Wednesday, March 31, 2010
A long time ago in a dollar store far, far away...
I should probably say up front that I have nothing against shopping at the dollar store. God bless America, and God bless capitalism, and God bless whoever realized that people will knock each other over to pay a dollar for a dented, rusting can of Scrubbing Bubbles bathtub cleaner. It’s just that there isn’t a dollar store on any of my beaten paths, so I’m willing to pay extra for paper towels and bleach rather than go completely out of my way to save a few cents. My time is very valuable to me. That being said, if I was down to my last five dollars and needed motor oil, tampons, animal crackers, and a novelty candle, I’d be busting down the dollar store door for sure.
So how did I find myself mired in a Tuesday night Dollar Tree crowd, sweating down to my underwear? Mylar balloons, my friends. I needed lots and lots of Mylar balloons.
It was the night before my son’s tenth birthday. Silly, silly me decided that we should make the birthday cake from scratch instead of handing the task over to the capable hands of Harris Teeter. My son was very specific about what he wanted – it had to be a dachshund cake, so I figured this would be no problem at all for my artist husband. As the cake was ready to be decorated, World War III broke out between the kids over who can touch this and who can sprinkle that, so I naturally found this to be a perfect time to slip away from the combat to fulfill his other request – a large assortment of balloons.
When I walked through the door of the dollar store, I immediately began ripping myself a new one for not just ordering a balloon bouquet from a florist. The place looked like Wal-Mart on black Friday. The aisles were jammed with weary shoppers taking advantage of leftover Valentine’s Day clearance items and stocking up on slightly damaged packages of cough syrup that were on display. There was one register open, and I counted thirteen people in line. Refereeing a cake frosting battle between two kids was looking pretty good right then.
I took my place in line, careful to hold my breath each time someone sneezed or coughed. I was feeling a little self-conscious of my own grooming habits as well, being that I was squeezed in so close to the other shoppers. Before I left the house, I didn’t bother to change my workout clothes, and I just smeared on some lipstick and threw on a hat. I did, however, recognize that I probably smelled a little ripe, so I managed to find a sample bottle of patchouli body spray under the sink, and I gave myself a few healthy squirts. Great! I no longer smelled like a sweaty yoga enthusiast. I smelled like a sweaty yoga enthusiast hippie. (Although I think “yoga enthusiast” and “hippie” are kind of the same thing even without the patchouli.)
I had plenty of time to study the wall of balloon choices and to size up the man behind the register. He was a twenty-something stoner who seemed to be harboring a serious disdain for retail sales that night. (Although one would think that a dollar store would be Mecca to a stoner with all the dirt cheap, off-brand cheese crackers, chocolate chip cookies and ramen noodles.) This guy barely made eye contact with the customers, and didn’t even bother to give them their purchase totals. He just stood there with a look on his face that screamed, “Hellooooo! Can’t you read what the register says? Do I have to do everything around here?” And to top it off, he had a snotty nose, and he kept wiping it with the back of his hand. I imagined giving the balloons to my son and saying, “Happy birthday, Sweetie! Here are your balloons and a raging upper respiratory infection!” I started to sweat.
The line behind me was snaking through the store. I was really hoping that there was a “balloon guy” somewhere in the back room who would be called upon to help me with my purchase. Surely the cashier was not also the person who filled balloons, right? Wrong.
When my turn came, I politely smiled and said, “Hi! I need to get ten balloons, please.” Surly Stoner Dude looked at me, cut his eyes to the ever-growing line behind me, and let out a sigh with enough force that it ruffled the “National Enquirer” newspapers on display. Although he didn’t say it out loud, I’m sure he was thinking, “I hate every one of you mini-van-driving-soccer- mom bee-yotches and your damn birthday parties!” (For the record, I neither drive a mini van nor do I have a child that plays soccer, but Surly Stoner Dudes are unable to distinguish one white, forty-something, yoga-pants wearing woman with sensible hair from another.)
I felt the glaring eyes of every person behind me. Although I really wanted to apologize to the lady with three whiny kids in tow and an arm full of paper products and diapers, I didn’t dare look back. Surly Stoner Dude went about filling those balloons as if he was in slow motion. Each time a balloon was finished, he just let it go. They would sometimes float in my general direction, but more often than not, I was left to chase them down.
As he let go of the last snot-covered balloon string, he spun around without a word and rang up my total. I somehow managed to collect them all and sheepishly said to him, “Ummm, excuse me, but I need one of those heavy-anchor-balloon-holder-thingy-s.” He gave me another dirty look and slammed one down onto the counter. I could feel my cheeks getting warm, and at that moment, I was wishing those balloons would carry me away to a magical land where clerks are nice like Belk’s or Macy’s. With one hand, I fished the money out of my purse and handed it over to Asshole Stoner Dude (his new name).
My night in discount hell wasn’t quite over. I couldn’t walk out into a windy evening with ten untethered helium balloons. I moved away from the register and got down onto my knees to attach them to the anchor. What little dignity I had left vanished when several times a rogue balloon would break free, and I would have to jump up to catch it while trying to hold the others in place on the anchor. I know for sure that Asshole Stoner Dude and all the angry patrons behind me in line were enjoying the show. Somehow, I managed to get out the door without another embarrassing moment such as my pants falling down or face planting into a wall.
Each time I think about that buttwad of a cashier, a Stewie Griffin quote comes to mind, “Mark my words: when you least expect it, your uppance will come!” Right there in front of the bins of fading Christmas wrapping paper, Asshole Stoner Dude thought he put me in my place, but what goes around comes around, Skippy…and one of these days, your uppance WILL come.