‘Last week I found myself in a monster shopping mall and I literally panicked. ‘Get me out of here,’ is all I could hear in my head and I furtively looked for exit signs like a trapped rabbit. I even forgot why we were in this consumer hell – or is it heaven? – We were looking for some new sheets, I think. Clare had to take me by the arm and steer me out of this climate-controlled environment and into the pouring rain like a wayward dog. I felt so relieved. ‘There is a restaurant over there. Wait for me there,’ she said, ‘I’ll be right back.’ Two pints or an hour later she showed up with a couple of glitzy bags. ‘Look what I found,’ she gushed, ‘a sweater, a rain jacket and matching shoes. All on sale.’ ‘What about the sheets?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I forgot but those we can get in Gibsons.’ Which left the question why we were here in this shopper’s paradise-hell in the first place.’
‘Shopping is one of the favorite past times of many people and for some it’s an addiction or compulsive habit. I’m like you,’ Camp said. ‘In and out. A pair of jeans, some socks, maybe a shirt and I can’t wait to get out of the store.’
‘Consumers make our modern world go round but I just can’t be on that merry-go-round. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday and Boxing Day to Everyday Bargains, it never stops and according to all the ads, every time we go shopping, we apparently save money.’
‘Millions of people believe that mantra and I hate to point it out to you but we’re in the minority. Shopping is not our happy place.’
‘You think shopping mania is gender based?’ I said, looking around, afraid somebody could hear me.
‘You can’t go there these days when you can’t even say ‘mother’.’
‘It’s birthing person,’ Camp said.
‘But only women can give birth and be mothers,’ I said. It’s definitely gender based.’
‘Be careful, you’re treading on thin ice here,’ Camp said, taking a long swallow from his pint. I did the same, to gain some time.’
‘Shopping in this time of Covid is no fun anyway. Everybody is masked as if the very air is poisonous and every store is understaffed and the ones who are working the floor are tired, oxygen deprived behind their masks, and really don’t want to be there,’ I said.
‘Restaurants are not any better. It seems that the whole service sector has had enough of bad pay, lousy benefit plans and no respect. They’ve all gone back to school or taken other jobs, just not sales or service jobs. Lucky for me I am the underpaid service guy with no dental plan and no holiday pay since I’m the owner,’ Camp laughed half-heartedly.
‘I even had job offers,’ I said, ‘from my Mexican friends, cooking in a restaurant. I had a quick look into the kitchen which was about the size of a closet with half a dozen people crammed inside a perpetual cloud of hot steam. No thanks,’ I politely refused. And I don’t want to be a server or a Wallmart greeter either.’
‘Lucky for me there are plenty of people who want to work in a bookstore. The pay is lousy but the merchandise and the customers are always interesting and it’s warm in the store and the music is whatever you like. Not a bad work environment.’
‘Maybe I should apply for a part time job at Coast Books?’
‘I was talking about young people, students making a few bucks for the holydays, not some retired old guy who just wants to read free books.’
‘I looked around but since there was nobody else nearby, I presumed Camp was talking about me. ‘Retired old guy? How about a mature, knowledgeable and resourceful person of many talents? I almost feel discriminated.’
‘Not discriminated, just not considered for the position.’
‘Vicky,’ I said when she came around with our seconds, ‘would you consider a job in Camp’s bookstore?’
‘Not enough money and I don’t know the first thing about books. Camp needs somebody like yourself, a mature, knowledgeable and resourceful person.’
Camp just stared at Vicky, mouth open, hand holding glass frozen in time.