How I came to be behind her in line at Rite-Aid at 6pm on a Saturday night isn't important. But as I'm avoiding work, I shall tell you. I needed money. Fast.
We had run out of food and drink tickets for the carnival at my daughter's school. All parents of children who attend Catholic schools know the importance of bringing enough cash to these carnivals. However, I had a mental lapse and thought 40 dollars would be enough to keep everyone happy. It wasn't. At fundraisers like these a hot dog can cost as much as a sports car. So off I went in search of quick cash so my starving family could eat a Ferrari.
I could have walked four blocks to an ATM, but I had a better, quicker plan. It's here that I am reminded of something a priest I know says: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."
My plan was to make my money pilgrimage much shorter by walking across the street to a Rite-Aid, buying a 7-Up, using my debit card and getting cash back.
I heard the woman the moment I stepped into the Rite-Aid. I can't tell you how long she had been at the counter, but one look at the poor clerk waiting on her and I knew it must have been a couple of hours. Maybe a day. Maybe three. The clerk looked as if she had been sapped of all her life force. I didn't think much of it because that's usually how most of the clerks at Rite-Aid look.
But this time it seemed more serious.
I grabbed my 7-Up and got in line behind the woman. She was holding a picture frame and the picture she was planning to put into it. "Does that look like it's going to fit in that thing?" she asked the clerk.
The clerk looked at her. "Yes. That should fit."
The woman thought a moment and then said, "Well you're going to have to put it in because I can never figure those things out. I don't want to get home and find out it doesn't work. So put the picture in there for me."
I got the sense that the clerk would have built the woman an atomic reactor...anything to get her out of there.
The clerk started to unwrap the picture frame when the woman stopped her. "Wait! Wait! WAIT! That frame isn't going to work! THAT'S NOT GOING TO WORK! It doesn't go up and down! Just sideways. THAT'S ALL WRONG. NO! NO!"
The woman turned to look at me. She rolled her eyes and gestured to the clerk as if to say to me, "Can you believe this?"
At this point the clerk told the woman to go back to the frame area and find one that would work.
"Oh, no you don't," the woman said. "YOU come with me. Show me one that will work. I don't know about frames."
The clerk walked with the woman to a shelf with about six frames scattered on a shelf. The clerk handed her one. At this the woman said. "NO! NO! THAT'S BLACK. YOU'RE SHOWING ME BLACK FRAMES. I TOLD YOU I DON'T WANT A BLACK FRAME! DON'T SHOW ME ANY MORE BLACK FRAMES!"
I got the sense that they had been to this shelf more than a few times in the past hour.
The clerk told her that's all they had. The woman told her to check in the back. I presume the woman thought there was a large storage room in the back that contained thousands of frames. Like when Harry Potter bought his wand; thousands of magical frames in dusty boxes just waiting to be purchased.
The clerk looked at another clerk who was helping other customers in line. She asked him to go look in the back. At this the woman said, "No! Don't ask him. He didn't find any before. He's useless. You go!"
The clerk told the woman that if he already checked, then this is all they had. The woman then told her to call other Rite-Aids to see what frames they had. Seems this woman would only buy picture frames at Rite-Aid.
I put the 7-Up back and decided to walk the four blocks to the ATM.
As I walked, I couldn't believe that woman. THAT WOMAN! But then it occurred to me that this woman wasn't insane or intentionally cruel or anything. She simply thought it was 40 years ago. We've all learned to expect nothing. She hasn't.
40 years ago, maybe you could walk into a Rite-Aid and talk to Hank who would tell you everything you wanted to know about picture frames. He might be able to call Doris at the Rite-Aid in Encino and see if they have any more RX-41B's in stock.
Last year Rudy's Hardware closed down. It was very close to my house. It had been a hardware store for 60 years. It was very small. But it magically had everything I ever needed. It also had Rudy. Rudy could take you instantly to whatever you needed. He knew every bolt, screw and anti-siphon valve.
But Rudy is gone and so are those days.
So if you're ever in the San Fernando Valley and you see a loud woman trying to find the right picture frame, don't be too harsh. She just never got the memo that service has gone the way of the Dodo Bird.