A neighbor knocked on my door and asked for drug money; actually I don’t know she’s my neighbor at all except last year, a few weeks before Christmas, I sat in the car hoping to start it, and she came over and said, “Hi, I’m your neighbor.” That was news to me. “Can you lend me money? I’ve been out of work and I want to buy a few toys for my three kids.” So what about it anyway? It was Christmas.
The next time I saw her was summer; she was about thirty pounds thinner, knocked on my door as hard as a bill collector, and me still in my bathrobe. I’m in the kitchen stirring my instant and here comes this thump, thumping at my door, and I wonder, who in tarnation, and for a moment I do a double-take because I think it might be my ex and I pray, “Oh, no. Anything but that.”
I see her face between the iron rails of my door, a shrunken doll still asking for money. “I have to go to the hospital and have some tests. I need money to pay someone to watch my kids.” She’s coughing so hard. I rush to the refrigerator and get a juice box; you know, the kind that comes with its own straw, and take it out of the plastic because in her condition, I don’t think she can. I push the box out between the railings, only this time she sits down on my doorstep to finish drinking it. And yes, I give her a dollar.
I’m a soft touch. Until she wakes me up on a Sunday a six o’clock in the morning banging on my door and giving me that same old story about the hospital and her kids. So I yell at her through the screen door, “Cut yourself out some grocery coupons,” thinking I have to check this Sunday’s advertisement section to see if there isn’t a coupon for shampoo. I almost don’t have any left. I tried to fall back to sleep, but after her big to-do, I couldn’t. Once I’m up, I’m up. I go to the front door to bring in the Sunday paper, and look twice to make sure she isn’t there.
What a day, is right. There were hardly any coupons, just one for an ice-cream sauce with taste-alike cherry pieces and chocolate sprinkles. I’ve had that before. And some blue-looking stuff to clean your carpet, but I don’t have a carpet, just linoleum tile that is coming up near the window, and a coupon for some of that fancy printed toilet paper; the plain kind is good enough for me.
Altogether, it wasn’t a good coupon day. But Bonanza days is coming soon and you’ll catch me in line, yes you will, down by 41st and MacArthur waiting to buy a jar of artichoke hearts; I enjoy them in my salad with a few sliced green beans and a red bell pepper. Now that’s what I call living.
“It don’t take much when you got the touch,” that’s what my ex used to say. I mean that man could dream, big dreams of houses and cars and vacations to Maui. Don’t ask me. I don’t even know where Maui is. But he did. Walked right into the travel agency downtown and brought home folders filled with women in bikinis floating on yellow air mattresses. There were never any coupons in his folders. None.
Now I’m going to do it right, that’s what I say. Good riddance. Every week I look at the newspaper and separate my coupons into piles. I’ve got a free pile, a save pile for when I have more money, like when they say twenty-five percent or fifty cents off, and an everything else like a hummingbird feeder or a commemorative plate, but you have to send away money for those. And then I take my piles and organize them alphabetically: “C” for all the cereal coupons like Froot Loops, Cheerios, Strawberry Squares, All-Bran; you know what I mean. So whenever I go shopping, I carry my coupons along in these same piles with a rubber band around each one. I take my time, because saving money is something I need to take my time with if I’m going to do it right. So I go up and down the aisles stopping to match each one of my coupons with its box because I’m the type of person who likes to try new things, you know what I mean; I’m like a kid in a candy store.
Some of my friends, they’re not like that at all, oh no; they’ve stuck with the same brand for years. I can’t understand that. Why does it have to be one brand your entire life just because your mother used Lysol to clean her toilet bowl? I tell ‘em, but it doesn’t do any good.
