Today Is the First Day of the Rest of My Life

Hi, my name is Tracy Saboe, and I’m a graduate of Augustana College. I started working at Wal~Mart a few months afterward in 2001. And I’ve been working there ever since as a cashier. As I’ve been out of college my life has been more and more shaped by my study of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and reading about our country’s founding fathers. Axioms such as, “When the government robs Peter to pay Paul, it can always count on the support of Paul,” and, “Democracy needs to be more then just two wolves and a sheep deciding on what to have for dinner.”

Which brings me to cashiering at Wal~Mart. As most of you know, Wal~Mart accepts E.B.T., or an electronic version of food stamps. They’ve been accepting it ever since they opened up the “Supercenter” or grocery side of it. My life was largely inundated by people using food stamps to purchase soda pop, ice cream, chips, cookies, candy, cake, and all manner of unhealthy [read “junk”] food. When they aren’t purchasing these artery clogging, insulin spiking luxuries, they’re buying gourmet steak, shrimp, pork ribs, and fancy name brand frozen TV dinners that cost 5 times what it would cost if they’d learn how to cook for themselves. Or (two of my personal favorite), “I’m buying these steaks for my dogs” and, “My kid’s having a birthday, and he just HAS to have a $40 Scooby Doo cake.” Apparently she didn’t feel her son’s life would be complete without one.

You think I’m joking? I’m a cashier, I see it all.

It frustrates me to see my tax money used this way. But day in and day out, I smile and say, “Have a good day.” Usually I comment to the next person in line, “I just love seeing my tax money used to buy 7-Up, cupcakes and candy don’t you?” The next person in line usually emphatically agrees with me. I had one older lady tell me, “You must have heard us talking about that. It’s good to hear young people who think that way. Maybe they’ll do something about it.”

In fact quite often I’ll get into political discussions with my customers. They seem to like me. Many of them say that I’m their cashier. One lady said she’d go to me because, “[I’m] nice to old folks like her.” We talk about how a penny used to be worth something (It’s not now thanks to the Federal Reserve) Customers continually ask me, “Do you always have a smile on my face?” I guess I won’t be there anymore to cheer them up. One guy was like, “I’ve been in Wal~Marts all over this country and I’ve never seen a cashier who knows how to use the word “tyranny.” I’m not sure exactly what he was referring to, but I’ll bet it was my comment that Thomas Jefferson once said that it was tyranny to force people to pay for something they don’t believe in (The current war effort, public gay schools in New York, The National Endowment for the Arts, etc.)

When age requirements about gun control pop up, I voice my disapproval. “There used to be a time when it was considered a rite of passage for a 12 year old to take his gun to school with him.” Not anymore. In fact, the terrorist attack would never have been able to happen if we hadn’t banned law abiding citizens from carrying guns onto the airplane in the late 70s. But that’s another story. Here in South Dakota gun culture people emphatically agree with me on that point too.

But I digress.

A couple days ago a girl went through my line (Thursday, August 16th) I was chatting with her and she seemed like a nice girl. Then I noticed that she pulled out her E.B.T. card and I felt the same frustration I always feel. I rang up her Sprite, and Dr. Pepper, her Little Debbie’s mini cakes, and several other “food” items that wouldn’t be healthy for anybody’s pocketbook if they weren’t getting a free handout from the Fed (Read from you and me). And definitely not physically healthy for anybody. (I challenge you to find any nutritionist who thinks Dr. Pepper and mini cakes are healthy, much less a biological necessity.)

I thought I might try an experiment. Perhaps I could help her get out of the trap that is welfare. (It really is a trap. My wife’s parents used to be on it because her brother, their son, had Cerebral Palsy, and they had to be very careful they didn’t make $1 over their limit, otherwise they’d lose half of their help. The stepfather, Jerry, agrees with me, “The government encourages slothfulness.”)

I asked this girl if she knew how to cook. She looked at me, a bit estranged, “No.” And I said to her that it might be one skill she might want to look into so she could get out from under that government control over her life. She said to me, “Well, it’s just something that I do while I’m in college.”

OK, this really burned me. She’s an able bodied person, living off other peoples’ money because of convenience. She’s probably getting a federal grant or at least a federally subsidized loan to pay for college too. (Read, she’s going to college with my tax money. Of course I must admit that I did the same thing before I realized the government theft involved in getting the money it needs to subsidies that loan. So, I’m a bit of a hypocrite. Now I’m paying it back as fast as I can, so I don’t contribute to the expansion of the welfare state.) When I was in college, my parents helped pay for it. (And I have to pay them back.) But at least that’s voluntary charity. And when my parents were in college, they definitely worked their way through it. In fact, one of the reasons why college tuition inflates 9% more every year than the inflation rate is because of all the government interference. It’s because they have to pay all those college administrators and secretaries who do all that paperwork necessary to get government moneys. The other reason is that whenever you give something to somebody for free, demand soars, which raises prices for everybody who doesn’t get it free. But that’s another story also.

