opened another register to start getting people out of there and the argument stopped. There was a collectively sigh of relief until Customer 1 looked back up from the card-reader and took offense to the fact that Customer 2 had not elected to re-que at the newly opened register.
Customer 1 – You need to take your cuddling rainbow over to the other line!
Customer 2 – I ain’t going nowhere! I got nothing but time peppermint!”
At this, an older woman two customers back from me muttered, “If they make me have to go to another Dollar General after all this, I’m gonna kick both of their rainbows.” The yelling continued until the peacemaker’s buddy (who I had noticed standing by a car with the hood up when I pulled in) walked through the front doors inquiring as to why it was taking 20 minutes to get “some damn antifreeze.”

Wisely fearing for his friend’s safety, Peacemaker held out his hands and said, “Go back outside man! You have no idea what is going down in the DG tonight! Save yourself!” Taking in the posture of the two women and the palatable tension in the room, he shrugged and retreated back to his post.

Finally, both women completed their transactions and my clerk asked the other clerk what had happened. With the same tone and inflection one might use to describe a price check on soup, she indicated that Customer 2’s companion had asked what was taking so long and Customer 2 had speculated that Customer 1 was using digital coupons on her phone. Customer 1 had overheard this and threats of bodily harm ensued. I was eventually able to buy my items and get my rainbow home. Blessed are the peacemakers; may their engine coolant be evermore effective. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mall Fun!

My son has really gotten into “adventures” which thankfully at his age can be something as pedestrian as going to Home Depot. So one day I had taken off work early to attend an event at his pre-school and afterwards he wanted to go on an adventure together. We went several places but eventually found ourselves at the mall as it was a hot day and they have an indoor play area.

He ran around that for a little while before deciding that he wanted to ride some of the kiddie rides at the other end of the mall. Knowing that I had no cash and hoping that the change machine in the ride area took cards, we walked over. Unfortunately it only accepted bills so (while prying my disappointed son from the school bus ride) I told him that I had to try and get some money first. This entire exchange was somewhat conspicuously being observed by a young mother there with her two children who were also enjoying the kiddie rides.

Finally locating an ATM with a dubious bank association and a $3.50 convenience charge, I reluctantly swiped my card, input my PIN, and agreed to the extortion fee. The machine then emitted the requisite currency dispensing noises minus the actual currency. The screen thanked me for my business and yet the cash dispensation drawer remained empty.

Just about that time, two young men approached the machine with a mall security guard in tow. Apparently their ATM experience mirrored my own and they had enlisted the guard’s assistance in resolving the issue. He gamely looked the machine over and shrugged his shoulders before calling for backup. The second guard appeared and performed his own visual once-over before declaring that the ATM “hasn’t been acting right” and that we should probably call the 800 number listed on the side and get out money back.

I immediately called the number and was told that there was “an unusually high call volume” pertaining to ATM issues so I went back to the main menu and selected the option for the sales department. Shockingly, it was adequately staffed and my call was answered. The associate informed me that there was nothing that he could do and that I should probably call my bank to have them stop the transaction.

By this point, my son was becoming impatient (as toddlers do) that daddy had been standing at an ATM for 15 minutes and somehow still was unable to produce any money. So, as I began dialing my bank, I started walking with him in the general direction of the rides thinking that I might have seen a second ATM further down. Having arrived back at the rides, I noticed that the same mother and her two kids were still there.

Frustrated with the entire situation and trying to explain to my bank that another bank’s ATM had taken my money, I dismissed my son’s repeated pleas for quarters to ride the school bus with an unnecessarily curt “Daddy’s busy. Why don’t you just sit on the ride and pretend we put quarters in it?” Amazingly, he found this to be an acceptable compromise and began gleefully rocking his body back and forth while making engine noises on the stationary ride.

Moved by the scene of this poor young man whose deadbeat father would apparently rather have his son pretend to ride something than to part with a quarter, the young mother approached me and indicated that should would like to pay for him to actually get to enjoy the ride. Simultaneously moved by her kindness and embarrassed by its implication, I made a bumbling attempt to explain that I was not too cheap to part with a quarter but that the mall ATM had stolen my money and I was calling two different banks to prevent $23.50 from being removed from my account. This is, of course, the kind of thing a publicly shamed cheapskate would say.

I again thanked her for her generosity and she was polite enough to pretend she bought my story before walking off with her kids. When I finally got someone from the bank on the phone, my son kept loudly insisting that he explain to them what had happened and why their "broke machine" had prevented the lights on the school bus ride from properly activating.

As it turns out, the ATM did not even attempt to communicate with my account so I had the same chance of getting cash out of it as I would have swiping my debit card on a napkin dispenser. The entire setup may have been a decoy box to acquire the Debit Card info and PIN numbers of naïve teenagers and desperate parents. Next time I will just talk him into a emoji pillow from one of the kiosk vendors.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lives That Matter

Thus far, I have refrained from commenting on the violence and distrust between black civilians and police officers. This was mainly due to the fact that I was not a member of either demographic and therefore probably did not have much to add. In the interest of full disclosure, I probably still don’t have much to add but feel moved to write this anyway.

What has fueled this fire more than anything is our desire to adapt unfolding narratives into our existing worldview instead of allowing our worldview to be shaped by the circumstances of each individual event. The “lives matter” movements of both the black and blue persuasion have a tendency to canonize their representatives, in part, by demonizing those on the other side of the issue. 