So I carry my coupons to the market with a rubber band around each one. And Becky, that’s my niece who comes down from Sacramento every Christmas, bought me a genuine leather purse with three pockets, which is real handy to have on a shopping trip. And when I’m finished, Mildred, that’s the cashier, who’s been working at the SaveMart around the corner as long as I’ve been collecting social security, says to me, “O.K., Gracie. What do you have today?” Then I pull out each one of my coupons and put ‘em on the counter. “Hmmm, some of that new taco sauce,” says Mildred, packing my groceries into a bag. “Let me know if it’s any good.” She finds out about a lot of good stuff that way, and sometimes rings me up for only one box of Double Fudge cookies instead of two.
Yesterday I went to Drug King with a few coupons I’ve been saving; some Wilderness pie filling, yes, I’m going to make a two-crust pie. And a coupon for small cans of albacore tuna that are great for lunches because I hate opening a can of tuna and letting it sit in the refrigerator. It gets that tinny taste, you know what I mean; same thing as those cans of tomato paste where you need a tablespoon or so and what gets left finally gets thrown into the garbage. Now I know what you’re thinking: I’m wasteful, right? Well, I tried saving my extra tomato paste, putting it in a container and all that, but it was a couple of months before I even looked at it again and by that time you didn’t want to look at it. Winston, you remember, that’s my son living in Oregon or did I tell you that? He grew a whole bunch of different molds in the eleventh grade right in my refrigerator.
“Winston,” I told him, “Instead of growing those fuzzy molds, figure out what to do with extra tomato paste.” And you know what he said? “Ah, ma. Why don’t you just throw it away?” And I said, “Is that what they teach you in school?” He didn’t answer; turned back around to study his baseball cards. I never did figure out what to do with my extra tomato paste. Amalia who lives next door, freezes hers in the ice-cube tray and then puts them in Bloody Marys. Not a bad idea, ‘cept I don’t drink anymore.
So I was at the Drug King with coupons for everything I was going to get and started to size up the cashiers for a person who knew how to do the job right, not one of those kids in training pants, picked out a good-looking girl in corn rows who knew her business, pleasant but without asking a half-dozen times for a price check. It must’ve been around lunch-time, waiting my turn to buy a lottery ticket along with the rest of my stuff, when fizz bop bam, the seltzer bottle from the person in front of me pops open; it wasn’t even on sale, some kind of faulty merchandise, and the whole counter gets wet with bubbles. That’s when the manager comes by with a “Closed” sign.
“Young man,” I say. “I’ve been waiting in line longer than you’ve been living.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We’ve got to clean this up.”
So this man standing behind me takes my cart and wheels it away, saying, “C’mon, follow me.” We land at the next counter, number three, between the Enquirers and the Trident sugarless gum. My hands are shaking so hard it was hard to pick up my stuff and load it back on the counter. Then the man I told you about does a slow bow and says, “Excuse me, may I be of assistance?” Goodness me. My female parts stood up and took notice. After I said, “Yes,” he put everything on the counter with the cans price side up to make it easier for the cashier, so don’t you think it the least I could do was to invite him to come by the next day?
I planned to bake a cherry pie when I got home, and said to him after I was standing and waiting for him with my bag of groceries, “Mr. Line Finder, how would you like to have a slice of home-made pie?” He looked like such a snack pack with a green vest and a grey mustache. Then he said, “I don’t know where you live, Miss.” Wasn’t that sweet? So I said, “If you have a pencil, I can write down my address on the back of this shopping list, if you don’t mind.” He said he didn’t mind a bit.
I asked his name and he said he was George, the Mayor of Fruitvale Avenue. I’d never heard of a mayor of an avenue, but guess there’s a first time for everything. So the Mayor bowed once again and said he was glad to make my acquaintance, said, “Us geezers needed to stick together,” He told me I reminded him of his best friend, Arnie’s sister, except she couldn’t tell a bargain from a mark-up.
I ha, ha, ha’ed. And that was a good thing, too, because had such a sad face. And then we said bye-bye, so long, see you tomorrow. And I wheeled my shopping cart to the end of the parking lot, and walked home with my extra coupons.