Big-Store, All She Wanted Was CandybySuperHeroRalph©
This is a Halloween contest story. Too many readers don't vote. Please vote. I need the support of your vote.
A woman with no money makes a bad decision and a desperate choice at Big-Store by stealing a candy bar.
I never go to Big-Store. I hate the store. Everyone there is overweight and ugly and that's just the employees. The customers, wearing what they slept in or what they pulled out of the closet without the aid of a light, a mirror, or even a shower, look even worse. Call me a snob or an elitist, but it's depressing to walk through the store rubbing elbows with the lower echelon of humanity and to see what I'd look like, when I no longer give a care what I look like anymore.
Unfortunately, I have to go there. I work there. A step above store greeter, a notch above cashier, and a bit higher than stock clerk, I have a better job than those that greet and pass out the shopping carts to customers, those that ring up the customer sales, and those that stock the shelves. I work undercover in store security.
It's just a temporary job that pays a tad better than minimum wage, but at least it has a few benefits, mainly I get to sit and watch monitors all day, that is, when I'm not walking the store to interact with some lowlife suspected of stealing from, of all places, Big-Store. Facing the same criminal charges, you'd think, if someone was going to the trouble of stealing merchandise that they'd steal from a better store.
Sometimes, when bored, and I'm embarrassed by even writing this, but I zoom in on those women wearing low cut blouses. When they lean forward to look at merchandise, I zoom in the camera lens to stare down their blouses at their bras and tits. I guess the job isn't all bad.
Yet, I hate it when I see my friends from college or my old co-workers from other and better jobs where I once worked, especially those jobs that I left in a flair of self-important style. Now, climbing down the ladder, instead of climbing up the ladder, I feel so foolish giving up a much better job for this.
"Hi Bob. How are you? Where are you working now? What do you do?"
Too embarrassed to tell them that I work at Big-Store, I lie. I make up stuff and tell them that I work elsewhere doing something else. I tell that I make more money now than I was earning before and surely make many more times than what I'm earning now. If only they knew I worked at Big-Store, I'd be so embarrassed.
Unfortunately, I'm stuck here, until the economy improves and spits me up a real job that's compatible with my education and working experience. Lucky to even have this job, when so many others are still unemployed, I need to suck it up and get on with my life. Still, it's wrong that someone with my education and experience had to take such a lowly job, a job that pays a fraction of what I earned before.
No matter with what all the politicians say, no matter what the unemployment statistics report, there still are no jobs. Someone is lying about just how many are unemployed and about job growth. There is no job growth. Yet, what else should I expect, my government has a history of lying to its citizens. Moreover, more concerned about cultivating a global workforce, they don't care about their own citizens, someone like me or like you.
Just needing a camel for atmosphere and a big tent for the ambience, cue in the Moroccan music for effect. Much like walking through a bazaar in India or a street fair in Morocco, Big-Store has become America's market for the new middleclass poor. In the way that the Statue of Liberty quotes from a Emma Lazarus sonnet, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," Big-Store beckons, "Give me your depressed, your mentally ill, and your disenfranchised people needing discounted merchandise." Only one promises freedom and the other is driven by pure profit for the billionaire Bigner family.
Unfortunately with the Chinese Yuan quickly and finally closing the gap between the declining dollar, even the prices at Big-Store will be going up soon. What do you know, such a strange coincidence that the prices at Big-Store will increase by 20-30%, just in time for Christmas. Here we all go again with a few powerful players, a mere handful of old, rich Caucasian men, billionaires that control the Asian and American markets, playing one against the other. Here we go again with more Wall Street scams. Here we go again with the rich getting richer and the middleclass getting poorer.
When is our government going to arrest these people, hold them accountable, and put them in jail for causing all of us so much emotional grief and financial misery? If a black man stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, they'd give him the death penalty. Yet, under the guise of just doing business, billionaires are allowed to go through our pockets and pocketbooks to steal our jobs, our savings, our 401Ks, our homes, our security, and our hope.
