Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Recession Times Two

She came toward me from between the electric eye of the supermarket door wheeling a shopping cart. A single paper bag looked out from behind its bars. Two cases of beer were stacked on the bottom of the cart. She wore jeans, brown hair held in a clip, shaking her cell phone upside down and sideways like a snow-globe, waiting for some picture to rearrange itself.

If she’s looking for clarity, forget it. Charity, that’s something else, something I count on standing here outside the supermarket selling subscriptions to newspapers going belly up or offering services as a leisure travel consultant. Who wants to bother? Everyone takes care of business online these days. But living totally online is a myth, at least that’s what I told the email address who hired me. “A person has to come up for air,” I said. “It’s the way we’re built.”

She passed in front of my wooden enclave squeezed between the parking lot and hundreds of shopping carts, red noses sniffing inside each other. She looked at me as though I was a dish of flan that’s been sitting in a restaurant window for two weeks.

“Wait,” I said.

She jolted the carriage to a halt. "What?”

“Like a free paper?”

She reached out, and for a moment, stood in the smile aisle. It was a pleasant site. Traveling across country for several months and living out of the trunk of my car I'd passed through one town after another watching families, men and women queuing up to catch a movie, standing outside bank windows with a plastic bank card, girls on television with short skirts and few lines, parties with open bottles of beer running down the sides of an iced cooler, tent cities on the edge of towns drawing a tight circle around my nipple and pulling hard until I couldn't breathe anymore.

“Want to subscribe? You’ll save $1,000 a year. Delivered to your doorstep. If you subscribe for two years, you’ll save $1,250. It keeps going up. Plus, you’ll get a 15-month calendar, free of charge.”

“There are only 12 months in a year,” she said with a hint of scorn.

“You can use the three extra ones anyway you like.”

“That’s too crazy.”

“I know," I admitted. "Say, what’s your name?”

“Margaret.” She handed me her cellphone like she was placing a wafer on my pink tongue. “It’s my phone,” she said, glancing at the message bar. “It's stopped working again. D'you know anything about decent plans?”

I had made plans and forgot about them not knowing why they were important. I had walked away from plans that other people had made. I had tried to follow plans that were treasure maps with arrows pointing due west, due north, and seas rolling with waves. My life hinged at this moment on one answer.

"You bet," I said, and winked at her.

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