“We’re out of dishwasher tabs,” my wife said. 

“And what else?” I said over the car phone. 

“Olive oil. We need the kind for frying and the kind for salad.” 

“Anything else?” 

“I dunno. Snacks for Natalie’s lunches whatever else you can think of.” When shopping at Costco, I can think of a lot. 

“Oh,” my wife said, “See if they have any Nespresso pods.” 

“They won’t” 

“Look anyway.” 

My wife won a Nespresso machine at a Tricky Tray last week. While it brews a fine cup of coffee, it’s a newer model that doesn’t allow the use of third party pods like its older siblings. “It’s a loss leader,” I said. “Like buying a cartridge razor, they make money on the blades.” And at $1 a pop, two Nespresso’s a day out comes to over $700 a year. A racket to be sure, but still cheaper than Starbucks. 

Pulling into the bedlam of Costco’s parking lot, I groaned at the scrum of carriages and cars battling for supremacy as I searched for a spot. Luckily, I found one right by the entrance and, after making sure I had my membership card, made my way to the entrance tightly holding my daughter’s hand. 

“I can walk by myself,” Natalie said. 

“These people will run you right over,” I said, parental paranoia overriding my child’s need for independence.

Once inside, I took a deep breath to calm my low level agrophobia and pressed on, quickly loading my cart with the items on my list: dishwasher pods, olive oils, apples, bananas, kiddie snacks, prepackaged salads, AAA batteries, and nope, no Nespresso pods. Told ya, honey. “We’re done, Natalie,” I said. “Let’s get outta here.” 

“But they’re giving away truffle chocolates,” she said. “Right over there.” Turning, I saw a store clerk placing the confections on a tray but, the moment she put it down, a horde of people, hands flailing, scooped them all up.  One adult snapped a candy away just before a child’s hand could reach it. I mean, really. 

“Okay, honey,” I said. “It’ll take her a few minutes to set up the next tray. Just wait with the cart in the next aisle and I’ll bring you one.” 

“Why can’t I stay with you?” Natalie, said. 

“Because I can’t block traffic with my cart. You’ll be fine.” Then, with my daughter out of sight, I took up station in front of the free sample lady’s kiosk. If you’re wondering how I could leave a ten year old girl unattended in a busy store well, I know a few things about my daughter you don’t; she can scream louder than a jet engine and she bites

“Crazy day?” I said to the clerk as she took candies out of a bag, unwrapped them, and place the confections in little paper cups. “It’s like a zoo.” she replied. 

“No rush,” I said. “My kid wanted to try one of these.” 

Behind me, I felt the pressure of several people waiting to get free candy. One, an old man, pressed up so close, I thought my virtue was being threatened. “You gonna buy me dinner when we’re through?” I asked him. The old man furtively walked away. It takes all kinds. 

“That’s what I’m talking about,” the clerk said. “You’d think I’m giving away gold.” 

“People love free stuff,” I said. Then a man walking past stuck out his arm and scooped up a handful of candy. 

“Sir,” the clerk said, “You have to wait til I’m done.” 

Sorry,” he sneered.

“But not sorry enough to put them back,” I shot back.

“You snooze you lose, pal,” he said over this shoulder.

Looking at the clerk, I could see the man’s sugary avarice didn’t just piss her off but hurt her deeply. Judging from her age, she was probably a retiree looking to make a few bucks to supplement her Social Security check. “I never did this,” I said. “But I worked in restaurants and ran into people like him all the time.” 

The woman flashed a tired smile. “Here’s your daughter’s chocolate, sir. Take one for yourself.” 

“Thank you.” 

I found Natalie unabducted and gave her the sea salt chocolate truffle people which caused adults to regress into emotionally unfiltered toddlers. “Yummy,” she said. Then, as we made our way to the checkout line, I said. “Thank that lady for the chocolate.” 

“Thank you for the chocolate, miss,” my daughter said, giving her a full wattage smile. 

“You’re very welcome,” the clerk said, smiling a real smile herself – and she deserved that small moment of grace because, let’s face it, free samples are never truly free. Patting my daughter’s head, I got online for the checkout, feeling happy that, for a moment, Natalie and I had helped make the world a cleaner and brighter place. 

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