Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Letting No Good Deed Go Unpunished

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published November 18, 2010] © 2010

Not long ago, I'm in line at the supermarket behind a somewhat chubby young woman holding an adorable Pug puppy. Her groceries are already bagged but it quickly becomes obvious that her debit card is being declined. Cash or credit card are not forthcoming in its place. She keeps taking things out of the bags – Ore-Ida frozen hash browns, Betty Crocker biscuit mix – and asking the clerk to try it again. The clerk is apologetic: “I’m sorry,” she says, “it’s still ‘insufficient funds’”.

The young woman looks increasingly stressed as the line behind her grows. After four rounds of this, I know it won’t matter how much stuff she takes out of those bags or how often the checker re-tries it; this young woman doesn’t have any money. I’m guessing there is probably dog food in there for the puppy. And maybe – given the hash browns and the biscuit mix – a not very nutritious but at least marginally sustaining dinner for her as well.

These are hard economic times. The holidays are coming. Helping one another out is the least we can do.

Meanwhile the puppy – a born closer - turns and looks at me with its big doe-y brown eyes.

I whisper to the checker: “How much is it?” She whispers back, “$11.73”. I think, “How often do I have an opportunity to really help someone for $11.73?” I tell the checker I’ll pay for it. I slide my card and type in my pin while the young woman stands by. I get a kind of terse, “um, thanks” as she grabs her two bags and departs with the dog.

I go out to my car with that warm fuzzy feeling that you get when you’ve made someone’s life just a little brighter, even if only for a day. I imagine them eating their modest meal together that evening. I know I will feel more grateful tonight for my own dinner thinking of her.

And then I glance down at the receipt for the Pug owner’s groceries that the clerk had handed to me along with my own:

HE miniatures: $3.99
Oreo mint cookies: $1.99
Pop Tarts: $2.59
Snickers bar: $.50
Dove Milk Chocolate bar: $.50
Dr. Pepper: $1.89
CRV for the Dr. Pepper: $.10.
With tax: $11.73.

I wasn’t sure what the HE miniatures were. Hoping against hope that this could be something at least minimally nutritious for either human or canine - tiny crackers? little kibbly bits? - I went back into the store and showed the receipt to the checker.

“Please tell me this item is real food,” I said.

“Sorry” she said, “that was a bag of Hershey’s miniature chocolate bars.”

OK, I confess I was a little disheartened. Still, as I drove home, I tried to keep sight of the essential issue here: I sure hope dogs like Oreos.

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