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Northerly Hills 6020D

Jass RichardsWorking part-time meant I often had more than one job.

One year, I worked the night shift at a residential program run by the Mental Health Association, wherein selected patients from the local psych hospital (those with potential!) were transferred, at some point in time, to 602 — so called because its address was 602 Bonkers Street (I kid you not) — where the staff would teach the residents life skills, help them find a job and an apartment, and generally provide support during their transition from institutionalized living to independent living. I also worked at the O & D (Observation & Detention), another residential program wherein young offenders were observed (O) while detained (D) prior to their court appearance — for trial, sentencing or whatever.

At the end of a week during which I was lucky enough to be staff escort for a trip to the grocery store with the 602s and a trip to an outdoor festival with the O & Ds, I had a great idea: why not pair a 602 with an O & D? I imagined a program that was a cross between those that paired juvenile delinquents with dogs and those that paired ex-cons with people in wheelchairs. I presented the idea — I called it “Northerly Hills 602OD” — to each place during the weekly staff meeting. Surprisingly enough, it was accepted. Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was a disaster. Except for one pairing.

Lily was 602’s compulsive shopper. Luann was one of O & D’s shoplifters. The three of us headed out to a mall one day, the two of them delighted at discovering in common an enthusiasm for shopping. They made a bee-line for one of those sprawling economy department stores that have everything you could possible imagine but nothing you could actually want. Let alone need. I trailed behind, at a discreet distance that was supposed to make them feel independent, one of such a trip’s many purposes.

Lily grabbed a shopping cart and began to fill it at once — with socks, T-shirts, scarves, hats, jeans, sweaters, umbrellas — all the while maintaining a chatter that was part auctioneer and part shopping channel spokesperson. Luann followed, recognizing Lily as the perfect decoy, and stealthily secreted various items into various pockets.

By the time they left Ladies’ Wear, Lily was onto her second shopping cart. By the time they’d gotten through Kitchenwares, she’d enlisted Luann to push a third. She was in Shoppers’ Heaven. She’d never filled three shopping carts before.

Luann was feeling aggrieved — it was clear she was outdone. She’d never be able to lift more than Lily was accumulating. So she scored the next item when Lily was watching, and winked at her. Lily was confused for a moment, looking much like a puppy seeing for the first time an older dog calmly walk away with the just delivered pizza box. While stealing clearly had advantages over buying, she realized, as Luann had, that she couldn’t possibly take nearly as much that way. So she decided to stick with compulsive shopping. And that made Luann doubly aggrieved. So when Lily put shoehorns into that third cart — six of them, one of each color — Luann blew.

“YOU DON’T F***ING NEED ALL THIS SH*T!!” she yelled. So loudly she lost half her loot. Among the many items that fell clattering to the floor was a mini-shoeshine kit. Lily stared at this shoeshine kit. Luann stared at the shoeshine kit. Lily looked at her shoehorns. Luann looked at the shoehorns. I call it “the shoe moment.”

Then, wordlessly, they both left the scene. Unfortunately for me, through different exits. I eventually found them both, wandering in the parking lot, looking for my car. (I was doing the same thing.) We left the mall and neither one of them went “shopping” again.

Jass Richards has a master’s degree in philosophy and used to be a stand-up comic (now she’s more of a sprawled-on-the-couch comic). Despite these attributes, she has received four Ontario Arts Council grants. In addition to her Rev and Dylan series (The Road Trip Dialogues, The Blasphemy Tour and License to Do That), which has reportedly made people snort root beer out their noses, she has written This Will Not Look Good on My Resume, a collection of short stories described as “a bit of quirky fun that slaps you upside the head,” followed by its sequel Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun. Her most recent novel, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of Godcan be purchased (in print and various e-formats) at all the usual online places.


Reflections of Erma