THE SHOPPING CART FIASCO

“THIEF! Thief! Stop him! Stop that buggy-burglar!” an irate man yelled as the blood veins in his neck bulged blue as varicose veins. He pointed a trembling finger in the direction of a disheveled fellow pushing an overloaded shopping cart out of the parking lot. “Stop him! He’s stealin’ what’s rightful mine!”   

This incident occurred outside Sundowners Market, a small family-owned grocery store. The rain predicted by the weatherman had gone north, missing the drought-stricken area, so that shoppers who stayed indoors that morning were out in droves by afternoon. Near closing time on Christmas Eve, people were in a rush to get last-minute gifts or else a missing recipe item.

Unable to move fast, the supposed “thief” pushing the shopping cart had to dart side to side to prevent the top-heavy load from toppling. Duffel bags filled the basket as well as bedding, loose items, and assorted knickknacks stacked so high the unsteadily balanced burden rose above the head of the fellow pulling it.

“Come back here, felon!” the victim wailed. “Sorry criminal, stop the skunk! T’aint right! The second a fella turns his back some slitherin’ shopliftin’ scoundrel robs him of his possessions. Tackle him! Flatten that robber!”

The man pushing the basket was too occupied keeping his items balanced to bother about the outcries as he trudged past the stares from those around him in the crowded parking lot.

“You’ll get yours, lousy crook!” The hollering man climbed aboard, or tried to, a battery-powered shopping scooter provided by the store. The trouble was he barely fit on the scooter because of a massive stomach blocking the handlebars so the scooter could not turn but only go in one direction, straight ahead. Judging by the bulging tires and slow speed, the shopping cart was beyond its weight capacity.

“Stop that sneakin’ behind-the-back buggy-snatcher! Blockade him! Don’t let him get away!”

None of the observers interfered, though. Other than standing by as the man pulling the overloaded cart passed, onlookers seemed worried as if fearful they’d be accused of persecuting the underprivileged, or even sued. Most people looked back and forth from accuser to accused still pulling the cart, evidently trying to decide which one was in the right. Both indigents looked of similar social status in clothes that didn’t fit, or even come close, as if bigger-size hand-me-downs except the man’s shirt on the scooter couldn’t be buttoned over his stomach. Each one was unshaven with uncombed fly-away hair full of sticks and grass.

“Why don’t noone stop that crook?” the offended man yelled, then turning away from the onlookers to the one with the shopping cart. “Hey you, prison-bait! Lousy cart-moochin’ scoundrel, halt I said! Come back here with what belongs to me!”

At that moment the guy pushing the cart made a grave mistake and looked back over one shoulder at his accuser. Part of his load toppled. A gust of wind off the near-miss thunderhead blew several items into the street—a shirt or two, some boxer shorts and different colored socks. In hurrying to gather up the wind-swept items, more loose clothes blew off the piled-high cart. With both arms full to his chin, the older fellow caught his foot on a raised portion of curbing and stumbled onto one knee.

“Now I got ya!” his enraged pursuer on the motorized cart bellowed. “Can’t get away now, filthy larcenist!” He stopped the scooter and dismounted with some difficulty. Pausing to catch his breath after such exertion, he waddled while the old man labored to his feet and resumed busily gathering articles of clothing here and there until grabbed by the back of his T-shirt as the threadbare fabric ripped.

“Now you’re mine!” The overweight man jerked the accused cart thief from the street onto the sidewalk. “Come back here, you villain. What’a you think you’re doin’ with my cart?”

“Takin’ it.”

“Tak… Why you sorry no-good snake-eyed bandit. You’re not takin’ my basket nowhere’s. Give it back this instant.”

“No way,” he answered with a scowl that expressed defiance. “This basket’s mine now.”

“T’ain’t yours neither. It’s mine, you worthless scrounging cur. Give back what you taken.”

“How come? I need it.”

