With apologies to Lerner & Loewe…

If ever I would leave you
It wouldn’t be in Walmart.
Seeing you in Walmart
I never would go.
Your cart filled with clothing,
Groceries, hardware, and shoes,
They all cost more money
Than I care to lose!

 

But if I’d ever leave you,
It couldn’t be in Target.
How I’d leave in Target
I never will know.
I’ve seen how you sparkle
When sales nip the air.
I know you in Target
And it’s quite a scare.

 

And could I leave you
Spending merrily while at Sears?
With a credit bill
That will not be paid for years?

 

If ever I would leave you,
How could it be in Penney’s?
Knowing how the pennies add up to a lot?
Oh, no! not in Penney’s
Target, Walmart, or Sears!
No, never could I leave you, my dear!

Advertisements

Flashback 1986, part five

You can read part one here

You can read part two here

You can read part three here

You can read part four here

Juan stopped at a motel next to the highway on the edge of town. “I wonder if they’ll take cash for a room,” he said. “I really don’t want to use a credit card.”

“Let me put my feminine charm to work,” Laura suggested. “It might also require a little tip, but I think I can manage this.”

Ten minutes later, she was back in the car. “Did it work?” Juan asked. In answer, she showed him the cardkey. “What did you tell them?” he asked.

“Mostly, I told the truth,” she said, smiling. “I said I had been in an accident and my purse was lost with all my credit cards, my driver’s license, and other identification. The only lie I spoke was my name—I told them that I’m Martha Jones.” Juan smiled, and he moved the car closer to their room.

After unloading the car, the two drove down the road to a Walmart. Laura took some of Juan’s money and went shopping for clothes, while he wandered from department to department: outdoor furnishings and supplies, paint and home repair, automotive, toys, electronics—anything but clothing. When that bored him, Juan went to the front of the store and sat on a bench. Soon he saw Laura getting into a line for a cashier. He waved at her, and she smiled and waved back. Juan stayed on the bench until she had paid for her clothing, then stood up to join her.

As they walked through the doorway to the parking lot, they heard a firm voice behind them say, “Please stop, folks—I need to talk with you.”

Both were tempted to break into a run, but they controlled their fear and turned. The man who had spoken to them was wearing a dark suit and a tie. “I’d like to check your bags and your receipt, please,” he said in a gruff voice that clearly offered them no choice.

“Could we see some identification first?” Juan asked. The man shook his head. “I’m store security,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.” Juan wondered if he and Laura should just walk away, but it seemed safer not to cause a scene.

Wordlessly, Laura handed him her bags of clothing. With care he matched each item to the receipt. Then he reloaded the bags and handed them to her. “Now, sir, I’d like to check your pockets.”

“What’s all this about?” Juan asked.

“You were acting suspiciously in the store,” the man told him. “Just let me search you, and if I don’t find anything wrong, you’re free to go.”

Juan took his wallet and keys out of his pocket and handed them to Laura. So long as the man from Walmart didn’t demand to see identification, Juan thought, they would be fine. The man patted Juan’s pockets and also checked to see if Juan had anything between his shirt and his body. His touch was professional, and in less than a minute he was satisfied that Juan had stolen nothing. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” the man said, no trace of apology in his tone of voice. “Catching thieves saves you money, you know.” Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he turned and went back into the store.

Juan sighed loudly. Laura laughed and gave him his wallet and keys. They returned to the car and went back to the motel.

Laura went into the bathroom to change clothes. She left the door ajar, but Juan averted his eyes. He saw the television and decided to turn it on.

“Do you want to eat some of the food we brought, or should we go out for dinner?” Laura asked as the came out of the bathroom, but Juan hushed her. She didn’t like being ignored, but she understood when he pointed at the TV. She saw her own face looking back at her. A voice proclaimed, “Investigators today released their first findings regarding the explosion, evidence that the airplane had been sabotaged.  No motive for the sabotage has been determined. Although personal items belonging to the actress were recovered, her body has not been found. The partially-burned body that was recovered from the scene was identified as a male in his thirties. The coroner indicated that the man suffered from a terminal case of lung cancer. His name has not been released.”

Laura dropped to the bed next to Juan. “It sounds like the investigation has gone well so far,” she told him. Her face had disappeared from the screen as the newscaster went on to a different story.

“They are still searching for your body at the airport,” Juan said. “They don’t realize that you’re alive.”

She reached out and stroked Juan’s hair. “Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so important,” she cooed.

Juan stood and said, “And they probably don’t know anything about the other man who kidnapped you.”

Laura sat up straight. “That other man…” she began angrily. Then she lay back on the bed and said more calmly. “That other man will be found soon enough.”

Juan didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. Then he said, “Were you talking about dinner a little bit ago?”

They looked at a phone book and discussed their options. Westfield had several restaurants. Neither of them was in the mood for hamburgers or pizza, and Juan didn’t want to spend his money too quickly. They chose a Chinese food buffet, drove there, and ate their fill. Leaving the restaurant half an hour before sunset, they noticed a park with grass and trees and flowerbeds across the street. “Let’s go for a stroll,” Laura suggested.

