Thursday, June 2, 2011

A slice of life.

The power of cigarettes.

Last week, I was in a local Wawa, standing in line with my newspaper, yogurt and sundries. A woman in front of me thought I might benefit from moving in front of her.

"I have a split transaction," she said, holding out a card that looked like a gift card but was actually a debit card.

I let her go. She wanted a pack of Newport cigarettes and had some change that she had apparently pulled from her sofa cushions and car seats. The cigs were $7.35 and she had all but $1.35 in nickels, dimes and pennies strewn about on the counter.

She had six dollars in change and attempted to put the remaining $1.35 on her card.
"It's rejected," the cashier said as the bad news came up on her screen.
"That's impossible. I went down to Wachovia this morning and checked to see how much was in the account, and there's a dollar-thirty-five in there. Swipe it again."

This went on a few times until the line built up to more than a few shoppers with their own sundries piled up on the counter behind me.

Finally, since I was the next in line, I felt it was my responsibility to speed the process along.
"Just add the dollar thirty-five to my stuff," I said, expecting the kudos of the group behind me. Not happening. The beneficiary seemed to appreciate it, and although I would have been mortified, she took her cigarettes, thanked me and left to smoke the smoke of the poor and dependent.

I would have felt a lot better if it had been diapers or her lunch or even a magazine, but afterward I felt like I should have just waited for her to have the cashier give up and abandon her cigarettes. I don't think she would have learned anything, though; and the necessity to move the line along took precedent over my good sense.

Then, I started thinking about the power of the cigarette addiction and how they make people do silly things like taking $1.35 from a total stranger or standing outdoors in the rain, sleet, snow and cold to smoke while the rest of us are indoors enjoying a drink or a nice meal. Cigarettes have become social anathema and the smokers don't seem to mind. If you told people that drinking a canned soft drink would have to be done outdoors, people would start drinking water or iced tea. Tell them that they have to smoke outdoors and they do it without questioning their civil rights.

I like the smoke-free environment but feel put-upon when a fellow bar patron asks me to babysit his stuff while he goes outside for a smoke. And I still think the restaurant is backed up when I see people standing around outside - until I realize that there is a cloud of smoke around them.
So, perhaps I gave that woman a dollar thirty-five more for myself than for her. Whatever, it's a small price to pay for learning so much about the humans.