Main | Wednesday, November 16, 2005

We Three Kings

Walgreen's, 2nd Avenue, 7:45am

I'm in Walgreens and I need batteries. I didn't have time to rip yesterday's music purchase onto my iPod, so I've grabbed my dusty Discman off the shelf for the short train ride to work. I haven't touched the Discman in months, so naturally the batteries are dead.

The old ladies of the Upper East Side must be shoplifting batteries these days, because the Duracell display is out of reach, behind an unattended counter. I glance around for the Walgreen's police, then zip behind the registers and grab what I want. I get in line at the one open register. The first five customers are women, then two men, then me.

Lady #1 is buying a Snapple Iced Tea and chewing gum. She pays with her ATM card but doesn't bother to take her earphones out to hear the clerk asking "Credit or debit?" There's some pantomiming before the customer finally presses the right button and her non-cash purchase of $2.61 is completed.

Lady #2 is buying a raft of travel size items and they spill from her arms towards the clerk, who grumpily catches them. After all eleven items are scanned, only then does Lady #2 heave her purse onto the counter and begin looking for her wallet. She pays by Amex and is as equally baffled by the card swipe as the preceeding customer.

Lady #3 has been talking on her cell phone since I arrived in the line, and she continues to ream out her assistant as she gestures towards the clerk that she doesn't need a bag for her large bottle of Evian. She tells her assistant that for the last time, she doesn't want to change planes in Atlanta, and why can't she get that through her thick skull? Lady #3 also pays with an Amex, and when she signs the $1.69 receipt, I can hear her acrylic nails clicking on the counter. Before she leaves, she opens an elaborate folder and tucks her receipt into an already bulging pocket.

Lady #4 is holding Walgreen's Sunday Times supplement and wants to know why they haven't restocked the Neutrogena Instant Nail Enhancer and who does she need to blow to get a rain check around here? (OK, but she sounded like that's what she meant.) After a manager is summoned, she moves out of line to wait for her rain check, managing to conspicuously check her watch a mere 7 million times before he returns.

Lady #5 buys the New York Post. It's 25 cents and she pays cash. Then timidly, in a small voice, she asks the clerk if she wouldn't mind recommending a nice place for breakfast. Someplace nearby, and not too expensive. But nice, you know...and clean. It has to be clean. The clerk purses her lips as she considers her choices, then offers three different places, complete with directions.

Over the last ten minutes, the two men in front of me have exchanged significant looks several times. The looks say "Good grief!" and "Women!" and "Can you fucking believe this?" Both men are holding one item in their left hand and a $5-dollar bill in their right. I smile to myself because I am doing the exact same thing. The two men notice my smile and we all share an unspoken bond.

Five minutes later, the three of us, We Three Kings of efficient commerce, ride together under the city towards our offices, where I imagine that like me, their bosses are women.


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