I am pious and shallow. I believe that the Apostle Paul must have had it all wrong. When he proclaimed that he was the “chief of sinners” in his first letter to Timothy, I don’t believe he had met me, or perhaps he would have said otherwise. But I reckon I am not alone in the crowd of onlookers who stand around in awe at the oddities of others.
I was on the last lap. I had gone out during my lunch at work several days ago to do some Christmas shopping, and as my lunch break was nearing an end, I knew that I needed to make a quick run into the dollar store to get a birthday card. Under normal circumstances I can usually dash in and out and be back on my way lickety-split, but my trip inside the Chinese superstore did not go as quickly as I had anticipated.
I parked my car and bolted into the store, made a bee-line to the card aisle, and as I narrowed in on the section of need, low and behold, an older lady was standing smack-dab in the middle of the section of cards that I was seeking. Thankfully she was kind enough to see that I was on a mission and excused herself and moved to the side. As I turned my focus on the birthday cards, she turned her focus back to me and asked me if I knew why nothing in the store had a price on it. I was proud to inform her that everything in the store was a dollar unless marked otherwise. I then turned and went back to card hunting as she lit up with glee having this new knowledge I had imparted to her.
Within moments I had made my selection and was moving on to the next chapter of my five-minute shopping spree—the checkout line. This usually went fairly quickly, and as I approached the front I was encouraged by the fact that, although the first line was long, there was actually a second line open, with only one person ahead of me. Woo, Hoo!
My burst of excitement was quickly deflated as I moved closer. Had I gotten there a split second earlier I might have been able to fork out the cash for my one item and been on my merry way, but I watched in horror as the checker began unloading the basket of the lady in front of me. As she scanned the first item, I don’t recall ever having seen so many small things piled in one little basket. I was sure wondering how this lady had lugged this little basket (the ones you carry) around the store with so much stuff in it. She must have gotten here at the opening bell and gathered enough stocking stuffers to last her for the next five years.
As I stood there watching every item scan in slow motion, the lady turned toward me and blasted my eyes with some artwork that I wish I had not seen. Perhaps it wasn’t the artwork that was such a shock to me, but the location on which she had spent her life savings on tattoos that made me jerk my head and begin admiring all of the types of gum on display that this store had to offer.
Having seen my wife nurse all of our children, it made me think of a couple of casual terms for which our little girls have learned to identify this portion of a woman’s anatomy, not from our guidance mind you. Many times, when the girls have been playing with Barbie dolls, they have referred to these as “milkers”. Just the other day, our little Holly was running around the house donning one of Mommy’s undergarments, pretending that she had “girl bumps”. Now I’m not sure what this woman had in mind when she allowed someone to give her “girl bumps” this paint job that she displayed so prominently, but I was quite certain that it was not for my benefit. Needless to say, I was going to do everything I could to make sure that I memorized every flavor of Tic-Tac as I stood there, so as to not be exposed to her artwork again.
The checker was still unloading the basket, slowly but surely, and visions of a magician pulling items endlessly from a hat came to mind. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she began dragging out exotic birds or animals at this point as I stared at the other four vacant check-out lines that someone ought to be manning. Several times in my mind I thought of just throwing two dollars down and running out of the store with my card. As the last item was scanned, she announced “That will be forty six dollars and thirty seven cents.” I watched in horror as the lady began unloading every hidden compartment of her purse to come up with some combination of bills and coins that would equal that amount. When that did not work, I almost stopped breathing when she pulled out a hundred dollar bill, which automatically required the presence of the store manager who was nowhere in sight.
By the time the store manager finally arrived I think the long line next to mine had already filtered through four or five times while I went through my dilemma. After a couple of federal agencies were perhaps called they cleared the lady’s hundred dollar bill. Even if she had been counterfeiting these bills in her basement at home, she was going to get a free pass today, much to my relief. The checker gave the lady her change and reached for my card just as the manager opened up another line next to ours. How timely.
In no time flat the checker had scanned my card, taken my money, and returned to me my change and receipt. I had snatched up my card and was headed to the door as the decorated lady was still loading her pile of bags like a pack mule headed on a long journey. As I got half-way to the door, I dropped some of my change on the floor, and as I bent over to pick it up in embarrassment, I noticed the lady standing behind me, waiting for me to gather up my fumbled coins. With cash in hand I raced for the door just in time to allow an elderly lady to come on in. I wondered to myself if I should let her in on the “no prices” secret as well, and as she strolled in, the colorful lady behind me passed through coming out as I held the door.
At a speed-walkers pace I made my way to my car, jumped inside, and started it up, just in time to wait for someone to pass behind me in my rearview mirror before I could back out. Any guess as to who that might have been?
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, December 18, 2010