May 3, 2005

Atlas Shrugs and Atlantis Beckons - Part 1

The Seventies were ending and the Eighties were just beginning, I had found myself working after school and on the weekends at the neighborhood grocery store to make myself some pocket money. My family was not poor by any means, but we were not rich either, we had a house, clothes to wear and food to eat and that was pretty much it. It was the extras that we missed.

Sundays after Church us kids would go out in the woods and pick dewberries so Grandma could bake a pie. Sundays were the highlight of the week, a big family dinner served at around 4pm of fried chicken, steak or roast beef and afterwards drinking coffee, eating pie and playing Scrabble with Grandma. This particular Autumn Sunday was busy down at the store though, I wouldn't have time to sit down with the family and eat dinner, and so after quickly eating a slice of pie and drinking a cup of coffee I rushed outside, got on my bike and headed the eight blocks down to the grocery store. The sky was turning dark and the wind was blowing, I prayed I would make it to the store before the rain started.

When I arrived at the store, my boss came to me and told me that one of the cashiers had not shown up for work and asked me if I knew how to operate the cash register and make change. I nodded my head. It was an old cash machine, nothing computerized like they have now days. I took the keys and the cash tray and took my place behind the cash machine. While Im counting out the money Im only thinking how much I will lose today because Im not going to get tips by taking the groceries out to the customer's cars. I noticed a few colored pieces of paper and asked one of the other cashiers what it was. One of the cashiers told me they were food stamps and to treat them just like money except that the change given in real money can only be less than a dollar and the food stamps can only be used for food items, no beer or cigarettes and such. So I got to work operating the cash register.

I enjoyed the change of pace I suppose. It was raining outside by now and so in a way Im glad I had the opportunity to stay inside and keep warm. After a few hours a young nicely dressed coloured man came up greeted me and emptied his basket on to the belt. Typical groceries I suppose, but not the kind of food I was used to eating at home, lots of expensive cookies, ice cream, nice steaks and such and a big bag of dog food. Before I totaled the bill the man asked me for a pack of Kool cigarettes and I handed him a pack and gave him the total. He opened his wallet and flashed a few hundred dollar bills at me and then took out a small booklet of food stamps to pay. As he started to hand the food stamps to me, I paused and politely told the man that he could not use the food stamps to pay for the dog food and cigarettes. He got violent.

Here I am doing my job and getting screamed at by a customer. What did I do wrong? Why is he yelling at me? By this time the manager had noticed the trouble and was headed over. I told the man again that Im sorry but I just simply can't take the food stamps for the dog food and cigarettes. The man threw the cigarettes back at me, left for the back of the store and returned with a big armful of steaks, threw them on the belt and said "Fine then, tonight my dogs are going to have to eat steak!". I looked over at my boss and he nodded his head.

My shift was over now. I took off the apron counted the money and turned in the tray and key. I reached in my pocket, found a quarter and a dime and walked outside. The rain was ending, but it was still drizzling a bit. I bought myself a Coke and waited outside before heading back home. As I was drinking my Coke, I wondered what Filet Mignon tasted like, how was the taste different from round steak that we got to eat at home sometimes on Sunday.

I rode my bike home and walked in the front door. My mother and father were watching Carter on television and as usual, he was giving nothing but excuses for his impotence in the hostage crisis. My mother asked me how was work and told me that my dinner was in the refrigerator. I opened the refrigerator, my mother had saved me a big plate of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes with cream gravy and green beans. My mother then walked into the kitchen kissed me on the forehead and offered to heat up my dinner for me. As I sat down with a glass of iced tea my mother joked that tomorrow we would have to eat Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Although I was hungry that evening, I found it difficult to eat. A feeling of angst and frustration had suddenly overwhelmed me, something that had been building up just seemed to want to break free. I felt angry, but I didn't know who or what I was angry at.

In time it would all become clear.

to be continued...

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