One of the worst things about the pandemic is that a trip to Max Stock, the Israeli equivalent of the dollar store, has taken on the glow formally held by Ikea. Once you enter, every item you come across must be picked up tenderly, carefully examined, perhaps even surreptitiously sniffed, as you ponder whether or not you need a grip strengthener.
Or maybe you take a moment to discuss with your family (because just like Ikea, you now take your children with you on these trips so that they can see how stores used to function) if you had, in fact, already bought a battery-operated hand-held fan, and if so, whether or not anyone knows where it is, or indeed if it is even in working condition. Regardless of the answer, the fan still goes in the basket… just in case.
I have recently moved, moving the need for a Max Stock visit from a pleasure to a near necessity. Unfortunately, I don’t live near a Max Stock, Zol Stock, Hastok, Super Stock, or any of the various other competitors’ cheap “stock” stores. Instead, my neighborhood has Max 20, Max Stock’s smaller and less cultured baby brother. Shopping at Max 20 is like going to Target… if Target had emptied the shelves of everything but clearance items. And if Target’s total area was only 10 foot by 10 foot.
Unfortunately, Max 20, thanks to creativity, nepotism, or both, has been deemed an essential store. Thus, it is one of the very few places anyone can go during the general lockdown that Israel has been under for the last few weeks. When you couple this with the restrictions on how many shoppers can be inside the store simultaneously, there is always a line out in front ranging from 10-20 people whenever I try to go there.
At first, I tried in the evening with my new roommate. They eventually went inside, but my ADHD and claustrophobia prompted me to check out the home goods store across the street instead. This store apparently exists just to remind you of what you’re missing if you don’t get into Max 20.
But no matter… of course Max 20 was crowded. All those suckers who had kept their jobs during the Covid crash only had a few hours after work to do all of their errands. I, on the other hand, had plenty of time — all day actually. So, a few days later, I went to Max 20 late on a sunny morning. To my surprise, the line was even longer. Well, I told myself, I guess too many people believe the maxim about the early bird getting the worm. And once again, I headed across the street, giving the shopkeeper a friendly wave and finding even less to get excited about than on my first trip.
Yesterday afternoon, I made a third attempt to scout out Max 20, hoping to avoid both the early birds and the working class. Still, somehow, the line out in front of the shop was the longest yet. Now, I didn’t have anything else planned for the rest of the evening. But no matter what I wasn’t going to be doing, life is too short to wait with 40 strangers to get into a second-rate discount store.
Once again, I crossed the street to the third-rate discount store I had visited before. I think I’ve started to bond with the owner because he came over and said hello this time. This gave me the courage to ask him why two-thirds of his shop was covered up like it was Passover. I half expected to hear him say… for Passover, given how the last year has been going. However, he proceeded to tell me that he had been asked to cover up items that were forbidden during the lockdown, like spray paint. I was so surprised by this that I left before asking if the government was more concerned about us buying unnecessary items or the thought that someone might actually try to use the aerosol around a Covid patient, helping push the skyrocketing death toll even higher.
On the way back, I passed Max 20 again and watched as someone pushed their way to the front of the line. So, I stopped to watch how the 30 or so people left in line would handle this ninja level of chutzpah. That’s when I noticed the interloper’s frail, bowed body as she argued with the thermometer wielding teen who had been assigned to bring order to the line.
He said something to her, and she shook her head angrily and walked away. My Adderall egged me on into getting involved. “She’s right, you know,” I said. “The elderly are supposed to go in line first.”
The kid replied that she didn’t have her senior citizen’s card so that she couldn’t skip the line. It was the first time I had ever heard of this. We’re going through a lockdown in large part because we respect the elderly, and yet we can’t just rely on their ID to figure out that… yes, they’re old?! I got prepared to go full Hufflepuff in my fight against injustice, but when I looked around, the elderly woman had disappeared. So, I just shrugged and went home.
I confirmed the letter of the law later that evening. Seniors are supposed to carry a separate card that proves they are as old as they look. This brings up quite a few questions in my mind. Why are we creating a bureaucracy to verify that the elderly are elderly when most of them have a perfectly valid government-issued ID that already says the same thing. Who is cashing in on printing these senior citizen cards? And why would 30 people stand by and let this woman, who probably doesn’t have much time left, waste it on a line at Max 20?