Shop Local

This is a work of fiction, and the characters are not based on real persons.  The location is also made up, but we can’t rule out the possibility that a friendly little town with the same name thrives somewhere.  I should add that the title is advice which I don’t always follow.  Maybe the entire post is crap, but you can decide.

My cousin, Elwood, got into an accident a few years ago.  He wasn’t nearly as badly hurt as he could have been, but his misfortune may have proved him right about something he has said for years.

“Shop local,” he told his neighbors.  “Merchants you know personally will be good to you, and if you support their businesses you help prevent our proud city of Butthead from turning into a ghost town, or worse.  If we stop taking care of each other, someday developers could raze the whole county and build a big metropolis where no one gives a shit.”

Last time I checked, Butthead had nearly four thousand residents.  I don’t know all of the details, but Elwood says parking meter maintenance is outsourced to some other town in spite of Butthead being an incorporated city.  I don’t recall the name of that other town, but Elwood brags that Butthead parking meters still accept pennies.

At the beginning of the current school year, my dear cousin told me the public school history classes on every grade level — even first grade — have new textbooks this year.  I don’t remember history lessons in first grade, but Elwood says the books for the youngest kids are picture story books with really big print.  I think I remember those.

“My granddaughter didn’t believe me when I told her Ben Franklin wrote a collection of essays called Fart Proudly.  She said Ben Franklin was a founding father, started the post office and wore really neat glasses.  Every time we say kids get all the good stuff and adults can’t have any fun, remember that damned first grade history book,” he added.

“How did a town with penny parking meters pay for textbooks?” I asked Elwood, hoping to keep him on topic.  Elwood is distracted easily by fart jokes.  He gets absorbed in them.

“Every school in the county has them.  The voters approved a parcel tax.  It’s twelve dollars a year on nearly every piece of property, and the money can’t be used for administrative costs.  Ten percent is for building maintenance.  It isn’t enough money to get the buildings in really good shape, but they had a pest control company do something about the bedbugs in the high school gym during summer break,” he explained.

“Good to hear,” I replied.

I remember having a lot of stress in school, for some of the same reasons kids have stress in school now.  The funding thing wasn’t nearly as serious, though.  My classmates and I were disappointed when we were told to return our pencil erasers at the end of fourth grade so they could be reused the following year.  Now kids are lucky if they have recent textbooks and clean restrooms.

Now to the accident, which I mentioned at the beginning of this story.

Several years ago, Elwood was walking his Basset Hound, Sir William, through the retail district shortly before the stores opened.  Windy, as the dog is nicknamed, is fit and trim for a Basset.  He moves slowly, though.

Windy doesn’t walk on metal plates, grates or manholes.  He walks around them.  On that particular morning, the habit served him well, due to a problem Americans sometimes refer to as “crumbling infrastructure.”

Elwood didn’t know the plate Windy had avoided was on the verge of caving.  He doesn’t share Windy’s distaste of metal on the sidewalk, so when he casually walked forward in a straight line he fell into a utility vault.

Fortunately, Elwood let go of the leash when he fell.  His right ankle was broken, and although the rest of him was just bruised he couldn’t climb the built-in ladder to get out.  His cell phone had fallen out of his jacket pocket and was in pieces.

The stores weren’t due to open for another hour, so Elwood had to wait.  Windy stood guard and made distressed-sounding noises while Elwood tried to comfort him.

“Never fear, Sir William.  Lord Elwood just got the wind knocked out of him,” he said, starting to laugh.

Laughing made the throbbing in Elwood’s ankle worse, so he had to stop.  I guess there’s some mysterious connection of nerves. Whatever.

Elwood thought less than an hour passed before a store manager arrived for work.  From a distance, she saw Windy without Elwood. The dog was standing very still with his nose down, looking discouraged.  She sensed something was wrong.

Elwood heard Margaret, the store manager, call his name before he saw her peering into the vault.

“I’m fine.  Take care of my dog,” he told her.

