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Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dempsey is a Golden Retriever puppy who is in training to become a Helping Paws service dog for an individual with a physical disability. He lives with his parents Doreen and Paul, and Bailey the cat. None has ever trained a puppy before. These are their adventures. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A bit o’ France in Old Virginny

Sometimes you don’t have to travel to foreign lands to experience bureaucracy and miscommunications. Sometimes you can find it right at home.

I just spent two and a half hours at the Social Security office today, trying to get a corrected S.S. card for Doreen. As you might expect, the bureaucrat at the window refused to accept my papers, and I walked away empty handed with nary an apology or a free pass to the front of the line for my next visit.

The wait was so long that I quickly finished today’s paper, and was left with nothing better to do than to stare at a portrait of George Bush giving back a vacuous stare. (Some portraits really do let you get a sense of a person’s soul, like Michael Jackson’s mug shot.) I wonder why government agencies feel compelled to have portraits of the commander in chief. It’s weird. I mean, in France, the bureaucrats don’t have portraits of Chirac in their offices.

My unsuccessful visit today tops off a string of disappointments I’ve had lately. For example, I signed up for Netflix a few days ago, and I just received my first DVDs. I had asked for the Decalogue, but they sent me instead. This seems to be a motif in my life lately, asking for 10 and getting 8½.

I’ve tried Fellini. I don’t like him. Laurie Anderson once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but really – is a movie about movies or a novel about novels any better? Call me pre-modern, but I like things like, oh, plot and character. Fellini movies and Robbe-Grillet novels: my idea of hell.

Well, not completely. Sartre was on to something when he said “Hell is other people.” I think he may have been thinking of the staff at TJ Maxx, where I went the other day to buy a basket. I couldn’t find any, of course, and looking around, the entire store seemed to be staffed by surly, tattooed women who seemed to be employed (not to be confused with “working”) only to satisfy their parole officers. They scared me. So I walked around till I saw a friendly looking Ethiopian girl who was actually doing some work. I approached her.

“Excuse me, do you have any baskets?”

“Yes! They are in the front. Come walk with me, and I will show you.”

I followed her to the front of the store. She pointed at the shopping baskets near the shopping carts.

“Oh no,” I said. “I wanted to buy a basket, for a gift. To make a gift basket.”

“I am sorry. These are not for sale.”

Apparently I look like someone who would buy a gray plastic TJ Maxx shopping basket for a gift.

“Yes, well, these aren’t what I wanted. I want a traditional basket, you know. Made of hay or straw or papyrus reeds or something like that.”

“I am sorry, I do not understand.”

“You know, like Little Red Riding Hood.”

She gave me a blank stare. I started singing.

“A tisket, a tasket, I lost my yellow basket….”

Blank stare.

“Or like the Easter Bunny,” I ventured.

“Bunny?” she replied brightly. She pointed to some plastic lawn ornaments.

“No, like a basket for the bunny. The Easter Bunny.”

She picked up one of the bunny lawn ornaments and started looking at its ears.

“I am sorry, I do not understand.”

“That’s ok. Thank you for your help.”

“Thank you for shopping at TJ Maxx! Have a nice day!”

I left TJ Maxx and walked to Target, which also seems to be staffed primarily by surly, tattooed women. I asked one of them if they had baskets.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Can you find out for me?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes, sighed, and told me to wait a minute. She walked away. And never came back.

In the meantime, a fellow Target shopper who overheard my conversation came up to me.

“Are you looking for baskets?” she asked.

“Yes. Do you know where they are?”

“Is this a decorative basket? A gift basket? A fruit basket? A baby basket? There are lots of baskets at Target!”

“A gift basket,” I said. “I just want to put some food in it and wrap it up.”

“How fun! What kind of food? How much food? Is it fresh food or canned? Did you get candy? Do you have a bottle of wine? What color do you want? Do you want a tall basket or a wide one? What are you going to wrap it with? Do you need some raffia? How about tissue paper? Did you finish your food shopping? Who’s the basket for? What’s the occasion? Which birthday is it? Is it a special one, like 21 or 40? Do you need a card to go with the basket? How about flowers? Target has everything!”

Clearly I had encountered some deranged Target groupie who thought I was shopping for fun. This woman was scarier than the surly, tattooed staff.

I pretended to answer a cell phone call from my wife, who was going to meet me soon, any minute now, right at the front of the store.

I scampered off and picked up a cheap paper gift sack. It’s not as fancy as a basket, but that’s how things are going these days: ask for 10, get 8½.