Even though I work at Big-Store and receive an employee store discount, unless I'm there for a specific reason and happen to be in the area, is the only time you'll catch me shopping at Big-Store. I truly hate the place. Walking through the store, instead of shopping at the little, exclusive boutiques, where I used to shop, makes me feel so ordinary. I feel like one of them, as if I'm one of the customers who shop there. I feel ugly, dirty, and poor.
I can't believe my life has fallen so low that I had to take a job at Big-Store, one of America's largest employers of minimum wage help, if not the largest employer of minimum wage help. Wishing they had an employees' entrance, I always hope no one will see me walking in the store. Most times, embarrassed that I work there, as if a celebrity hiding from the Paparazzi, I walk in the store with my head down, while wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap.
Then, one day, noticing her, as if seeing her for the first time, I saw her. I've seen her shopping the store lots of times before or waiting at the bus stop, as I'm trying to merge out in traffic from my street. As if Cupid just shot me in the ass with an arrow, I never noticed her in the way that I noticed her now. As if she was lit up and glowing, as if she was the only woman in the store, she looked different than how I remembered seeing her before.
"Damn, she's good looking," I said to myself, while watching her through the surveillance monitors. "After seeing her so many times before, how did I not notice that she was so beautiful?"
Knowing now that we're neighbors and no doubt going in the same direction, I felt guilty for not offering her a ride, especially when she's with her kids and especially, in the past when it was raining, sleeting, snowing, and cold. She lives at the women's shelter and has lived there for the better part of a year. Fearing the anticipated increase in crime with the elements who'd live there, sadly I was one of the more vocal residents that didn't want a women's shelter in my neighborhood.
"Helter skelter, we don't want a homeless shelter! Helter skelter, we don't want a homeless shelter!"
Other than being attributed to Charles Manson and the Tate, LaBianca murders, I had no idea what helter skelter even meant, other than it rhymed with shelter. Now I get it. The residents figured a homeless shelter in our neighborhood would attract unsavory characters who would murder us in our sleep.
Only thinking of ourselves and our neighborhood, we figured we'd have beggars in the street asking us for pocket change on our way to work. We figured we'd have to step over drunken, sleeping bodies to get to our cars. The residents didn't give a crap about homelessness and just wanted the shelter on the other side of town.
A valid concern, we figured that abusive husbands would return to terrorize their wives, demand the return of their children, and take out their frustration with violence on the law abiding neighbors and upset an otherwise peaceful community, when they didn't get their way. We figured the shelter would bring down property values. Instead, with the shelter housed in a dilapidated house that was bought at auction was so nicely refurbished that it blended in with the other homes. You'd never even know there was a women's homeless shelter on the street.
Yet, times have changed and even though shelters are everywhere, even in some of the better neighborhoods, there's still not enough of them to house all those who are homeless, especially now after all the housing foreclosures and with so many people out of jobs and unable to even afford rent. Typically and unfortunately, many of those living in shelters now, are citizens just like me, down on their luck, unemployed or underemployed. Yet, before I cast the first stone and write something I'll regret about the plight and the suffering of the homeless and about homeless shelters as a whole, there go I before God. After what I've been through looking for a job, I'm lucky to have one and to still have a roof over my head. Who am I to begrudge another human being a helping hand in the form of a warm house and a regular meal?
I remember a friend or her sister, don't know which, as they all look alike to me, middle-age women saddled with children, calling her Kathy from half a block away.
"Kathy! Kathy! Wait up!"
Kathy is a chubby woman but not obese in the way of many of the other poor women who eat an improper diet filled with fat and carbohydrates are. Better nutrition and healthier meals cost money. Filled with fast food restaurants and convenience stores at every corner, you'll seldom find a fruit and vegetable store in the ghetto. A balanced diet that includes lots of produce costs much more than a meal at Burger King, Taco Bell, and/or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Always with her three small kids in tow, one white, one black, and one Hispanic. Accustomed to seeing minority women playing the role as nanny to spoiled, rich, white kids, especially in my neighborhood, she didn't look like a nanny to me. Sadly, I figured those were her three kids, no doubt, from three different men. After looking at her more closely, figuring she was ten years younger and slimmer than I thought she was, how can someone so young have a life turn to shit so fast?
