Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Trip to the Discount Store

This girl isn’t afraid of discounts.

I grew up in hand-me-downs, spent my college work-study checks at thrift stores and still make a monthly trip to Wal-Mart for “the necessities.” (I go before six a.m. – there’s less chance of being accosted by toothless panhandlers my own age in the parking lot or by the swarms of unattended, sticky-faced children who roam the aisles.)

On Saturday, I went to another discount store, one I’d only been to once before, a few years ago. I remembered the experience wasn’t exactly pleasant, but I was fuzzy on the particulars. In any case, I was now in search of the same item I’d bought then – a new pillow. The store was basically the same as I remembered – racks upon racks of flimsy clothes made from stretchy synthetic fabric, rows of shoes that looked cute but wouldn’t survive more than a single wear. I made a beeline for the back of the store – home décor.

I’m sort of particular about pillows. My neck needs support – not too firm, not too soft. I love a down pillow, although not necessarily the accompanying sneezes. It’s an awkward thing to try out a pillow in a store – especially when there’s no bed, and thus no way to exactly replicate the experience. I was left to lean my head into the shelves – which was not, I reflected, entirely unlike sticking one’s head in an oven.

Well. I found a pillow I liked, and so immediately grabbed a second one, entirely voiding the purpose of seeking a discount. But Will would like this, too, and even if Baxter had only thrown up on one of our pillows, at some point we would need another.

On the way up to the register – the line, I recognized with a sick feeling, had wound its way halfway through the store – I passed a display of area rugs. Hmm. We do need a new rug at our entryway. The braided rattan rug I loved at the time has sadly proved impossible to clean. This rug, a plush shag that the cats would love to dig their claws into, was only $14.99 and the sort of beige that would hide human and dog footprints. Why not?

And then, I faced the line. Clutching two pillows under one arm and sort of inching the rug forward with my free hand, I waited with a few dozen other Modestans who love a good bargain. Each transaction at the register (only two were open… why? WHY??) took a mini-eternity. I realized that half the population of my line was already clutching a bag; apparently, they were previous dissatisfied customers. I eyed the pillows carefully, considering. But they had felt so good on my neck, at least for the twenty seconds I stood with my head angled into the shelf.

At this point the women in front of me caught my attention. They were a family of four very large people, and they were arguing volubly about the cost of their potential purchases.

“I need these pants,” one of the women said, and – I couldn’t make this up if I tried – held up a stretchy pair of navy blue leggings printed with pink heart-shaped peace signs. There were approximately 600 peace signs on this pair of pants. If she had scratched at one of them with her two-inch acrylic fingernail, I bet the decal would have flaked right off. We’re talking quality product here.

“You’re already getting the balloon pants,” another woman pointed out. Balloon pants? I leaned forward, curious. There was indeed a pair of leggings emblazoned with rainbow-colored balloons nesting in the shopping cart.

“I need those, too!”

I was trying to figure out why in the world anyone would need either the peace-sign or the balloon leggings, let alone both (Tryouts for the circus?), when suddenly the experience I’d been blocking out for the last twenty minutes came rushing back into my head.

I remembered my previous trip to this discount store.

It was three years ago, summer,one of those hellishly hot days when you escape the heat of the parking lot for the chill of air conditioning and feel momentarily sick and disoriented. The store had just opened; curious, I decided to give it a walk-through. I was wearing a pair of flip-flops, my warm-weather uniform, and I had only taken a step inside the store when I slipped. Talk about a slip. It was kind of like being on a Slip-and-Slide (that dangerous, lawn-killing piece of plastic that rarely made an appearance in my childhood), only I was sliding past a row of shopping carts, a laughing security guard and a dozen people waiting in line for the register, all while toting a massive shoulder bag. I eventually caught myself on a display case, which because this is real life and not a movie, did not topple dramatically. It seemed like the whole store was holding its breath during my performance, and when I finally righted myself, straightening my shoulders, they let out a collective sigh. A long, wet, flip-flop shaped streak stretched across the floor behind me.

“Are you hurt?” the security guard said. He tried to cover his smile with a look of concern.

“Only my pride,” I said, laughing it off. I’m sure I was all shades of red, and would have loved to turn and walk right back out (this time avoiding the puddle of mystery moisture), but that felt like admitting defeat. Instead, I wandered the store, and found in the back a very lovely pillow for only $5.99.

On Saturday, I lugged my purchases inside and displayed them for Will.

He admired the pillows, but looked curiously at the rug. “Uh-oh.”

“Oh. Whoops,” I said. The dimensions were entirely wrong. Somehow I had vastly underestimated the size of my own entryway.

So, I guess I’ll have to return it.

1 comment:

  1. Paula, I love reading your hijinxical stories. Two things: I wish there was a line-item-comment feature. And I resent the obvious inference to my children at the BBeginning of the post. Otherwise, thanks for the image od you trying out shelved pillows.