“You need nothin’ but a fair-to-medium noggin-skinnin’, you shifty mugger. What’s the meanin’ of this? I had that cart full and you throwed my legal-owned possessions on the ground like trash. Who you think you are? You’re no better’n me and ‘at buggy’s my property, mine! Hear? Not yourn!”

“Are you out of your mind? You ‘spect me to carry all this stuff like I got the arms of an octopus? How you expect me to tote all this?”

“I don’t care how you ‘tote’ it, poacher. Load your worthless gear on Joseph and Mary’s donkey for all I give a hoot. Now get that junk out and give back what you taken. Pilfer someone else’s buggy. This’ere’s mine title-clear, you looterin’ kleptomaniac.”

“Junk? Did I hear right—you call this priceless haul junk? Why, I hit the all-time jackpot at that Donation Bin yonder. Two duffel bags full and some with price tags still on them. Some old guy must’a keeled over for the last time and his kids had no use for his stuff so they got shed of some pretty nice duds, let me tell you. Most t’ain’t been worn more’n a few times and are next-to-new, plus a pair of ole Oxfords hardly scuffed, and a mighty handsome overcoat ‘at’ll come in handy this winter. Now how’m I to carry all this to my lean-to six blocks from here?”

“T’ain’t my problem, crooked cart-scrounger. Why’d you take the loot in the first place if you can’t carry it? Leave some for others. Now, clear ‘em rags out’a my buggy ‘cause it’s mine.”

“Not now it ain’t. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

“Nine-tenths of a head-scabbin’-up is what you’ll get,” the accuser cried, grabbing a duffel bag with startling speed for a man of such girth, surprising the other man.

“Help! Help!” the older gentleman wailed as he grabbed the bag and the two pulled back and forth. “Let go, tyrant! Help! The bully’s manhandling me, help!”

“All right, all right,” the heavier man panted, running out of breath. “But I ain’t to blame when you’re hauled off to the hoosegow. Security over yonder is watching and I’m fixin’ to wave him over and have you jailed.” He waved both arms overhead back and forth. “Over here! Help! Come quick.”

“What’s going on here?” the tall uniformed officer called walking in their direction. He was much younger than the quarreling men. “Here, enough of this.” He got between the squabblers. “Stop this! Stop it, I say. What’s going on here?”

“Officer,” the man demanded who started the fracas, “I want this man in the hoosegow with his feet fastened in the stocks. He stole my shopping cart. He can’t deny it as I caught him in the act red-handed.”

“Stole nothin’, your Honor,” The older man complained, spread-eagle on the shopping cart again, looking up. “I have rights. These’ere carts is public property, ain’t that the truth? After all, they’re all over the city on most every street corner. I seen whole communes of ‘em parked in a circle with a tarp or what’cha’ma’call’it on top. It’s no more stealin’ than sittin’ on a park bench or dozin’ in the shade tree of a Magnolia tree. Anyone can have them anytime they like.”

“Ain’t that the stupidest thing you ever heard?” the overweight man snorted at the security officer. “Don’t listen at him, Magistrate. He ain’t got brains enough to form a part of a thought. He stole it pure and simple. The man’s a thief, a looter, a lowdown, penny-ante embezzler who takes other’s rightful property. Put him in a super-max cell with a mass murderer and see if he don’t learn to respect others.”

“You say, he stole this cart from you,” the officer inquired of the accuser.

“A’course he did; didn’t I just say so? He taken my personal belongings that I’ve had no end of trouble gathering and tossed them on the ground with no more care than a teenager pitches his lunch sack out a car window. Stole my cart pure and simple and I want him hauled off this’here street in handcuffs and leg irons if you got ’em.”

“They quit using those a while back,” the officer sighed. “But this is your cart, you say?”

“How many times I got’ta tell you so? Most certainly it are. Is your ears too full’a wax you’re disable to hear good? I told you already this buggy’s mine. I own the basket, nobody else does, certainly not this behind-the-back bandito.”

“I see,” said the security man. “How long have you had it?”

