Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Stamp Act

Andrew and I have witnessed something in Boston we never observed in person in Oklahoma or Minnesota, not even once: the use of food stamps.

The widespread use of food stamps in Boston is shocking—and Andrew and I live in a very nice neighborhood where one would not expect to encounter people on the public dole and we shop in nice food stores where one would not expect to encounter the indigent.

Nonetheless, every time Andrew and I go food shopping—and it seems we go food shopping every third night around 10:00 p.m., when we go out and buy a few things—we see people ahead of us in line pay for their food with food stamps. It is an outrage.

At a local food store we visited late last night, there were three sets of people ahead of us in the express line, and all three sets of people paid for their purchases with food stamps. I was appalled, and so was Andrew.

All six persons appeared to be perfectly healthy. All six persons appeared to be able-bodied. All six persons appeared not to be feeble-minded. The persons were not elderly—far from it. Four of the six persons were laughing and clowning around, practically dancing in the express aisle. They were in fine physical shape.

I became more and more steamed, and so did Andrew. When we got to the head of the checkout line, Andrew very pointedly asked the clerk, “Is there a lot of food-stamp usage in this store?”

The clerk did not answer, so Andrew stared him down. The clerk remained silent for fifteen seconds or so, at which point he realized that Andrew was not going to hand over any money to pay for our purchases until the question was answered.

Finally, the clerk said, “A lot” and he waited to be paid.

That answer was not good enough for Andrew, however, and Andrew pressed the clerk with another question: “What per cent of customers pay with food stamps, in your experience?”

The clerk did not want to answer the second question, either, but he realized he was no match for Andrew, and he answered, “Half. About Half.”

Andrew shook his head in disgust, and forked over the money.

The night manager of the store witnessed this episode, and she followed us as we left the store.

The very minute she had exited the outside set of doors, she almost screamed, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My reaction is the same as yours. These people are disgusting. They have no pride.”

Andrew and I were not really interested in having an extended discussion with her outside the store at 10:00 o’clock at night, but we talked to her for a few minutes, telling her that we were offended that seemingly capable persons expected others to pay for their food.

“You would not believe how bad it is here!” she went on. “It’s completely gotten out of hand. No one thinks anything of it anymore. Everyone thinks it’s an entitlement. It’s a crime.”

We told her that, where we come from, no one would be caught dead trying to use food stamps. The average person would be mortified at the very thought that the government was expected to pick up his food tab.

“It’s not like that here,” she said. “No pride. No work ethic. No sense of independence. No morals. It’s all about government handouts.”

Andrew smiled very mischievously, and he said, “Obama country? Are you trying to say that this is Obama country?”

“Yes! Obama country!” she said, and she laughed uproariously. “Massachusetts is Obama country! Definitely Obama country!”

When she was done laughing, she told us that she had been observing us for the last several months, noticing that we came into the store frequently late at night and that we always seemed to be so “cheerful”. She told us that she could tell we were not from New England and she wanted to know why we did our food shopping so late in the evening.

We told her that the time suited us—food shopping provided us with a break between study and bedtime, and we could get our food shopping done very quickly and very efficiently late at night—and that we always kept a very well-stocked kitchen, which entailed frequent visits to food stores.

Then she told us something very funny. She told us that the first time she had seen Andrew and me in the store, she had assumed we were on a “date”. However, the second time she had seen Andrew and me in the store, she had decided that we were already “together”. By the third time she had seen Andrew and me in the store, she had decided that we “were meant to be”.

She told Andrew and me that she always looks forward to seeing us—and, further, whenever more than a few days pass without seeing us, she always wonders whether something is wrong.

“Whenever you don’t see us for a few days, that means we’re out of food stamps” was Andrew’s explanation.

She laughed and laughed and laughed.

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