Only, different from the other women who look like her and who are in the same plight as she is, she's dissimilar in appearance. She's pretty and she'd be even prettier, if she lost a few pounds, had her hair done, and wore clothes that more flattered her figure, other than jeans and a sweatshirt. Unlike so many of the other women I've seen like her, still taking the time, the trouble, and the expense to take care of herself, she's never without makeup, her hair neatly styled, and her clothes color coordinated. Nonetheless her clothes, although always clean have, no doubt, seen better days.
Still, every time I saw her, I never noticed her, that is, until today. With a look of despondent depression and dire desperation, she always had that same empty eyed, tired sadness that comes with not having any money and, no doubt, living her life in a shelter. Now, whenever I spot her in the store, I can't help myself from watching her from afar.
I didn't know what it was or why I was so taken by her, but there was just something about her that attracted me to her. The more I watched her, the bigger my attraction was to her and I started noticing things about her. I only wished she didn't have those three kids. Still, in the way that she confidently carried herself and didn't avoid eye contact with other shoppers, she didn't look like those other women who routinely shopped at Big-Store.
Nonetheless her confident comportment, I'd watched her shop the store through the security surveillance cameras and, not much more than a resting place for her pocketbook, every time she shopped there, except for just a few odds and ends, her cart was always nearly empty. Such a sad correlation to her life, I assumed, someone going through life pushing an empty shopping cart can't be much fun. The underside of a dark cloud that doesn't possess the hopefulness of a silver lining, whether they have them or don't have them, too many feel that life is about material things, when there is so much more to life than mere possessions. Unfortunately, too often, those other things that are more to life than mere material things cost money, too.
Her cart, no doubt, was a reflection of what she had or didn't have in her wallet to pay for what she needed and her kids so wanted to buy. The store had just decorated for Halloween and her kids were all over the store bringing her candy, decorations, and costumes that they wanted her to buy. When there's so much more that they need, Halloween, as is Christmas, instead of being a happy time, is a worst nightmare to those who cannot afford to celebrate the holidays.
"Can you buy us this? What about that? Oh, look, there's a Transformer costume!"
As if they were in their own private toy and candy store, I watched her three kids run around the store, picking up this and holding up that, while hoping, no doubt, that she'd buy them all that they wanted. Obviously, with her having to return the merchandise where her kids found it, they were things she, no doubt, couldn't afford to buy. Busy watching other customers on the camera, along with paperwork that I had to complete, I lost track of her in the huge store. Then, it occurred to me.
Sadly, here's a woman, obviously born in this country who can't even afford some made in China Halloween candy, decorations, and costumes for Halloween for her and her poor, homeless children. Such a sad state of affairs. What has happened to so many people in our country? Why are they all so poor? When did all the classes merge, morph, and combine to leave just two, the huge struggling middleclass and the tiny affluent one percent who have it all? I never received the memo that America is now just another third world country.
If this continues, they'll be a revolt and another revolution with the middleclass marching on Washington to demand our fair share, in the way we revolted against the British during the American Revolution. Sadly, it may take a middleclass revolt for Congress to hear us over the lobbyists who routinely have their ears and their purse strings. Yet, this is what this country is about, protests, boycotts, and demonstrations, and it's about time our government gave its citizens the attention we need, require, and demand, before helping others in cities and in countries we never heard of and can't even pronounce. It's our turn to feed at the trough.
The last assault came, when her kids surrounded her with candy, decorations, and costumes.
"Can we buy this? Can we buy that? Please? Pretty please? What about this? Is this too much money?"
