Thursday February 22. 2001
some they lucky
I put my food (Bosenberry Sorbet, 12 pack of caffiene free Pepsi, half gallon of skim milk) on the conveyor. The woman in front of me was still unloading her purchases, which hinted at a large family: 8 cans of condensed milk, 4 half gallons of milk, 2 dozen eggs and several large blocks of cheese. I watched as she withdrew a large billfold from her purse, sifted through it, and extracted several WIC checks which she handed to the cashier.
I never even knew what WIC checks were until I moved to Philadelphia. Where I came from, no one had them. Well, no one I knew had them.
It takes a long time to ring up WIC checks. Then the woman disputed some of her purchases, but she was only allowed a certain number of items: several gallons of milk and a carton of eggs were taken off the line and were put behind the counter, to be reshelved. The woman and the cashier continued to argue, although it wasn't nasty arguing: it was more like pleading, and more like they had a mutual understanding and empathy. I had been waiting there for nearly 15 minutes when I finally got to the cashier.
"Sorry to keep you waiting so long." She was a plump, middle-aged black woman with large glasses and cropped tightly curled hair. "Have a Shop-Rite card, sweetie?"
"No," I replied, smiling slightly.
"Seven eighty-two." I handed her my crisp twenty fresh from the ATM. I glanced at the WIC woman, who was still trying to get the manager to give her another two cans of condensed milk. The cashier caught my glance and smiled in what I think was appreciation that I hadn't been visibly annoyed with the reason for the delay.
As I gathered my packages and I walked away, I could still hear her voice, "See, I get the fourth can free if I buy three, I still need two more..."
I thought specifically of two things as I walked into the cold, snowy parking lot. One, the laptop I bought this week. Two, the film I saw on Monday in my International Women's Writing Class about South Africa. I did not realize how crippling and horrifying apartheid was, how wide the gulf was between the races and between economic classes. And then I tried to comfort myself, thinking "this sort of thing happened a long time ago, it was a mistake and won't happen again", but then the safety net falls away when I realized that this sort of thing is happening right now. Even in North Philadelphia.
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One Year Ago:
A tour of Tyler.