So anyway, I said to this girl as I checked her out, “You do realize that you’re buying this with other people’s tax money.”

“Yeah, but I paid taxes all my life too.” ALL HER LIFE? She’s younger then I am, and I’m only 24. If she’s in college on food stamps I sincerely doubt she’s had much of a job and paid the income taxes that fund them.

“Have a good day,” I said as I helped her pack her bags into her cart.

But this is where the absurdity struck me. It’s the income tax system that encourages the welfare state. People who pay taxes now feel they have an entitlement to some of the money they paid in. And why wouldn’t they? It’s their money after all.

Apparently she didn’t have a good day, because as I got up to go on my break a little later, one of the assistant managers came over and talked to me, and gave me quite a dressing down. Apparently she had complained: understandable.

So, I thought everything was OK. He had just said, “If I hear of anything else like that again, I’m firing you.”

“OK, It won’t happen again.”

“I hope not.”

And this brings us to today. I went in to work today, August 16th, at 3:00 PM. And almost immediately as soon as I got on the register, they pulled me off, and said, “they want to see you in personnel.” “Ooooo Key.”

I walked back there, and two other assistant managers were there sitting in the room.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Hi Tracy, sit down.”

I felt like I was going into an inquisition, but I’d gotten rewards in places like this too, so I wasn’t sure what to think.

They wanted to hear me explain the incident to them. Apparently, this girl complained to district about it, and now all of management knew about it. So I did. Daryle, one of the two, said, “Tracy, this falls under gross misconduct.” “Gross misconduct?” I thought. I could have plainly told the girl to not buy junk food with my tax money. I could have called her names. A civil conversation with somebody: Gross Misconduct?

Daryle went an to explain that this could be interpreted as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment? Some of these people are extremely over-sensitive. There wasn’t anything sexual or gender discriminating about the conversation. Inappropriate, or unprofessional for a cashier/customer relationship yes. But sexual harassment?

“. . . If this had been a person of color, it could be construed as racism.” Racism? Where do these people get this stuff. Seriously, they only hear what they want to hear. How could you get racism out of that conversation? I just don’t like people buying junk food with my tax money. Why is that racist? Perhaps if it had been a white male, or I had been a black female who complained it would have all blown over or something. But she was a white female, so obviously it must be interpreted as sexual harassment.

Well, the hypocrisy was getting to me anyway. “Well, it’s probably good for both of us, because I was struggling with the morality of getting paid with that kind of money.”

“Explain to us that statement. ‘That kind of money.'”

“Well, frankly sir: Stolen money. Money taken from hardworking people (like like you and me), and handed out to others. Why does a person have a moral right to my money, or yours, just because she’s poor? Secondly sir, the only person who really gets rich and wealthy from food stamps are people that accept them the businesses already big enough to have the money to invest in that infrastructure. People on food stamps don’t spend that money wisely, to better themselves. They spend it frivolously.”

“But that’s your personal opinion you should keep that to yourself,” said Donna, the other assistant manager.

MY personal opinion? I should have told them that it’s the personal opinion of every single other cashier up there. It’s probably the personal opinion of every single grocery clerk in the world. It’s just that I might be a little bit more vocal about it. And it’s not MY personal opinion, it’s the U.S. Constitution’s opinion. Nowhere, does the US Constitution give the federal government power to hand out charity.

“Well Tracy, if that’s the way you feel, it’s probably good that we parted company,” replied Daryle, “But you’re probably going to have trouble finding other employment, because the fact is, There ARE poor people out there. And most of them are not there by their own choosing.”

“No?” I replied. “You guys don’t cashier. Neither one of you ever did. You don’t see the same things I do. In my almost 2 years here at Wal~Mart, I’ve only met one person, who was actually purchasing responsible foods on her food stamps. Do you really think that girl needed pop, and Little Debbie’s cakes, and Ice cream? Which is what the VAST majority of them use it for. And then they have money left over for a TV, or something. No, most of the people on food stamps aren’t truly poor, or needy. The ones that are get plenty of help from private charity’s and voluntary banquets already. Do you really approve of your tax money being used to help people buy junk food?”

He paused. And I went on, “Of course you do, because part of your paycheck comes from it. I have more integrity then that.”

And so here I am today, without a job. I’ll find another one. One where I’m not getting part of my paycheck from stolen money. At least my conscience is clear. The hypocrisy was getting to me.

August 18, 2003