Wednesday evening I stopped at CVS. I had a manufacturer’s coupon for $3 off Biotrue contact lens solution and there was a 2-pack on sale for $14.79. Wow, that’s already a savings of $3! My toothpaste choice (out of the 7.2 million options) was also on sale. And, a delightful surprise was a bottle of a favorite red wine for $3 off. I even remembered to present my $4 off CVS coupon with my CVS rewards card.
There were no other customers, and the only cashier was seated and reading a tabloid rag. He immediately jumped up, smiled profusely, and apologized. He looked like his name would be Justin.
“No need to apologize!” I replied to this earnest young man.
Through all his intense smiling, he apologized again when he was removing that anti-theft top thingy on the wine, because he would need to see my driver’s license. I hate this game—clearly, I am of minimum drinking age—is there a maximum age? I gave him the license and my CVS rewards card. Justin was grinning incredulously as I was putting my license away. “Did that say 1897?!” That’s not the year he actually said, but it’s the age I feel this week and the age his reaction warranted. He was shocked. Shocked! What an amazing, perceptive person Justin is, I thought. I honestly don’t remember much of the rest of the transaction, but there was a lot more grinning and one of us even chortled girlishly.
It wasn’t until later at home that I looked at the 3-mile long receipt (CVS dispenses coupons and rewards like a lucky casino slot machine) that I noticed I was not charged for the saline solution and the toothpaste. Ah, now it all made sense—all the smiling/apologizing/half-lidded shock at my age/forgetting to charge me for 75% of my order. Justin had been as high as a freakin’ kite.
My first reaction was admittedly a tiny thrill, like I’d won something. But you didn’t win something, said my stupid conscience, your luck is the result of someone’s error. Money is tight right now, lots of the usual unexpected expenses; maybe this is a small thumbs-up from the universe. You’re rationalizing. Yes, what’s your point? Don’t blame your dishonesty on some childish, imaginary idea of fairness. Look, one week fate throws a deer at your windshield, the next you get some free toothpaste. Still unbalanced, really. It’s not like winning MegaLotto. Why should you profit from someone else’s mistake? What if Justin gets in trouble? What if he loses his job? Maybe this will be the motivating wake-up call Justin needs to go back to school or learn a trade. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. There’s no gray area here. Oh, just shut up.
After another week-long day, I pulled up at CVS. I was hoping Justin was working; otherwise, my plan was to briefly explain what happened (without using pronouns), produce no personal, traceable receipt or cards, and to pay cash. Instead of my conscience, I could clearly hear my Dad imploring “What kind of fucking idiot are you?” My Dad was very generous to individuals, but he never met a system he didn’t game.
When I walked in and saw the cashier, my heart sank. She is the reason I usually avoid that CVS. I’m sure she’s a perfectly lovely woman, but she is obsessive about saving the customer money. There’s always just one cashier in that store, and Evelyn’s (she looked like that would be her name) extensive time with each customer really slows up the process. Once I popped in impulsively after the gym…I smelled like a barn and was wearing unforgiving spandex-like clothing. It took years to inch up to front of the line, and Evelyn was completely flummoxed by my lack of desire to walk 10 feet and put my rewards card into some machine that would spit up dozens of coupons that may save me money NOW. Another time, she greeted me with a prim, “Everyone stocks up on their vices on Friday evenings.” I slinked away, perplexed, with my bottle of wine, Puffs, and some gum.
I explained my situation, and naturally it turned into an endless loop of confusion and frustration. “No, I don’t have my receipt; yes, I realize I’m forfeiting earned CVS reward points; I’m not going to tell you who the cashier was; I’m not giving you my rewards card; I just am going to go get these two items for you to scan, give you cash, and leave without them.” I was Evelyn’s personal nightmare.
My heart sank further down to my stomach when I saw there were no 2-packs of the Biotrue lens solution, just the single for $10.49. Evelyn’s worried and judging tone amped up an octave or two. She kept repeating her absolute fear that I was losing out on savings. I foolishly mentioned that in fact, I did use a $3 off coupon, so the Biotrue situation pretty much evened out to what I should have been charged the day before. She stared at me with slack-jawed, blinking horror.
Evelyn: If you use your rewards card, it would automatically apply the “health and beauty aids” discount.
Me: I know. Again, I don’t want to use my card for this.
Evelyn: (apoplectic) But this counts toward “health and beauty aids,” and these items may be on sale this week.
Me: Right. Thanks. No.
Evelyn: Was it the woman in the afternoon or the woman the evening?
Me: Rather not say!
Evelyn: (her voice trailing off) If you’d go over there and swipe your card, it would tell you if either of these are on sale or could be applied to your “health and beauty aids” total.
Me: If I cared that much about saving money, would I be here right now?
My heart was now at the bottom of my shoe, as a small line had formed behind me as I shouted, “Please! I just want to pay cash for these two things and then leave without them!” Behind me was a symphony of deep sighing and undoubtedly a flurry of texting…Running late. Crazy lady at CVS.
All things must pass, and eventually I broke Evelyn…and as I thanked her (probably in a really not-so-grateful tone) and walked away she muttered, “Well, thanks for being honest.” But I know she really meant, “What kind of fucking idiot are you?”