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Pork and Beans, Three for a Dollar

It was late, and I had driven past my best options for a nice evening meal. Somehow it seemed only fitting that this intrepid explorer who, earlier in the day, had ordered his first totem pole, should be required to “hunt and kill” his evening meal.

I stopped at a regional chain of grocery stores in a small town near the Arizona/New Mexico border, so I could do just that. After strolling the aisles, hunting down my items like a cold-blooded predator, I moved in for the kill at the checkout.

“Do you have your Overjoyed Shopper card?”

“I don’t think so, but let me check.” I flipped through the key tags until the cashier gave up on me. She pulled out a sheet of new tags, each with a green and yellow OS logo, and pressed on one of them until it popped free. She scanned it and handed me the small oval tag, and I slid it on my over-populated key ring.

The bagging woman put my quart of organic milk in an “I’m an Overjoyed Shopper” recycled bag. She put the rest of my purchases in bags randomly, and resumed a conversation with the cashier, as if I didn’t exist.

“So, what happened to him,” the bagging woman asked.

“$23.12. Cash, credit or debit,” the cashier asked me but was fully engaged with the bagging woman.

“Credit,” I said. I waited for the small touch screen to come alive.

“You didn’t hear,” the cashier asked the bagging woman.

“No! Hear what?”

I swiped my card and pressed OK.

“Somebody poisoned his open container of beer last night.”

“No way,” the bagging woman said, playing with the stems of my tomatoes.

“He was foaming at the mouth when they found him.”

“That’s cool. Sort of.”

I detest small-town gossip, yet it took all my willpower not to blurt out, “Who? Who? For crying out loud, who!” I resisted, mostly because I’m not from around these parts. Still, that seemed the perfect reason to know a name, or a relation. I found a sudden urge to hunt and kill another item, just until their conversation was over. It would have been rude to do otherwise.

I grabbed a few packages of gum or breath mints or something similar from the nearest display rack and rolled them onto the belt. The cashier pushed a button and the items moved to within her reach. She scanned them and slid them along the slick stainless steel ramp toward the bagging woman.

“Is he dead,” the bagging woman asked.

I stared at the cashier and waited for an answer. “Do you have your Overjoyed Shopper card,” she asked, never taking her gaze away from the bagging woman.

“Sorry. I don’t think I do.”

She took out a sheet of new tags, punched one out, scanned it and handed it to me. “$3.71,” she said. “Cash or credit?”

I pulled my pockets inside out, and gave a quick glance into my wallet. “Crap. credit.”

“What did you say,” the cashier asked the bagging woman.

“Did he die,” she repeated.

“Hit OK,” she told me, looking at the bagging woman the whole time. “Not yet, but you know it’s coming.”

“It’s coming for all of us,” the bagging woman said. “Only maybe not in the form of a beer-poisoned foaming mouth.”

“Thank you for being an overjoyed shopper and come again,” the cashier said, looking at the bagging woman.

“Thank you two,” I said. I lifted two handfuls of plastic handles and started to walk away.

“What else have you heard,” the bagging woman asked. I put down one of the bags to get a better grip.

“Not much. Just that she is up to her old tricks again.” The cashier rolled her eyes and jerked her head backwards twice and a little to one side.

I put down all my bags, and made sure I had my wallet, phone and keys. The bagging woman followed the cashier’s head tilt as if tracing a laser beam, then looked down and away.

“Oh. Right. Her.”

I tapped my pockets again. A person could never be too sure. I followed the cashier’s head tilt and found several possibilities. Which one! Which one! My brain was spinning. I panicked. I scanned the store in desperation for something else to buy.

“Sir. Are you OK,” the bagging woman asked.

“I think I’m forgetting something. I’ll just stand here until I think of it, since no one else is in line, I mean.”

“Pork and beans are on sale, three cans for a dollar.”

I stood there for a while and gave it serious thought.

The cashier’s green and yellow vest was buttoned to her chin. Her name tag had the word, “Dannie,” on it.

“It’s a really good deal,” Dannie said. She looked at me for the first time.

“It is,” the bagging woman said. Her name tag was pinned on upside down, which gave the illusion of being written in a foreign language.

“And it’s that good brand, not the OS stuff,” Dannie said.

“It’s the big cans too,” said the bagging woman with the foreign name.

“Family size,” Dannie added.

Then the three of us stood in silence for at least a minute, all three waiting for answers. My mind raced. My eyes darted from item to item, seeing everything and nothing.

All of the advertisements and sales and bright colorful logos I had seen since childhood flashed in my mind, then merged into visual noise like static on a television screen.

At the front of the store, I noticed a woodsy display of stacked Flame Starter logs, those instant-lighting log-look-alike things packed with fuel. I read the sign underneath: Ready for camping? I think not. Not without us!

“A Flame Starter log!” Several overjoyed shoppers turned to see why someone had just yelled that phrase. One of them had an expression of potential shock, as if his mind had translated the phrase “flame starter log” into “fire”. He seemed to scan the store for the nearest exit.

“A flame starter log,” I repeated, this time using my inside voice. “It’s OK everyone. I’m an explorer. And you two talked me into three cans of pork and beans.”

“I’ll get those for you,” the bagging woman said.

“You got a good deal. Do you have your Overjoyed Shopper card,” Dannie asked.

I searched my key chain.

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