It seemed like a perfectly ordinary grocery store. We’ve been there before, in fact, and we’d come back because we wanted to pick up a few ‘for the room’ things before we headed over the Bay Bridge. It’s another part of our routine when we come to San Francisco. We were almost done when Joe remembered that he needed to pick up some shampoo so we headed over to the toiletries aisle.

We turned where the sign indicated that the shampoo and sundry items were kept. The aisle was empty except for two women who seemed to be aimlessly standing in the middle. They were just a foot or two away from the shampoo and it was then we noticed that the whole aisle, the whole thing, was under lock and key. We were confused and they saw it on our faces and explained that they were waiting for a clerk to bring a key and they expected her back shortly.

I was curious so I began looking and the shampoo wasn’t the only thing locked up. The deodorant, the toothpaste, the shaving stuff – razors, foam and after-shave, all that and more was behind clear hard plastic barriers firmly locked in place. “But why?” I asked the girls.

The taller of the two leaned down and spoke conspiratorially to us, explaining that the clerk had told them that ‘drug addicts’ and ‘poor people’ steal these things and this was to reduce the stores loses. I had a shocked look on my face and they misread the source of the shock, it seemed that they thought that I was horrified at the ‘way the countries going’. Out came prejudice and preconceptions about poor people about people addicted to drugs about people with mental health problems.

I said, “You know what this means?” They were eager for me to join in on their torrent of disgust with people who are ‘dregs’ and ‘dangerous.’ “That means that when we are buying food for the food back we should be slipping in some shampoo and deodorant and stuff like that. I mean they don’t lock up the bread or any of the other food, they lock up what people need to get clean, stay clean. They lock up stuff that will help people feel good about themselves and apply for jobs and get back on their feet. I’ve never thought about that before, how very awful.”

They looked at me as if I was an alien.

And, said, “Yeah I guess you can look at it that way.”

I agreed with them.