The permanent blotch on the CVS checkout counter resembled Ted Kennedy. I should know. I've been looking at it day after day, month after month, for nearly six years. There isn't much else to do between customers but stare at things once the cigarettes and impulse items are stocked and straightened. If I'm not staring at the counter blotch, I'm staring at the ceiling (there's a water stain that looks like a frog doing ballet over the greeting card aisle) or staring at my rhinestone-studded nails (Gia at Lian Phong's further down the strip mall does them for me). Occasionally, I'll stare at the customers, especially when a pack of teenage boys roll in, with their trucker hats at an angle and their jeans around their ankles. They push and shove one another, break and steal things, and make me genuinely afraid for the future of our country if they're going to be in charge one day.
I work the morning shift, from 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m., five days a week. Not full time, of course, because then CVS would have to provide benefits. Since I'm here most weekday mornings, I have a crop of regulars who come in before rushing off to their own jobs, plus a handful of mothers with sick babies and the occasional kid snagging a giant candy bar before school. There's Mr. Dinty Moore, the yellow-vested construction worker, who buys his lunch five days a week. Ms. Power Bar in the Power Suit, who appears like she needs to stop by the pharmacy for a Xanax instead. The Marlboro Monster, coming in for his usual energy drink and pack of Reds. Miss Clairol, with her tight curls turning gray, appears the second Tuesday of every month to buy new dye. Sometimes Poor Shy Girl comes in, hiding behind her hair and baggy, thread-worn clothes, and I pretend not to see her pocket a tube of mascara or lipstick, granting her hope that one of these products might make her more confident in herself.
Then there's Miss Inspirational, who comes in at least once a week, sometimes more, and buys an inspirational card or two. The cards always have an idyllic scene on the front, like a wildflower meadow full of butterflies, or a gorgeous sunrise peeking from behind a quaint white-washed barn. I suspect the insides of the cards say similar things, such as "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" and "Opportunities arise with every dawn", but I never bothered to open them. I'm not sure who she buys them for, and it's not my place to ask. Maybe a relative, or co-workers. Maybe she works at a hospital and gives them to all the patients. Maybe she buys them for herself. Who knows?
What I do know is, she has a smile that radiates divine light that she bestows upon anyone she talks to, and she always says goodbye by saying, "Have the best day." Not merely a good day, but the best one. And for a few hours after she leaves the store with her inspirational cards of the week, I do feel like I'm having the best day.
Then Mr. Pays With Pennies comes in, and it's all downhill from there.