As a psychological comfort more than anything else, Margaret picked up the loop end of Windy’s leash so Elwood could see she wasn’t ignoring his dog.  Windy wouldn’t have gone anywhere, though.  The protective instinct had kicked in, so he hadn’t moved since the accident.

Margaret used her cell phone to call for help, and soon the firefighters arrived.  Margaret had to restrain Windy because he didn’t want strangers getting near his human.  Later, Margaret said she didn’t know Sir William had it in him to behave that way.

Elwood’s wife had passed a few months before the accident, so his neighbors volunteered to help out while he recovered.

After hearing about the response from the local people to my cousin’s accident, I vowed never to use the slang expression “cow town” again.

You might ask why this story is being told now, when the accident happened a few years ago.  I was reminded of supportive small town people recently when I witnessed the exact opposite in San Francisco.

School had let out for the day.  Although I hadn’t noticed the time, I was shopping in a chain store when kids started arriving.  Most of them were headed to the snack food aisle.  Not newsworthy, right?

As I was leaving with a bag full of stuff I probably didn’t need, I heard a girl say to the uniformed security officer, “But they said they were going to kill me.  They follow me around every day.  When I ran in here to get help, one of them said, ‘Jim, you wait here.  I’ll go to the other door.  We’ll catch her when they throw her out.'”

She was about ten years old.

“Those are just bullies,” the security officer said.  “If they haven’t killed you yet, they won’t later.  I work for (store name), not you.  I’m not your personal bodyguard.  If you’re not here to shop, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“Can’t you call the police?” the girl asked.  She meant for him to report that she needed protection.

The security oaf picked up the receiver of the landline phone at the desk, and I could see what he was doing.

“Hello, S.F.P.D., I’d like to report a little girl who won’t leave the store. Yes, I’ve ordered her to leave.  You’ll have to take her to jail,” he said. He had one finger on the button which keeps the phone hung up, so he wasn’t talking to anyone.  It was an act, to scare an already terrorized child into going back outside where those two boys could hurt her.

“He isn’t calling the police.  He’s faking it,” I told the girl.

She began to cry, and I was afraid to touch her to comfort her.  Not with that man at the security desk.  He could have claimed I was trying to molest her.  It’s probably not smart to touch strangers, anyway, even if they look as if they need that sort of connection with someone.

At that moment, a slightly older girl who was leaving with a chocolate bar and store receipt in her hand intentionally walked right into the traumatized kid, then laughed.  Maybe the poor thing was being tormented by every bully who saw her.  She seemed timid, so she was probably an easy target.

“I’ll use my cell phone to call the police.  You can talk to the dispatcher, and I’ll stay with you and keep you safe until the police get here,” I told her.

I kept my promise, and when the two officers arrived they were very reassuring with the girl.  One of them spoke to the store manager, and I overheard him say, “Instruct your security staff never to ignore a request for the police.  It doesn’t matter whether the request is from a child or an adult.  Have a word with the sales clerks, too.  This can’t happen again.”

The police officers had asked the girl to point out the boys who threatened her, if she saw them outside on the way to the car.  One of the officers asked for a description, and went to look for the little shit who had told “Jim” he’d stand guard at the exit around the corner.

“If we find either one of them, we’ll call for another car so you don’t have to get too close to them,” he assured her.

Both boys were gone, which was predictable enough because bullies run when they see someone in authority.  That girl’s parents should file a criminal complaint and go the distance in keeping those boys away from their daughter.  In their daughter’s case, there may be a lot of cowardly, nasty children who need to hear the message.

The last time I saw that girl, she was getting into the police car to be escorted home.  She was sitting in back, where suspects sit.  I hoped she didn’t find that embarrassing, and also hoped none of her classmates saw her and started arrest rumors.

At least in theory, childhood bullying can be treated seriously now as long as the adults behave responsibly.  Yeah.  In theory.

Are the fine people of Butthead — which still has plenty of indie businesses and no chain superstores inside city limits — really more helpful than urban people?  Maybe it all depends on who is nearby when you have a crisis.  Regardless, don’t be a butthead yourself.




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