I saw her inadvertently slip a candy bar in her coat pocket, while collecting all they brought her and after returning the items to where they found them, that is, except for the candy bar. Then, being that I was store security, I wondered if she purposely stole the candy. I played back the video to double check and I couldn't tell if she took the candy bar on purpose or by accident, but I could clearly see that she pocketed the candy bar.
"Nah, she wouldn't do that for just a candy bar."
After watching her on the cameras, I'm not sure why, but there was something about her that excited me. I liked her. I wondered how old she was. If it wasn't for her three bastard kids, I'd consider asking her out on a date. Only, too much of a burden that would interfere in developing a relationship, I didn't want to take on that kind of baggage. Yet, just in the way she doted on her children and had inexhaustible patience with them, she appeared, as if she was a good mother and a quality person.
Maybe with her hands full of decorations and costumes, she forgot she had mindlessly slipped the candy bar in her coat pocket. Yeah, that's probably it. Or, maybe knowing she was going to buy that, with her hands full with everything else, she just put it there, so that she wouldn't drop it. I'll just wait until she goes through the register and to see if she'll pay for the candy, before confronting her.
As procedure dictates, if she didn't pay for the candy bar, I'd have to bring her back in the store to interview her and give her a chance to pay for the merchandise, before letting her go with a stern warning, along with the threat that if she's caught stealing again, she'll be banned from the store. In this neighborhood, being banned from Big-Store is a fate nearly as bad as being arrested. Big-store for those, who have nothing else, is not just a store, it's a social gathering place. People come here to walk the store and/or to sit out front on the benches to socialize.
I certainly didn't want to make an errant candy bar a police issue. She appeared to have her hands full already caring for those kids. Besides, I always felt bad when the cops handcuffed a mother in front of her children and put the children in protective custody, until a relative came for them.
In this bad economy, everyone is desperate enough to make a mistake and everyone deserves a second chance, before throwing them in jail and giving them a police record, just for stealing a candy bar. People have a hard enough time finding a job without an arrest record for petty theft haunting them. With some too proud to ask family members for help, somehow, they're able to justify that's it's okay to steal, especially from Big-Store and the billionaire Bigner family.
Then, I watched my pain-in-the-ass boss, Dave, a regular Deputy Barney Fife, stop her at the front entrance door and confront her, just as she was leaving the store.
When she refused to return to the store with him, he grabbed her by the arm and reached in her coat pocket and pulled out the candy bar. A violation of protocol, he's not supposed to do that, physically assault her and search her. She has rights and he's not allowed to do go through her pockets. He's only supposed to detain her for the police. Only the police can search her person.
Besides, it was just a lousy candy bar. Certainly the candy company and Big-Store can afford to give her a lousy candy bar. For a lousy candy bar, I was willing to let her leave with it. For a lousy candy bar, I was willing to go downstairs and pay for it myself. For a lousy candy bar, I watched my boss parade her and her three kids down the main aisle and up to the security office, while berating her.
Customers, along the way, turned to stare at her. They all knew what was happening. Red faced embarrassed with her head down, looking as if she was being escorted to prison and was about to cry, she looked so humiliated. You'd think she had robbed a bank in the way my boss was treating her already as a convicted criminal, instead of someone alleged to have stolen a candy bar.
Dave brought her up to where I was sitting watching the surveillance cameras. He ushered the kids in a playroom that we have and that's monitored with an employee. He closed the door to the tiny security room.
"Have a seat, please," he said officiously, as if he was a prison warden.
A little power with Dave, just as it did with Deputy Barney Fife, goes a long way. In the way that he acts, you'd think he owns the store. You'd think customers were stealing from him. Admittedly though, with the economy so very bad, stealing has escalated. People who would never think of stealing anything before, are stealing whatever they can now, even a mere candy bar.
I watched the woman sit in the chair that was positioned beside Dave's small desk. Still red face and looking down at her feet, she looked so embarrassed. Seeing her up close, she was so very pretty.
"Listen, I can't stay," she said. "I have to get back to the shelter with the kids. Let me just pay for--"