“Longer than him for dang sure,” he pointed at the older man still lying atop the buggy. “Why can’t I get my point over to no-one? Am I talkin’ mush-mouthed? Has my vocal cords gone loose like old rubber bands? He’s got my basket, mine!”

“When did you buy the basket?” the officer asked, his voice as calm as his demeanor.

“Buy? What’s you mean ’buy’? Who buys? Am I JP Morgan? You think I’m carryin’ cash in these,” he pulled his front pockets inside out, “like a armor truck or some’n?”

“Frankly, it’s none of my business what your financial status is,” the security man said, beginning to get testy. “What I’m asking is when you purchased the cart and do you have a sales slip?”

“Come now, be serious, pretend-officer of the law. What would I want with a great big ole four-wheel contraption like this? You think I’m plannin’ to open a grocery chain? Only a lopsided moron would pay good money for a high-dollar transport like this, but that don’t mean I wasn’t the rightful user until this slippery pickpocket came by and took it away when I wasn’t lookin’. He’s a jailbird if I ever saw one. Wrap him in chains and padlock him!”

“Yes-yes, but first I have to establish original ownership. What I want to know is how you came to own this grocery cart. If you didn’t buy the buggy, was the thing then loaned to you or bequeathed in a Last Will and Testament? How’d you gain possession of the cart?”

“What’s’at matter?” the heavyweight man cried at a volume that suggested he was out of patience. “It’s mine, don’t nothin’ else count! I had it first, been having it, intend on keep havin’ it, and this good-for-naught scamp swiped it from me.”

“Okay-okay,” the security man sighed. “Let me get this straight. I think I’m starting to understand. You stole the cart before he stole it from you, so who stole the buggy from the original owner?”

“What harebrained palaver!” the accuser gasped. “I found the buggy first, if that’s the issue here, and this deadbeat no-use panhandler took it illegal as illegal can be.”

“Then how’d you come by the grocery cart, is what I’m after?”

“It was abandoned in one of those discarded cart racks out in front of the grocery store where they offer the buggies free of charge, so I took it.”

“They’re not offered ‘free of charge’,” the security man countered. “They’re parked after being discarded for others to use and cost the store from two-fifty to as much as five hundred dollars each.”

“Now I know you’re crazy,” the cart-thief victim huffed. “These’ere carts are everywhere. If they weren’t free or near’bouts, how could any store afford to leave ‘em out?”

“Because they add the price of the missing cart onto their products so it’s the customer that gets ripped off, not them.”

“See there!” the older man holding onto the cart interrupted, nodding at his accuser affirmatively. “We told him they was free. Let the customer get it in the neck.”

“How about the both of you give up this bickering and admit this is stolen property?” the security man sighed. “And don’t worry as the D.A. in this town refuses to prosecute anyone.”

“You inferrin’ I’m a thief?” the hefty man gasped. He pointed at the old man who once again draped himself over his belongings. “I’m a honest borrower merely usin’ a transport temporary to keep my stuff in.”

“How long ago has that been?”

“A while.”

“How long ‘a while’?”

“Three-four months, maybe more, but it’s borrowed, like I said.”

“So you both are thieves. The only thing that’s got you so upset,” the officer told the angry man, “is he stole from you.”

“Here, you ain’t allowed to malign us that way. You might get booted off the force for such slanderous name-callin’. We’re victims and it’s our gov’mint-give right to take what we want ‘cause we’re oppressed. The law permits us to acquire others stuff if it strikes our fancy.”

“Then why are you upset at him? Isn’t he a victim too?”

“Heck naw, he ain’t. I’m more a victim than he ever was. ‘Tween me and him, I’m the most oppressed by far.”

“Oh, I see,” the officer admitted. “And who are your oppressors?”

“Billionaires.”

“Really?” The uniformed man frowned as he tilted his head slightly as if considering that last remark. “You mean the billionaire mom and pop who own this market? Or the billionaire sackers who load groceries in bags and depend on the store owners for employment? I think maybe it’s the other way around. I think you two scroungers are the real oppressors, not the honest folks who work hard to eke out a respectable living?”

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