First in a series
1:24 a.m. Vapid dickwad saunters into store, tiny dog trotting merrily behind him, then ahead of him, then around the candy displays at the front of each checkout lane.
"Sir, dogs are not allowed in the store."
"What? You're kidding me."
"No, sir. It's the health code."
"Oh, I'll only be a minute."
"Sir, it's not even on a leash."
"Don't worry, he won't hurt anything."
"Sir, you have to leave the dog outside."
"Jeez, you really are uptight about this!"
"I'm going, I'm going."
"Dog. Outside. Now."
"Wow. Man. I can't believe you're taking this so seriously."
"Your dog just pissed all over the bottom row of candy bars."
"All right, I'm going. You won't have to worry about me shopping here again."
"I live in Boulder. They aren't so uptight about animals there."
Welcome to life in the 24-hour grocery store.
2:08 a.m. Inebriated airhead stumbles into the store, a big fluffy white cat stuffed down the front of her TMI-cut blouse.
"Ma'am, no animals are allowed in the store."
"You'll have to leave the cat outside."
"I can't leave her outside. She has separation anxiety."
"Then I guess you'll just have to go with her."
"Huh! I came in here to buy wine coolers, and I am not leaving this store without my wine coolers!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I can't sell wine coolers after 1 a.m."
"I've never heard of any such thing."
"Ma'am, the cat has to go outside, now."
"You just don't want to sell them to me."
"Ma'am, we're not in the business of discouraging people from buying. I really am not allowed to sell alcohol after 1 a.m."
"Can I buy mouthwash?"
"Vanilla extract? That has alcohol in it, you know."
"If I can buy vanilla extract, why can't I buy wine coolers? Huh?"
"Ma'am, take the cat and go."
"Huh. Where's the manager?"
"I am the manager."
3:37 a.m. A girl and a guy, giggling and huddling as they make their entrance. The girl is hunched over, cupping something in her hands. The guy is muttering something to the girl, or to her hands, maybe both.
"Uh, look, you guys, we can't have vermin in the store."
"Hamsters are rodents. Rodents are vermin. Not allowed."
"Aw, he's so tiny," says the guy. "What's the problem?"
"Oh!" shrieks the girl.
"What'd you let him go for?" screams the guy at the girl.
"He crapped in my hand!"
Of course he's never around when you need him.
I smile, baring my teeth. "Just get the fuck out of my store," I tell the couple, "and we'll forget this ever happened."
When she is not busy writing about Arizona's immigration-control innovations and Susan Boyle's self-aggrandizing brother, Amethyst Ryder is dedicated to bringing you first-person reports from the front lanes of American grocery stores.