As they walked through the park, Laura reached out and took his hand. He wanted to let go, but his hand felt good and also natural in hers. Neither of them spoke as they wandered from one flowerbed to another. The western sky became pink, then rosy, and then purple. Soon the evening star was glowing above the horizon.

“This is a perfect evening,” Laura said. “Every day should end this way.”

Juan saw some flying creatures—he did not know whether they were birds or bats. “I think the car is in this direction,” he said, turning away from the sunset and walking east, Laura’s hand still in his. Their closeness made Juan bold enough to inquire of her, “How did you get into acting? And do you enjoy it?”

Laura began telling the story she had told so many times before. She described a little girl growing up in a poor but happy family. When she was in high school, she suddenly decided to turn away from poverty and happiness in pursuit of fame, money, and loneliness. Skipping quickly over three years of waitressing, snatching food from plates the busboys had cleared from the tables so she could save her tips to buy make-up and clothes. She related how, without great expectations, she took part in an audition her agent recommended. The character made no sense to her, and the entire show seemed nonsensical, but the directors and the writer insisted that she was perfect for the part.

The show bombed. It never even appeared on a television screen outside the network offices. The director did not forget Laura. He kept in contact with her agent, invited her to three more auditions over the next two months, and also told his friends about her. One of his friends decided to take a chance on her. His show became a sensational hit. Now, four years later, Laura Kinser was riding the crest of public favor and adulation. That brought them to the present, to the sudden unexplained kidnapping and the staged plane crash and her escape.

“You know the rest,” she told Juan as they reached the car. “That’s all there is to tell. Anything else about my life,” she lied outrageously, “would be too boring to tell.”

As Juan drove back to the motel, Laura yawned. “It’s funny,” she said. “Half the world thinks I’m dead, and the other half probably thinks I staged the whole incident to take a long vacation. They’re probably imagining me on a beach in Tahiti or southern France, some place exotic like that.” She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Can’t say that I’m disappointed that they’re wrong.”

As they pulled into the motel parking lot, Juan said, “Tomorrow we can visit with an investigator I know here in town. He will be able to prove that you are who you say you are, and he can get the authorities started on track to find your kidnapper. That should just about wrap things up for me.” He put the car into park, and then he said, “What do you plan to do after that?”

Laura smiled. “I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?”

Juan said, “You’ve told me several times how lonely you are. Now that we’ve spent all this time together—and now that we’re about to spend the night together in a motel room—well, would you be interested in having a boyfriend?”

In the dark car, Juan couldn’t see Laura’s face, but he could hear her low-pitched chuckle. “Maybe we should see how the night goes before I answer that question.”

“Listen,” Juan said quickly, “Nothing is going to happen between us tonight, not even if you say you want me as your boyfriend. I don’t move that fast.”

“Oh, please don’t be so old-fashioned,” Laura retorted. “Until now, I’ve wondered if you even liked me. You’ve been so distant, so cold, so… so gentlemanly it almost frightens me.”

“Not even like you?” Juan spluttered. “Laura, I’m crazy about you. I’d do almost anything for you. Why else would I set aside my job to protect you, to bring you out here where you’re safe, where you’ll have a chance to prove who you really are?”

“Oh, I appreciate that,” she said airily. “And I’m grateful, I truly am. But before you offer to be my boyfriend again, let’s try to do a few more romantic things together, OK?”

“OK,” Juan agreed. They left the car and went into their motel room.

When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.

“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.

“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”

“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”

“It is indeed.”

“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”

To be continued… J.

Dealing with it

First, it’s Saturday. I always have greater stress and anxiety on Saturdays—I don’t know why. Second, it is a hot and humid summer day. Heat and humidity do not agree with me. Third, the neighborhood is noisy. The cause is not Mrs. Dim (for once!), but an airshow at a nearby airport. Fourth, the family desktop computer stopped working last night. (Murphy’s gremlins work extra hard on Friday nights. They must get overtime pay.) Fifth, I am a day away from being told whether or not a certain job will be offered to me.

Since the computer is not working, even though I have work that must be done, I take my work to the place where I work, even though the work I must get done is not related to my job. I’m not on the clock; I’m just borrowing my work computer. Before I do my work, though, I research troubleshooting for my home computer. The most probable trouble is dust inside the computer. I sprayed some air through the vent last night, but when I will go home I will do a more thorough cleaning.

Sixth, on my way home I stop at Walmart. I want to pick up a few items, including a frozen pizza for Saturday lunch. I go to the self-serve register with my seven items, and the second item I scan—a bag of frozen peas—brings up an error message. My peas are a restricted item. I must set them aside and continue scanning my other items. Something about Walmart makes me anxious, especially on Saturdays. I get the attention of a young girl working for Walmart, and she gets a manager, and the two of them agree that I cannot buy that bag of peas. Restricted means I cannot have it. An experience like that is bound to rattle an easily-rattled person like me. I let them keep their peas. I take the rest of my food, drive home, cook my pizza, and eat it.

