Thursday, July 31, 2003

I had a good day of nonplussing store merchants.

First, I went to Petco (you know, where the pets go? Personally, I think until the pets come up with some cash, they should stop crowding the aisles). There, I went through my usual routine en route to the Giant Bag Of Cat Litter aisle. This consists of first glancing up to see myself on the surveillance screen.

I'm not sure of the strategy behind putting the surveillance monitor right over the door. It is, of course, a good chance to preen in front of a camera, and check for unsightly blemishes, and I recommend trying to spot the camera and approaching it, nostrils flared, in an effort to pindown any unwanted nose detritus. Also, you can make goofy "I'm on the teevee!" faces or caper about the cameras view pretending you are a lovable entertainer whose career will be tragically cut short.

I mean, do they think I'm going to walk out with a schnauzer under my coat or something? Perhaps fill my pockets with those green hamster pellets? Sure, I may have done this once or twice, but I blame society.

After the surveillance antics, I made for the cat section, but on the way I had to stop and moon at the hamsters and rats for a while. Usually just long enough to give them their dark and unholy instructions. Then I hurried past the birds. Who the hell wants birds as pets? They don't even remotely like you, and spend their entire lives pissed off that they're stuck in some filthy cage, plotting their escape or at least the irreparable soiling of your upholstery.

And then I was in the cat section. At least I hoped I was in the cat section. Things move around in Petco. They have a pretty standard offering of ten dollar cat toys that your cat will never play with and two-paycheck cat condos that go a long way toward proving that cats like cardboard boxes, but the Petco people are not satisfied with that.

They like to move everything around, so I can never quite locate the cat litter without first peering down each aisle like some challenged prairie dog, frightening the shy and reclusive cat supply customers, who scatter under my puzzled gaze.

Anyway, I found my jumbo Jonny Cat bag and hauled it to the register, feeling very manly and virile as I toted my 20 pound burden. It made me feel even better that later, the Petco surveillance crew could watch me strolling through the store unaffected by the Herculean weight held firmly in my grip.

The register woman asked me the same question they always ask me in Petco: "How many cats do you have?"

At first, when they asked me this, I thought they were genuinely interested in me and my cat. I thought maybe the conversation would continue to the point where they would be asking me and my cat to appear in some Petco promotional materials. And then I thought, maybe they're trying to offload some kitties on me. They think "Here's a guy buying twenty pounds of cat litter at once...he's not going to be bothered by a few dozen more pairs of tiny unkempt feet around the house."

And then they'd pull out a duffel bag full of kitties and I'd be powerless to resist them.

But after about a hundred times of being asked the "How many cats?" question, I figured out that they were required to say that. Somewhere in the back room of Petco, there's some crazed reeducation effort underway wherein they brainwash these poor souls to ask me how many cats I have.

Tragic, really.

So, I replied "Just one."

The woman made some sort of noncommital sound, making it clear she really didn't care.

"One kind of fat, lazy old cat."

And with that, I had achieved counterperson nonplussedness.

Nonplus number two was at MicroCenter, which is a budget computer store. I go there sometimes and gaze at the new games and wonder if my karmic tally is positive enough to allow a fifty dollar outlay. This time, I was buying blank CD-Rs for various nefarious purposes. I took my item to the counter and the girl there rang me up. I paid with my Mastercard, which now requires me to make some childlike scrawl on the computer signature pad.

I should say that my signature is astoundingly variable at the best of times, on your normal paper surface. It's one of those squiggly heiroglyphs that looks like the last missive of a dying man who had a stroke halfway through. These little devices do nothing to help the quality of my signature. I swear to you, there have been times when I 've signed on the electronic pad, only to have written someone else's name entirely. Last time I think it was "Debbie Sue".

And the counterperson asked me "Do you want your name on the receipt?"

I couldn't quite figure that out. Maybe I would want to keep it for a few years. Pull it out and impress my friends. "This is from the time I bought 50 Maxell CD-Rs. You can be sure it's real because my name's on it." As they were struck dumb with awe, I might add in a low voice "Five dollar mail-in rebate*."

Maybe they were trying to get information about me? I am one of those people who will not give their info to stores. I despise the Club Card and I'm certainly not telling Radio Shack my blood type and educational history just to buy some batteries. But what could they do with my name on the receipt?


So I just said "Why the heck would I want that?"

The girl was kind of stuck, and said "It's just something we're supposed to ask."

And there you have it, double-nonplussed goodness.

* Does anyone ever mail in the rebates? I can imagine the lady with all the coupons at the grocery store doing this, shaking her fist to the sky as she cackles "That's right, Maxell! You didn't think I'd do it, but I got you, you bastards!"


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