This is often accomplished utilizing succinct Facebook memes that (depending on your ideological persuasion) decry the shooting victims as “thugs” whose bad choices brought their inevitable demise upon them or the officers as “violent racists” who are allowed to carry out their darkest impulses with impunity simply because they have a badge.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to serve as a police officer. To begin every shift knowing that I will spend the majority of my time interacting with people who – at best – are unhappy to see me and at worst wish me bodily harm. The split second decisions they make under duress will be endlessly scrutinized by a public that seems far more willing to magnify their mistakes than celebrate their triumphs. Their families must learn to co-exist with the nagging thought that one day they may get the call that they most fear. The call that their mommy, daddy, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband or wife has been taken from them. That all of their hopes and plans for the future have been shattered by a traffic stop gone horribly wrong.

Just as foreign to me as being a police officer is the overwhelming fear that I might suffer abuse at the hands of one. I have no idea what it is like to feel targeted by law enforcement because of my skin. To live with the knowledge that I may not be given the benefit of the doubt afforded to those of a different ethnicity. I cannot fathom growing up around relatives whose basic rights were violated by those sworn to protect them. In a wry irony, they too fear the same call. The call that their mommy, daddy, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband or wife has been taken from them. That all of their hopes and plans for the future have been shattered by a traffic stop gone horribly wrong.

I was struck by the poignant statements made by Parkland Hospital surgeon Dr. Brian Williams in the wake of the Dallas police shootings. While being recognized for his heroic efforts to save the murdered officers, he offered this:

“There's this dichotomy where I'm standing with law enforcement, but I also personally feel that angst that comes when you cross the path of an officer in uniform and you're fearing for your safety. I've been there, and I understand that,"

He detailed what it was like to be treated differently when he shed his white coat and was just another black male behind the wheel of a car. I could not dismiss his perception simple because I was unable to duplicate it. Instead I was forced to wrestle with its origins.

Along the same lines, I recently served as a jury foreman for a Federal criminal case. The defendant was a black male and the case centered on a traffic stop ostensibly initiated due to seatbelt violation observed by a stationary officer several hundred feet away at night. Our jury was made up of black and white individuals of both genders and while the “I just happened to spot the absence of a seatbelt” narrative didn’t hold water among any of us, it was apparent that baseless traffic stops and fear of the police was something that the black members of our group were more acutely aware of.

Ultimately, we reached a unanimous guilty verdict but I was reminded by the reaction of my fellow jurors that there is a validity to these fears that I can be too quick to dismiss.

The truth is that both sides must take time to process what happened before reflexively branding their surrogate as a victim. Every black male shot by police is not an innocent bystander publicly executed by a bigoted cop and not every police officer that pulls the trigger on a black male has enough (or any) justification for their actions. Until everyone accepts that reality we cannot begin the process of restoring trust between those who serve and those they are sworn to protect.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Random Thoughts 12

Recently, while suffering from a rather severe cold, I broke down and attempted to procure some 12-hour Sudafed from my local Walgreens. I knew that the process would be difficult, but I had tried everything else and nothing works as well on my nasal congestion. So I picked up the little card and approached the register. I am already prepared to sign the lengthy digital affidavit and present my government-issued photo ID so imagine my surprise when I was told I would have to talk to the pharmacists before that process could begin.

So I wait until the pharmacist comes over and apparently her job is to try and persuade me to purchase something that would not be included in a meth-lab starter-kit. “Have you tried Tylenol Sinus? What about Nyquil Daytime?” I explained to her that I have tried all of those things and I would not subject myself to this process if I was not confident in a favorable outcome. Mercifully, she gave her blessing to the cashier for the transaction to continue.

This got me thinking: What if firearm transactions were conducted in this manner?

I would like to purchase a handgun.
Personal protection.
Have you considered a taser or a machete? How about a modified pool cue instead?
I really don’t feel that they would be as effective.
How about a baseball bat? I know they don’t seem as lethal, but if you’ll recall what happens to Joe Pesci and his brother at the end of Casino I think..
Can you just ring me up for the handgun?

Useless Platitudes
  • Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest or the trees without corrective lenses
  • Relativism is like a stream; it can be difficult to navigate in a Corolla
  • Never let negativity affect your ability to fall short of expectations
  • It is easier to seek the light when you are willing to search for it
  • There is nothing more ambiguous than the absence of a clear direction
  • Avoid allowing your weeks to be filled with too many days, or the hours may pass you by.
  • Sadness will only dwell with you if don’t pretend you are not home when it comes to the door
  • Tiny gloves are only useful to those with small hands.

  • My favorite new product with an unenforceable guarantee is the Guaranteed 12-Hour Deodorant. What would be the process of getting a refund? More importantly, what poor soul at the company has to verify when Bubba is 11 ½ hours into a July roofing job and it smells like he has a marooned pirate in a headlock?

I got into an interesting conversation when my wife and I were going through the Wendy’s drive-thru a few weeks ago. We had just placed an order for a couple of chocolate Frostys when the disembodied voice came back and asked if we would like to “donate a dollar to diabetes prevention.” Unable to let the irony of the request go unremarked upon, I asked the employee if she felt odd asking that question to someone who has just ordered desserts with a collective 92 grams of sugar.
She gamely replied that she wasn’t certain but assured me that the money “would help the       people with diabetes or something.” Having given her a hard time we went ahead and donated the dollar (perhaps it will be used to produce literature I will later read while eating a Frosty).She had a delightful sense of humor and when my wife and I pulled up to the window she had just taken another order and they had also agreed to make a donation. Indicating that I had started something I told her that I would be willing to circle around a few more times until we got this epidemic taken care of. She smiled and offered my wife a few sympathetic words.

  • I must applaud Facebook for their “celebrate 10 years of friendship” video algorithm. I watched a sample video it put together of me and someone else on Facebook and it was so touching I almost forgot that we don’t have any tangible relationship at all.