Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Signs of Life.

This weekend, I found a glimpse of humanity in the most unlikely place. I speak, of course, of Rite-Aid.

Daughter spends Sunday mornings with my mother. Yesterday, after dropping her off, I chose to go wild and buy buttons and thread to make a hand-me-down viable as a dress for Daughter and not just an apron. This, like so many stupid errands, sucked up all available time without leaving any satisfaction in its wake.

The two fabric stores near my mother were closed (What? Does no one need to buy Halloween-themed quilting fabric on the day of rest?), and the Target parking lot was unsettlingly full. Between parking, locating thread and waiting forever to check out, I was going to spend an hour buying two dollars worth of goods. Or, more likely, I was going to spend two hours, one hundred dollars, and fill my trunk with Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers, a new cordless phone and tube socks which were on sale. I needed someplace less distracting.

As if in a dream, the illuminated Rite-Aid sign shone through the fog (Actually, it was blazingly sunny and smoggy, but “shone through the exhaust” is sort of depressing). An all-purpose pharmacy! Yes, they will have buttons and thread! The thread won’t match the dress, but Daughter moves quickly, and no one will be able to see the color of the thread. Most important, I don’t need diabetes blood-testers or lawn chairs, so the chance of spending serious bills in Rite-Aid was pretty small. I pulled into the parking lot.

Did you know that only one person actually works at each Rite-Aid? She (and it’s always a woman) is up at check-out, and answers any question about where a product would be located with “That’s on Aisle 7, near the back”. I made my way to Aisle 7 and found four other people looking blank and asking one another “Do you see barbeque mitts?” “No, is that dental floss next to your hand?” This was, apparently, the holding pen. Before they bundled us into a truck and took us to the stockyards, I made my way out and starting scouring the aisles for buttons and thread.

I made my way to Aisle 8, and gazed up at the hanging sign, the one indicating what was on that aisle. Since I doubt most people wake up one morning and think “It’s all ashes unless I can make my favorite shirt a button-down again!” I assumed sewing notions weren’t going to be popular enough to merit a position on a sign. I would have to find the sewing stuff because it was near a related item. I glanced at the sign:

AUTO MOTOR OIL LIGHT BULBS ELECTRICAL

Probably not. Couldn’t hurt to walk down the aisle, though. No buttons, but I marveled at the range of weights of motor oil.

Next aisle:

HOUSEWARES MOPS DISH SOAP POTPOURRI

I stopped to consider this. Really, potpourri from a store where you can get hemorrhoid pads? Admittedly, scented things are pretty much lost on me. But don’t you just know that if you opened four different fragrances and blindfolded someone, they would describe each scent as “Newly cleaned bus station bathroom”? One had a picture of a kitten on the box. I love a cute kitten as much as the next person, but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a room to smell like one.

I walked to the next aisle:

PET SUPPLIES PAPER TOWELS TOILET PAPER

I nodded approvingly. Clearly, whoever decides where things go has a pet. Probably a dog. Possibly a dog with separation anxiety issues. You get toilet paper for the small messes and paper towels for when the dog gets anxious and eats a seventeen-pound ham and vomits in every room in the house. Twice in the closets.

I had to see what the next aisle offered:

LIQUOR SODA WINE BEER TRASH BAGS SEWING

Success! But, I simply must contemplate what my store-designing friend was aiming for here. It was painfully clear to me that this person was the one at high-school raves putting coasters under the Rolling Rocks. Clearly, this sweet person was trying to suggest gently “It’s easy to keep your house clean while having a party! It can be fun! Look, plastic trash bags with self-ties, you don’t even need to keep those twisty things in your pocket!” But why keep the sewing stuff on this aisle? In a flash, I saw it. The end of the party, bodies and bottles strewn everywhere, the host in custody, and my new friend sitting on the last unbroken chair, frantically whip-stitching the torn hem of a friend’s skirt.

Sadly, the selection offered me nothing I could use. I might have left, but departing without finishing the Walking Tour of Signs was impossible.

I happily walked on and saw:

CANDIES COOKIES CRACKERS COOKIES CONVENIENCE FOODS CONDIMENTS COFFEE

This was taking a melancholy turn; my friend had wanted to be a poet, but due to family obligations had gone to work at the Rite-Aid organization with only these signs as a heartbreaking reminder of a talent for alliteration. I admired the use of the word “Cookie” twice. Was this a commentary on the American overwhelming need to consume? Did anyone in the organization question putting the condiments on what was obviously the fast food aisle? Was the sign- maker forced to defend his or her right to express what might have been the last gasp of creative spirit? Or was Rite-Aid just happy to find someone who could work with the word “Condiments” without giggling?

I took a breath and continued:

BABY BOTTLES BABY SHAMPOO BABY FORMULA BABY POWDER DIAPERS BABY WIPES FEMININE HYGIENE

Now, that’s just mean. No man will ever be convinced to pick up baby stuff if he thinks he’s less than five feet from a product that promises “Meadow Freshness” and has a picture of a kitten on the box…wait a minute; this is the same box they use for potpourri. There’s a second place I don’t think needs that scent. And having it next to the end-cap of Christmas lights in slightly dented boxes seemed incongruous. Perhaps placing it there was some kind of coded warning. Perhaps the Sign Maker was trying to save us all from oddly-scented products…or faulty wiring.

No wonder my friend got so bitter. I imagined him locked in a small office in the back of the store, endlessly eyeing the security monitors, watching people walk by his handiwork day after day, taking no more than a second to see if the aisle had what they needed before moving on. Well, Sign Maker, I saw it all.

For once, you were among friends.

I raised a fist in solidarity towards the first hidden camera I could find, and headed out to pick up my kid.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Melissa said...

All that amusement and you still came away thread-less. Does getting a blog entry mean it wasn't a total waste of time? Hmmm, there's one for the philosphers. But hie thee to Tar-jay, Quinn - trust me, you need a new cordless phone anyway. Don't know about the tube socks (aren't they always useful??), but as for the Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers - if you want your daughter to outgrow them forever, the surest way is to buy the giant Costco-on-steroids size package. Two crackers into it, she'll refuse to eat them ever again, and you'll be stuck between not wanting to throw out perfectly good food, and trying to figure out if the food bank will take something "slightly used."

12:21 PM  

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