The Discourtesy Card

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Do you have your courtesy card?" the clerk at the drugstore register asks me.

Um, no. At least I don't think so. She's looking at the innards of my wallet, where assorted frequent-buyer and courtesy and super-duper-saver advantage club cards issued from other stores peek from behind one another. These are supposed to get me free stuff, or discounts, or something. I've long forgotten just how they came to be in my possession, and I've all but sworn off using them on the grounds that purchasing power of this sort isn't worth the brain cells necessary to keep track of it.

"I don't have it with me," I say, fumbling through. "But that's okay. I'm kind of in a hurry here."

"Maybe it's on your key chain?" she says with a look of concern. She's short, with curly hair, an affable grandmotherly sort. "Did you get the key-chain kind? That's the one most people have."

"No," I say. "I don't have it. But that's okay."

Really, all I came in here for today was a box of Band-Aids. It's bad enough that it took me 20 minutes to actually locate the Band-Aids. The store is vast, and the aisles aren't set up in an easy grid pattern, so even as you try to make a southward beeline to the back of the store where the first-aid stuff is, you end up wandering westward, past all sorts of tempting merchandise, which is, I know, exactly the point.

I succumbed to temptation: a two-for-one sale on a bottle of Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Gelee. That's a $10 value. Stock up now and save, I figure. I love a fake tan.

So, a box of Band-Aids and two bottles of goo. Can't I just pay and leave?

"Phone number?" the woman asks. I give it to her, because I don't have time to argue the point about why everyone I buy anything from nowadays wants my phone number. (Why?)

"No, that's not right," she says. "There is no courtesy card registered to that number."

Oh, we're still looking for my courtesy card? "That's okay," I say. "It doesn't matter --"

"A lot of people have it under their cellphone account," she says. "Cellphone number?" This goes on. Soon we're trying my office number, my husband's cell and office numbers.

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