Tuesday, July 16, 2024

PHALON’S FILE: A Strikeout at the Checkout

Recently I found myself at a crossroads, remembering an unpleasant moment in my life. I was at the pharmacy and while I was in the process of paying with my debit card, the screen suddenly flashed, “Would you like to make a donation?” to some cause.

I froze for a moment, caught up in the nightmare of what happened before. It was a similar situation. I was already annoying the people in the line behind me by using my debit card for a $2 purchase. But I was trying to make quick work of what I thought to be a routine process. I got to the point where the screen lit up two or three green buttons and one red button, which I just assumed was the “Would you like cash back?” chapter in the checkout process.

Since I had a bit of cash, mostly as a result of not using it for the $2 purchase, I hit the red button, which I thought was the “No, thank you, I don’t need cash back today, but I appreciate your asking” button. Instead, lights started flashing, buzzers sounded. Over the PA system I heard, “Cheap slob at register four! Cheap slob at register four!”

Apparently in my haste to complete my transaction, I didn’t look closely enough at the screen. It wasn’t asking me if I wanted cash back. It was asking me if I wanted to make a $1 or $2 donation to a charity, and I’d actually pressed the “No, I’m a cheap slob who doesn’t want to donate even $1” button.

The clerked glared at me. The people behind me muttered to each other and pointed at me. “He’s the cheap slob,” they said.

Amid alarms and strobing lights, I had to pass all these people in a gauntlet of contempt, each of them calling me a cheap slob as I was shamed all the way to the door. Even somebody walking in from the parking lot somehow knew. “Cheap slob,” she jabbed.

Ok, I exaggerate a bit here. But I still think the clerk wanted to call me a cheap slob. That’s because she knew. I was forced to make a choice, a choice that would be recorded electronically in some off-shore database. A documented choice that would go on my Permanent Record that said I was too much of a cheap slob to spare even a dollar for a charitable cause.

All I could think of was some day one of Jerry’s Kids is going to pass me and call me a cheap slob, because he will have known.

Maybe one day I might need the services of one of those organizations, and they will look at the Ledger of the Cheap and say, “He’s the cheap slob!” I’m sure I’ll receive those services, but there will be some sort of notation on my chart, and they will all know.

“Good morning! Here’s your breakfast!” Then he will see my name and his disposition will turn. “Have a nice day, cheap slob!”

So here I was at the crossroads, this compulsory question standing between me and my life-dependent prescription. I pressed the green button not caring if my dollar was going to The Felix the Cat House for Wayward Felines. I wasn’t going through that again.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.