After lunch, it is time to tackle the recalcitrant computer. I try three screwdrivers before I have one that fits the little screw that holds the side panel in place. The side panel pops off with a clatter and falls to the floor. I spray every surface I can see inside the computer until the dust is gone. Then I have to restore the side panel and the little screw. My hands are trembling. Sweat is pouring off my forehead and my neck. My arms feel clammy. This is anxiety with six triggers activated.

First I have to find the little screw. It disappeared when the panel clattered and dropped. Finally I find the screw—oddly enough, balanced on its head instead of lying flat on the floor. It requires some fiddling with shaking hands, but I finally get the panel aligned properly. Still, the screw does not want to drop into its place.

I take a break and towel my face and neck with a damp washcloth. I take a deep breath and return to the computer. With a little more effort, I get the screw installed properly. I reattach the power and all the other cables and test the system. I breathe a prayer of thanks as the monitor springs to life.

Since the problem was dust, I take some time to redesign the work station. The tower is three feet higher than it was, sitting next to the monitor rather than near the floor. The family will have to get used to the change, because this is better for the computer.

It is still Saturday. The air show is still happening. Mrs. Dim even joins in briefly with her blower, but it’s all good. My stomach is still swirling and my knees are still weak, but the computer is working again. Everything else will fall into place the way things are meant to be. J.

 

Compact Communities–a better way

The automobile killed the small town and the city neighborhood. Small local stores closed when people chose to driver farther so they could shop in bigger stores. Zoning laws effectively prohibited businesses from being interspersed with housing. I know of one medium-sized city where it seems that all the churches were built in a row along the highway, each with its own parking lot. New schools tend to be built out of town, while the old school buildings crumble. People drive for an hour to go to work and for an hour to drive home, even at the cost of ten hours a week spent in traffic and not with their families.
To reduce our dependence on cars, we need to change our way of living. We need to return to urban neighborhoods and small towns with homes and schools and stores and churches gathered together rather than widely distributed. This might sound like a program that only a large government department could initiate, regulate, and finance, but it is not. Aside from possible tax relief on the part of local governments, no government agency needs to be part of this change. In fact, some compact communities have already been established in the United States.
Begin with a few dozen families who want to exist and thrive without owning and operating automobiles. Find a company or two that needs a new facility—light manufacturing, perhaps, or administration of an on-line business. Find a town or an urban neighborhood needing to be revitalized. Some construction may be necessary to have the school and the stores and the churches centrally located. Most families would have an electric cart, like a golf cart, for times when walking is inconvenient (such as a shopping trip in town). Many families would own bicycles. The main employer might operate a small fleet of vans—either electric or run on natural gas—to bring workers to work and back home again. Many more jobs would be created in the school, in the stores, and in other public services.
Instead of a new and used car lot, a car rental agency or two could operate on the edge of town. When a family needed a car for a trip out of town, they would rent the car they needed. The rental agency would maintain the cars, providing a few more jobs. The town might need a few vehicles—a police car, a fire engine, an ambulance, a garbage truck—but the streets generally would be quiet. People walking or bicycling from place to place would greet each other, not with angry diatribes about the traffic but with pleasant exchanges.
I’m not suggesting that this town would become a utopia. Crime would still exist, and people would still do bad things to each other. Employment would not be guaranteed. Prices would fluctuate according to the national economy. Without the burden of cars and all their expenses, people would have more money to handle the hard times. They would also have more time to do what they wanted to do, without having to factor in a long drive to and from work.
In the twentieth century, retirement villages were designed and built with similar ideas of a compact community. Developers found investors who expected a return on their initial outlay. They would select a piece of land, build a model home or two, and invite potential customers to inspect the property. Those who were interested would buy a share in the company, and gradually the villages arose. Amenities were added as the population grew, because businesses want to be located where customers can find them.
The same kind of compact communities for working families can be funded in this way. It will not require government investment to make these towns happen; it will only require developers and investors who understand the dream and approve of it. Some corporations may take an interest in helping to get these towns built. WalMart probably would not be interested*, but Walgreens is known for its neighborhood stores. Lowes and Home Depot may not care about such towns, but Ace Hardware might want to be involved. Surely some restaurant chains would be interested in designing a store without a drive-through window or a parking lot. Urban hospitals might provide branch clinics for such compact towns and neighborhoods. I can imagine a large school district with elementary and high schools in each compact town or neighborhood, using twenty-first century technology to provide the kind of advanced and diverse classes that smaller school districts cannot afford.
These carless communities are not impossible, nor are they overly expensive to achieve. The result would be attractive, friendly communities, free from the cost and nuisance of cars. Let the investors know: “If you build it, they will come.” J.
* I have reconsidered WalMart. Since customers already order from WalMart online and pick up their deliveries at the nearest store, WalMart might consider sub-stores in compact communities, dedicated only to distribution of items ordered online.