I have this pair of pants that has been a pain in the butt. I went to JCPenny at West County Mall a couple of years ago, because who can resist 60% off on all items? I was seduced by a pair of pants there. I tried them on, and I’ve never looked better in a pair of pants. The price was $27.98. So we went home together, my pants and me.
Unfortunately, we have not had a happy relationship. In the first place, I can’t wear them more than ten minutes, and they slip down on me. The cuffs are lying in pools around the tops of my shoes. So I pull in the belt a notch. Same problem. I pull the belt in two notches. Ok, now they look like hell around the top with lots of little waves, reminiscent of the washboard pattern on a back country road.
What is the problem? Maybe I should have read the label more carefully. So I do. 100% polyester, made in Bangladesh. Hmm. I decide not to wash them, but to have them dry cleaned. But since I am at the cleaners, let’s have them taken in half an inch. This costs another $25. I get them back in a week, wear them. Same old story. I begin to not wear them on a regular basis.
Eureka! Suspenders! I will borrow a pair of Stephen’s suspenders. Unfortunately, those all button on to his pants. So I need clip-on suspenders. Next day, I drive over to Kohl’s in Crestwood. Deep in the bowels of the men’s section I find a nice tan pair of clip-ons. So excited.
I don’t even wait until the next day. I get out the pants, clip on the suspenders. The back clips come off immediately. I carefully put them back on, but I notice that these suspenders—and since I don’t wear suspenders, possibly all of the newer suspenders—have a solid plastic insert in both sides of the clips. Immediately, I get it. These polyester pants, those slippery boys, are not a good match for suspenders with plastic inserts in the clips. Ok, so I need an old fashioned pair of suspenders: metal clips, no plastic inserts.
Now we are headed for the real point of this story. A few days later, when Stephen and I are going out for his haircut, I toss the disappointing suspenders in the back seat, and run into Kohl’s to return them on the way back. It’s a nice day; Stephen waits in the car. I don’t know why I even went to Kohl’s to buy them; I seldom shop there. So I certainly don’t know where the return counter/service center is. Two clerks and three aisles later, I come upon a fairly elaborate checkout station and present my return to the woman behind the register. She says in a quite loud voice, “You’ll have to go to the return counter. Over there.” She points “By the line of women.”
So here’s the set up. Two clerks, three women in line, and another woman headed for the line, and I know I can’t beat her there. I saunter over and start to take my place behind the woman who has just beat me to the back of the line. She turns to me and says, “You go ahead of me.”
Zelda is about 5′ tall and just a bit plump. With just those few words, I know that she smokes and drinks coffee. The thing about Zelda is, though she is presentable and Caucasian, she has a dark look about her. She has not-quite-perfect black pageboy hair. Her dress is a dark, dark purple, but with closely spaced small white dots. She looks like she has spent quite a bit of time out in the sun in her life. Her eyes could be black, or very dark brown.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,” I protest. “It’s OK.”
Zelda is determined. “No, you should go ahead of me. I saw you over there and heard you asking for directions. If you had been here before, you would have been the next in line. So you go ahead.”
This starts a small conversation. I tell her it’s not necessary, but I appreciate it, and as we switch places—she’s been kind of standing off to the side—we talk about how shopping and driving can be uncaring and rude experiences these days. As we do, she throws in a few statements about herself here and there. “I’ve got more time than money,” she jokes, and “I’m an honest person,” and “I tell the truth.” So now we talk about telling the truth and how it can get you into trouble, and how sometimes it’s better not to.
It seems to be study hour over at the return counter. Both of the clerks have headphones on, both the probably-gay-guy with the close-cropped hair and the probably-single-mom in the banshee dress. But they are conferring about the return item of one of the customers, and this is going on and on. But finally the line moves up one.
“I can hardly wait to get home and have my peeps.” Zelda drops this line from nowhere.
“You’re talking about the yellow marshmallow chicks they sell around Easter?”
“Yes, I love them. But I don’t like them straight out of the package. They have to set around for a few days and get a crust. That’s when I like them.”
I say nothing to this.
“I’ve always been this way since I was a kid,” she continues unbidden. “Mom would bring peeps home to us kids and my brothers and sister would eat theirs right away, but I would save mine for later.”
“I have to be honest,” I reply, “I really don’t like peeps.”
“Well, I like ’em. Do I ever like ’em.”
We start talking about the kinds of candy we like and don’t like, and it becomes clear that our tastes are completely incompatible. Her list of likes is like my list of hates. You won’t find me eating peeps or cotton candy. You won’t find her eating Mounds or Almond Joy. But then we find something we can agree upon! To my utter amazement, we both hate candy corn. We talk about how awful it is.
The line inches forward, but other people are now behind us. Zelda and I have reached a lull in our conversation.
She must be lusting for those peeps, because she starts up again. “I had ’em at the office, but I didn’t dare open ’em up there and leave them in the drawer.” I give her a quizzical look. “There’s roaches down there. I couldn’t leave ’em out. Big roaches.”
“Where do you work?”
“In an office building. I told my friends there about it, but they still leave their food lying around. That’s stupid, I wouldn’t do that.”
“So you actually see these roaches running around?”
“Oh, no. But they spray every so often and then you see them lying around dead, under counters and in corners. Big roaches.” She continues. “But I just kept forgetting to take them home. But then I did a couple of days ago, and unwrapped them, and now they’re ready to eat.”
The last woman who was before me in line is now at the return counter, and I realize that this truly bizarre conversation is about to terminate. And then, just like that, the other counter opens up. I smile a relieved shopper smile at Zelda, return the item, get in the car with patiently waiting Stephen and drive home.
But fascinating as the experience was, it left me with an unsettled feeling. I spent 15 minutes in line looking down a microscope at a very small aspect of a person’s life, and yet I don’t know Zelda at all. Not what she does for a living, not who her loved ones are, nothing like that. And I have to admit, a part of me really didn’t want to know any of that either. But a part of me did want to know more of that. Yep. A part of me wanted to get to know Zelda better.
Just like those damn pants. I should have taken them back the day I discovered they really weren’t right for me. But here I am, still trying to make it work out.