On Friday I returned a purchase to my local Wal-Mart, in my home town. In line in front of me was a lady in her 80s, shriveled from osteoporosis and who knows what else, slumped in a motorized wheelchair and unaccompanied. She had taken great care to look sharp: a bright red hat, red lipstick, a dash of rouge and a touch of eye shadow, but not enough to hide her frailty. She was waiting for the Store Manager, who finally came to the counter with a look of impatience and a scowl.
“Like the clerk told you, ma’am, you need to first call the police and file a police report, and then we’ll take your information,” the Store Manager said.
“How am I supposed to do that? Do you have the police’s number?” she asked.
The manager did not let the lady use Wal Mart’s company phone. “Call 9-1-1.” she said brusquely.
“Can you please call them for me?” the old lady asked.
“No ma’am, I cannot. You have to be the one to talk to them, I cannot make a report for you.”
“Here is my cell phone. I’ll talk to them. Can you at least dial for me?” the lady asked.
“Fine!” the Store Manager said with a big harumph, as if she was doing the old lady the biggest favor in the world.
Here is what happened: as the lady was shopping in WalMart, someone stole the lady’s purse which contained her wallet with all her money, ID, credit cards, and keys.
Here is what should have happened: the store should have gone on immediate lock-down, with each person leaving the store subject to inspection for the stolen purse and its contents. Police should have been called immediately by the employees. But not only did the store not care a whit about this poor lady’s situation, they treated her as if the whole episode was a huge inconvenience to them and not their problem, which considering her purse had been stolen inside their store, was nothing short of chutzpah. A clerk or store manager should have been pulled from the sidelines (there were plenty of them standing around doing absolutely nothing) to devote all their attention to helping her, calling a family member or a cab. The lady asked if they would help her call her bank and let them know about her missing credit cards, and they refused. She had no way of getting home (the robber had her house keys, and she had no money for a cab); she had nothing except her cellphone, which she was too shaky to use.
And while this drama was being played out before my eyes, I thought,
This would never happen in Maine.
Yes, there is crime in Maine. There are drunk drivers and tool thefts and in the city there is shoplifting and drug deals gone bad. But no one in Maine – and I do mean no one – – would steal a purse from a disabled little old lady who is all by herself in a wheelchair. And I also guarantee you that in the unlikely event that her purse would have been stolen, the little old lady would have been surrounded by both customers, clerks and the store manager who would have ensured that she was taken care of, both emotionally, physically, and practically, and they would have made however many calls needed to be made along with an offer to drive her home.
“Where is the common decency?” I thought out loud. “What kind of animals prey upon utterly helpless people like this?”
But the clerk only shrugged her shoulders, her eyes and heart apathetic.
And I thought: when people get used to things, they become complacent. They convince themselves that it’s just how things are, that there is nothing you can do about it.
Maybe things really are like this in my hometown, but there is something we can do about it. We can choose to not put up with it, and if we cannot change things as they are, then we can only make a change for ourselves.
I am very glad to be returning to Maine. Because I don’t want to live in a society like my hometown’s, where apathy and lack of decency and fear is is the new normal. There are plenty of good people in my hometown, but oh, how the rotten eggs permeate and bring ruin upon all of us.
Quite simply, I’ve had enough.