A "Hallmark" Moment This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   The mere fact that the public knows about this"incident" could cost me my job. But, I see this as a public service.No one should have to work under these conditions and I pray that no one fallsinto the trap that is lovingly called "keepsake collecting" by addicts.That sounds warm and loving, right? Well, the ugly truth is anythingbut.

It was morning. That's about all my tired mind could register thatday. And it was cold. February or something. I parked outside the store, rubbedmy eyes, and dug my keys out of my purse. It was a Saturday, usually a slowday.

The cold bit at my lips and I buried my hands deep into my coat.Suddenly, and without mercy, some stranger grabbed my arm jolting me from myhappy, groggy state. She was big, strong, and very angry. A cheer rose from thecrowd gathered around the door of the store as she wrenched me forward into themob of keepsake collectors.

"It's 10:01," she snapped. "Whyhaven't you opened yet?" Her eyes were bulging. And any moment now I figuredI would be beaten and the store keys plucked from my dead hands. The mob closedin. I backed up and slammed into the glass doors. The large woman still had afirm hold of me.

"L." The words caught in my throat. I wascalculating the best way to make a fast break and run screaming to my car. But, Iwas blockaded on all sides.

Suddenly, the door behind me opened, I waspulled inside and I had to beat off grasping hands and flying purses. Now that Iwas safely inside, I surveyed my injuries. Only a few bruises and a jammed fingerthis time. Beats the black eye and traction from the last time. I brushed myselfoff and turned to my savior.

"Thanks, Tony. I thought I was donefor."

"No problemo. Better you than me." Tony is much morelevel-headed about these things. The mob was still pounding on the glass. Myheart was still racing. Any moment now I expected the guns to be drawn from underthe collector's books and teargas canisters to fly from the large purses of allthose keepsake-bent old ladies.

Tony jumped over the checkout counter andpretended to be cowering in fear behind it.

"Ha, ha. Very funny." I threw off my coat, stashing it behind the counter with my car keys."That was actually scary." I was in no mood to be made fun of forreacting the natural human way to a pack of wolves. Tony laughed heartily at myfear.

I sauntered over to the wall with the light switches, making sure tolet the rabid dogs outside see that I wasn't afraid of them. As I passed, Ireceived several obscene gestures and a few offers of money to get movingfaster.

The store was shadowed in that relaxing, serene early morninglight. Tony glanced over at me with the usual questioning look. His eyes said,"Are ya gonna do it? We could still make a clean break for Panama City!"

But I denied the urge and flipped the lights on. It was like I justturned on a psychedelic carnival. Lights glared, music blared, and the peopleoutside raised a rousing chorus of "It's Finally Opening Time." Ilooked up and was blinded by the Snow Buddy Bunny Beanie World-Wide ReleaseToday! sign. It was a beacon of light to all those lost in the addictive world ofcollecting. It said, "Buy me and you can stop. Just one more. You know youwant me." It turned my stomach.

"So, seeing as how you werelate..." Tony began.

"No way- I've been bouncer twice in a row,It's your turn. I was stem and serious. No more broken limbs forme.

"I just thought ..."

I shot a steely glance at him.He put his head down and looked at his feet to avoid it. I took my post behindthe cash register, hand poised, ready for the attack. Tony walked sullenly to thedoors. The crowd was deafening. Old ladies body-checked each other for a primespot in front of the door. The large woman, obviously the instigator of the lynchmob, stood, spread-eagle, pressed against the glass doors. The carnage was so badI had to look away.

For the first time, I saw Tony shake. He gave me aforlorn look, I narrowed my eyes and stared back. He took a deep breath, rushedthe door, flipped the lock, and retreated a few feet.

I could say thedoors burst open, or flew off their hinges. But, it was more like the air lock ofa space ship being flung open. The crazed women seemed to be sucked in by asudden air pressure change. Tony spread his arms to show his authority. "Donot run. Supplies will last. Do not run. Limit one per customer!" Heshrieked like a little girl. I stood mortified. I'd never seen it this bad. But,it got worse.

Here came the men.

The heavy tread of Wal-Mart-boughtcowboy boots followed the shrieking women. These men came armed. Sterile tongsand plastic collector's cases in hand, they advanced. Whereas the women grabbedand filled their arms, baskets, suitcases or whatever else they brought; the menchose carefully. They inspected each keepsake with Einsteinianintellect.

Already several ambulances had arrived on the scene, and oldblue-haired ladies were being rolled out. Strokes from excitement, broken limbs,hernias from lifting, and short-circuited pacemakers were among the injuries.Still the mob of collectors fell on the stuffed animals like vultures to a ripekill. The basest of all human nature was running rampant.

It was ugly Itell you, absolutely grotesque.

Thirty seconds had passed. A blink of aneye. Already the line at my cash register reached the state line. I took the leapof faith and began ringing up the repulsive little stuffed creatures. Withinminutes, the piles to be rung up reached the ceiling. The poor cash register wassmoking and soon aflame. I ran out of receipt paper in one order. People weremortgaging houses to pay.

And Tony, poor Tony. He tried to hold back thewaters of the Hoover Dam with his gangly 150-pound body. Between gluttonousheathens waiting to check out, I glanced over at him. He lay curled in the fetalposition, rocking himself, and nursing the purse-inflicted wound in his forehead.He kept repeating feebly, "Limit one per customer." It was sad to see.The collectors' world had finally broken him. From now on, he would shudder atthe mere mention of crafts, potpourri, or even flea markets. And the word"keepsake" would eternally make his blood run cold.

The rest isa little hard for me to talk about. The next three hours are blocked from mymemory. My psychiatrist figures its the intense trauma. But, next thing Iremember, the store was empty and there was an eerie silence. The vultures hadstripped the bones bare and left them to bake in the sun. Pages from ripped upcollector's books were scattered knee-deep. The store looked like it had beenlooted and burned. Tony was still lying on the floor. I went over to him andhelped him to sit up.

"I but it was ..." He tried to describehis near-death experience.

"Don't talk now. It takes time. You'll beokay." I used the warmest voice I could muster. He was quite fragile. Ihelped him up, and he limped over to the counter. We looked like the solesurvivors of a war-torn nation that had been battling for freedom our wholelives. We were soldiers, we had a duty, and we looked at the world withunforgiving eyes. I bandaged his head and brought him water. But, we did notshare war stories. The memories were too fresh, the horrors toounspeakable.

I don't want pity or sympathy. I don't want a raise or abetter job. I want you to learn, learn of the darkness of a collector'saddiction. If you know someone who is a collector, talk to them. If you cant stopbuying, cut up your credit cards. And if this story hits too close to home, gethelp as soon as possible.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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