I have a story I know needs to be handled with delicacy. Thank goodness “finesse” is one of my middle names. The media often give coverage to some hapless and usually incompetent bad guy who robs a liquor store. However, this time it was the liquor store that robbed me and I’m not happy about it. Nor am I a bad guy. Or at least, that’s what I would like to think.
This is as good a time as any to introduce a spoiler alert. Not in the sense that I am going to give away a surprise ending. But rather that I am about to reveal a side of myself that you may find shocking, disturbing or, at the very least, sadly disappointing. Or maybe you’ll see me as a hero, standing up for the little guy. No, even I don’t think that’s likely.
This past Friday night, on the cusp of Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I knew some wine would need to be purchased to serve to all the guests we were expecting for Sunday’s turkey dinner. That meant a sojourn to the local liquor store. It is a curious offshoot of temperance-days Ontario that alcohol in this province is sold in government-run establishments proudly displaying the LCBO logo. That’s Liquor Control Board of Ontario for the uninitiated.
It is also an oddity that the nicest store in almost any small hamlet in this province is now the liquor store. There has been a spate of investment in such facilities and their design has been spruced up to the point where spirits and suds jump off the shelves and into customers’ shopping carts. A brighter and shinier establishment you could not possibly imagine. This is all by way of an aside, except there is an issue concerning who has the moral high ground – the alcohol pushers or me – as you will see in a moment or two.
So I went into the local liquor store, picked up my libations and headed to the cash. It being a pre-holiday evening, the line-up was longer than usual. I knew I was headed for trouble when the sales clerk, in a loud voice only a decibel short of a shout, asked the man in front of me, “Would you like to contribute an extra two dollars for the Save the World and All its Creatures Fund?” (I’ve changed the name because there is a limit to how much trouble I want to bring onto myself.)
This was met with a somewhat gruff, “Sure, why not” and the transaction was quickly over. My predecessor in the line had shown a good deal of common sense. He recognized the inevitable and got on with his life. Do you think I could do the same? Not likely.
By now, a considerable line-up had formed behind me. The bill was being tallied on my purchases and I knew the inevitable question would soon be posed. I was about to be strong-armed into paying two dollars more than I wanted to. It’s not like booze is cheap in the first place. There are government duties, taxes and sin levies supposedly implemented for our own good in order to curb our excesses that make the whole exercise of trying to relax, albeit with the help of an inebriant, an expensive proposition.
My mind was going clippety-clop to come up with an acceptable and face-saving response. I could say I gave at the office. But everyone knows that’s a copout and probably a lie. Besides, it sounds wimpy. I could say that after dispensing their allowances to my children, I was strapped for funds. That is substantially accurate, but still lame. Or finally, and this would have been my favourite, I could say, “No. I need every extra cent I can get my hands on to feed my drug habit.” No matter what I came up with, my position was going to be untenable.
But I felt I had to make a point. So when he said, “Would you like to contribute an extra $2 for our featured charity?” I said, “Well no, I’m not excited by the idea. But here you go anyway.” You might be surprised at my lack of integrity. If I really objected, I should have said “no” period. But long-time experience in these matters has taught me such a forthright approach is not really the best road to take.
By forking over the money while still stating my objections, I’m imagining I’ve retained some street “cred” with the other shoppers lined up behind me. I could imagine them thinking, “This guy is a little cranky. He’s probably had a rough day. But he’s really not so bad. Look, he’s making a contribution despite how he feels.”
In fact, I see paying the $2 as my ticket to say pretty much whatever I like. My objection is that I resent being coerced in this way. I give money to the appropriate charities when the spirit moves me. I am a bit of a miser, it’s true, but I’ve learned to be wary about where monetary contributions for a good cause actually wind up.
I warned you early on I would not come out looking like an exemplar of good will and generosity in this tale. Here’s how I would summarize what had transpired. This was fundraising under the auspices of the “Embarrass Them in Public” school of motivational techniques.
It’s like when you go into the drugstore and the cashier goes live on the loudspeaker with the words, “Harold, I’ve got a guy here who says he’s got ringworm on his butt and the itchiness is driving him crazy (snicker snicker). Can you look in the back and see if we have any cream that would help him out?” This is a strictly hypothetical example, of course.
It may seem like I’m making an awfully big fuss over only $2. Well a couple of bucks here and a couple of bucks there add up over time. I need the money myself for the lotions, balms and salves that will make my own life more bearable as I head into the physical abyss beyond middle age. I can work the sympathy angle too.
Since I’ve already gone this far, I might as well be completely open. I actually do have a jar at home into which I place all my spare change at the end of the day. What’s my secret goal? It’s to save up enough money for a professional botox treatment. Barring that, maybe I’ll have to spring for some plastic surgery.
Given my proclivity for offending decent and caring folk, altering my appearance in a major way may be a necessary measure to ensure self-preservation.
I invite you to travel further down the rabbit hole with my story, Real Estate Purgatory.