The woman at the convenience store will be tested


I am not in the habit of buying the Los Angeles Times. The right-wing reactionary nature of my adopted city's sole major paper is a constant irritant, and their failure to even acknowledge ideologies beyond their narrow, arch-conservative worldview causes me to boycott that newspaper. Nonetheless, I spend approximately $2 per year buying the rare edition when I should need it for my personal reasons.

One such reason was earlier today. I stopped at a convenience store where I had shopped before on occasion. It is a bit of a charming ethnic store located in a largely-ethnic neighborhood which I pass through on occasion, with ethnic foodstuffs and repleat with a staff of various ethnicities. One such clerk was a mid-aged Indian lady. While no great beauty, I have at times considered engaging in a bit of a Henry Higgins/Eliza Doolittle dynamic with her in the latter role.

Such thoughts were momentarily dashed as I walked out of the store after purchasing the Los Angeles Times.

The charge was $.54. I had several pennies, so I handed her four of them, together with a single dollar bill. She handed me the change, which I deposited in my pocket and, after thanking her for her service, exited the store. Loosely jangling the change in my left pocket, I noticed something strange.

One of the "quarter dollars" I had received had no ridges! Safely away from the view of the shopkeeper, I retrieved the change from my pocket and verified the awful truth: I should have received $.50, but in actual fact I only received $.30. Thoughts raced through my mind: was this intentional? Is this a normal habit of someone I had previously considered congenial?

Only slowly later did I entertain the possibility that it could have been a completely honest mistake. After all, how much could be made from shortchanging as many people per day, versus the number of customers who would wise up and stop shopping there?

While twenty cents is a bare scintilla of my personal net worth, it is truly the thought that counts. Was I - a European Prince - taken advantage of by one of lower station? Did she play me for a "mark"?

After the initial anger, then the following realization that it could be a mistake, I came to a third line of thought: what if I put her to the test? If I go back there again and repeat the same procedure with the same result, I can say, "Ah ha!" and confront her with her treachery. If I receive the correct change the next time and the time after that, then I will be assured that the first mistake was just that: a mistake.

And, so I shall test her, and I shall find out the truth.