by Tim Gilmore, 6/25/2022
When I was six and seven years old, I saved up my weekly allowance and bought Star Wars figures at Pic N’ Save at Blanding Boulevard and 103rd Street. All week I’d think about which “action figure,” come Friday, I’d make mine with my few dollars.
Darth Vader and Boba Fett and Han Solo hung in their packaging on retail display panels behind a counter. Already I’d fallen in love with Princess Leia, lost myself in daydreams of facial contours and braids and distant blue-green haze. I had to ask the pretty attendant, long hair parted down the middle, for “Luke Skywalker, Bespin Fattig-yoos.” She laughed, finding the mispronunciation cute, but already I knew I was good with words and was ashamed when she taught me how to pronounce “fatigues.”
I think I was 11 years old when my friend Alan told me that Pic N’ Save sold “fish cheeks.” I’d never heard of the Chinese delicacy and Amy Tan hadn’t yet written her famous essay. I didn’t believe Alan at first, but found the fish cheeks on a personal scavenger hunt the next time I was in the store.
I married, the first time, too young. I was 20 years old. It’s what my religious fundamentalist and working class childhood prepared me to do. I’ll never forget what the cashier said when my new wife and I bought contraception.
Pic N’ Save wouldn’t be around much longer. Jacksonville’s Setzer family had founded the drugstore chain in 1955 and owned 18 stores in Jacksonville and 43 in Florida and Georgia. Benjamin Setzer had opened the first Setzer’s Grocery north of Downtown in Springfield in the 1920s. Pic N’ Save filed for bankruptcy in ’95 and closed its remaining stores a year later.
My embarrassment at buying condoms was yet another byproduct of my fundamentalist Baptist upbringing, but neither of us was prepared for the horrible thing that cashier said. I’d been taught that souls entered the union of a sperm cell fertilizing an egg, which meant, I’d heard repeatedly, that abortion was murder. I’d even heard, after bombs went off at abortion clinics, that God might not approve of the method, but he wouldn’t mind the result.
The elderly woman at the cash register held the package of condoms up in front of her face and scowled. Then she bagged them and refused to raise her face to us and said, “They only sell these things here to upset us.” She bagged our few remaining items and as we left the checkout line, she sneered, “Say a prayer over the grave of your baby!”