Monday, March 31, 2008


I like boutiques. They offer a certain warmth, coziness, a friendliness and personal touch not to be found in department stores. Then too, they sell luxury goods, trinkets and those little non-necessities one needs. Thus it was I entered one such local shoppe in search of scented candles my daughter had told me were now half price.

The candles were advertised as being 100% beeswax and made by the homeless or former homeless. Even at a 50% reduction they were a hefty price, but who counts dollars when it comes to assisting the homeless? My arms full, I placed several pounds of wax on the countertop. Products such as these often carry a label stating what percentage of the profits go to the charity in question, but these candles didn’t. I remarked to the shopkeeper, “I wonder how much profit the homeless make?”

Whirling around, she said, “I don’t know! I’ve wondered that myself, but they get a wage you know.”

“Yes, I suppose they do, but do you think it’s a living wage?”

“I don’t get living wage, considering all I have to do here,” she replied picking up a candle with one bejeweled hand. “You know these smell so nice even if you don’t light them,” she added.

Was it not wrong, I thought, for me to scent my home using a candle made by a person without a home? “Still,” I persisted, “do you think they make even minimum wage?”

“Oh it’s a very good company. My daughter has been there and seen the factory.”

“Mmm, but do they pay a minimum wage? I mean we both know waitresses don’t get one and there are so many people who have to work at two jobs. I wonder why there are so many homeless in America?”

“I’ll tell you why there are so many homeless in this country, and I’ll look you straight in the eye when I tell you.”

I was in for it. Unwittingly, I’d pushed her buttons.

“There don’t need to be any homeless. It’s because they won’t work. They don’t have the motivation or gumption to get off their behinds and get a job.”

“You think that’s why?”

“I certainly do! And I’ll tell you another thing. The poor in this country can send their kids to college without it costing them a cent.” She glared at me.

“Perhaps, but I wonder if this company pays minimum wage.” I persisted, feeling more and more like a bulldog in a boutique. “Anyway,” I added, moving to safer ground, “do they burn well?”

“Oh, they sure do,” she replied still glaring.

“I guess they would, being beeswax.”

“Oh, these aren’t beeswax,” she corrected.

“But the sign says they are. Look,” I said, returning to the bookcase laden with candles. I pointed to a prominent sign above the product announcing the 100% authenticity of the beeswax and their homeless manufacturers.

“Well, I was just doing inventory, and I had beeswax candles right here on the shelf.”

“That may be, but now you don’t, and the sign is still here. In fact, it’s the same display and sign you had before Christmas that motivated me to buy these same candles at the full price. So you could simply remove the placard.”

She made no move to do so.

“You know, I don’t think you want to buy here. Coming in here and from the first moment upsetting me. This isn’t Macy’s you know. This is just a little store, and if you want to fight big corporations you can shop elsewhere. I’ve worked here for years, and nothing like this has ever happened to me before!” she shouted, her body visibly tense. “You must be a very unhappy woman!” she concluded.

“Funny, when you were yelling at me, I was just thinking the same about you,” I replied.

“Well you can just take your business somewhere else!” she spat.

Turning to open the door, I said, “Thank you, for refusing to do business with me.”

“I don’t need your business!”

“Obviously not,” I shrugged, thinking it would have been better if she had minded her beeswax, and I mine.

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