Some days, I think I have completely lost my senses, and other days, I only partially separate with them. Thursday was a complete day.
For one fleeting moment, I actually thought I might care about other people! I hope The Pony doesn't get wind of this! It's not something he could understand.
I walked into the gas station chicken store at 12:52 p.m. and headed to the soda fountain. YOU KNOW WHY! An old man stood at the side counter paying. Or trying to. The more I inadvertently overheard, the more it became clear that This Old Man was having trouble with his debit card. It wouldn't accept his PIN.
The short old lady clerk tried and tried. She was very patient with him. On about the fourth try, This Old Man said, "I don't want to hold you up." The SOL Clerk told him it was okay. That she had never seen that message before. She told him to try again while she rang up another guy at the main counter.
I waited in line behind guy at the chicken counter, but he was still waiting for his ticket and chicken, so I went around. The SOL Clerk called the Man Owner up to the counter. "Can you help me for a minute? I've never seen one do this?"
So Man Owner came out of the soda cooler area and flipped up the drawbridgelike section of the counter to get into the inner sanctum. He tried helping This Old Man with his card. "Huh. In all the years I've been doing this, I've never seen this message." He tried several different ways to ring up the purchase. "Huh. It looks like [at this point, I believe Man Owner started to say insufficient funds, but he dropped his voice and whispered something to This Old Man. I'm pretty sure Man Owner would have seen insufficient funds come up as the message before, though.] "I can't make it work, sir. Maybe you want to call your bank and tell them about the problem? I don't know what else we can do." Then he started writing on a scrap of paper. "Here's the message it gives us."
Let the record show that Man Owner is a really nice guy. He told me they used to let people run a tab, but then they wouldn't come in for a long time, and he and his wife would see them in another store buying stuff, avoiding their eyes. And that eventually, a few of them would come back and settle up. But they had to stop being so nice, or they would have gone out of business.
Now it was my turn. The SOL Clerk moved This Old Man's purchases off to the side, so they weren't taking up room on the glass part of the counter that displays the lottery tickets. It was a tall bottle of clear liquor, and two packs of generic-looking cigarettes. I paid for my 44 oz Diet Coke and went out to the parking lot. I could sense someone behind me, and as I rounded T-Hoe's rear, I saw that it was This Old Man. He was empty-handed. I guess he had given up. He got into a white, not-at-all-fashionable, compact four-door station wagon.
THAT'S the moment I had a brief spate of regret. I could have paid for This Old Man's purchases! It wouldn't take that much money away from my soda/chicken/lottery budget.
Yeah. I don't know what was wrong with me.
It's just that This Old Man was not belligerent. He didn't smell like alcohol or cigarettes. He was polite to the store personnel. He cared that he was impeding the flow of customers. Maybe he just needed a break. Maybe he really DID forget his PIN. Maybe the purchases were not even for himself. Maybe his wife had been bedridden for the last 20 years like Grandma Josephine or Grandma Georgina. Maybe her only pleasure was rotgut gin and a pack of smokes. Maybe This Old Man was out providing for his bedridden wife, and now had to go back and explain why he didn't have her stuff.
WHAT IN THE NOT-HEAVEN IS WRONG WITH ME?
He was probably just one of the regular old alcoholics who frequent the gas station chicken store. I DO hope he didn't get the shakes. People can die from alcohol detox, you know.