I was halfway to work when I stopped at a McDonald's. I wasn't quite hungry, but I knew I wouldn't survive the entire morning at work without something to eat. I pulled into the drive-thru and sighed with impatience. The line of cars was around the building; the line inside was even longer. I'm overweight anyway and the last thing I needed to do was sit on my ass for five minutes waiting for another sausage, egg and cheese biscuit.
I pulled out of line and drove on to work. I almost passed up the food mart on my right but decided I could get some orange juice and maybe a piece of fruit and as luck would have it, the lot was nearly empty. Bingo.
As I pulled into the parking lot, a girl went in ahead of me. I headed to the coolers, grabbed a single serve bottle of Minute Maid OJ and 35 cent Little Debbie's honey bun (they didn't have a single piece of fruit in the joint, I asked). I'm looking around for something, anything, better than a honeybun when I hear the man at the counter speak to the young girl.
"You have your mom come in and tell me you can have them and then I'll sell them to you."
He was nice about it but firm. I grinned thinking the girl had tried the age old line, "My mom asked me to buy her some cigarettes." It's a neighborhood store, so this guy isn't buying it and has probably seen her before. I laughed again to myself. Good try kid.
The girl stands there for a second looking surprised. I'm thinking, how surprised could you be kid, trying to by smokes at your age. I just knew she was going to mouth off, but for the second time that day I was wrong. She politely and simply said, "OK" and then left the store.
So I walk up, lay my oj and honeybun on the counter and ask him. "What was she tryin to buy?"
He replied, "Condoms. Can you believe that, she's only 16."
The smile slid from my face and I must have looked as shocked and pissed as I felt because he started in with the excuses before I could open my mouth.
"Why the hell didn't you sell them to her?!" I asked him in raised voice, but trying to stay calm.
He had been so certain I would agree with him, he was still smiling for a second but that didn't last long. He must be married bcause he looked exactly the way my man looks when he knows he's piqued my wrath. Looking back, I see that we could have been any couple arguing about their teenage daughter. Except for the fact that we were strangers.
"She's only 16. I know her dad," was the flimsy crap he finally came up with.
I must admit my response wasn't much better. Later I thought of so many things I should have said but I was so dumbfounded and angry I could only think of one response.
"You should have sold her the condoms. What the hell is your problem?"
"She too young to be having sex..."
Suddenly this turned personal.
"And what about you?"
It was a short question but his meaning was clear. Obviously, to him, I didn't look like the kind of person who would have had sex at her age. It cost me something to say it out loud and it will cost me more than you will ever know to put it on my blog, but I will. He had to understand the magnitude and idiocy of what he had done.
"What the hell? By the time I was her age, I'd been having sex for three years!"
"You were having sex at 13...good God..." he looked stunned.
"Exactly. You should have sold them to her."
"Well you were too young and so is she." He was firm about this, but he still looked shocked.
"Well I can't change that now, can I? For me or her."
In that instant, I made several hasty decisions. Talking to this guy was a waste and to hell with being late to work. I also decided in that I would go find that girl and take her somplace, anyplace, where she could buy the condoms she wanted. I took one last look at the guy as I walked out. The wind was taken out of my indignantly flying sails a bit when he sat down. Hard. He didn't look so sure that he had done the right thing anymore.
I got into my car and pulled out. I saw her walking a good clip down the street. She must have been angry too, because she'd made it a good way down the street and the counter guy's exchange with me hadn't taken long.
I pulled up next to her and asked her if she needed a ride. She recognized me from the store and said yes. There were two drugstores on the corner but she asked for a ride to the nearest Kroger. We walked to their "feminine items" section" They had pads, tampons, and oddly enough both kinds of KY Jelly, the regular kind and the "fun gel" warming kind. Ironically, these items were conveniently positioned near the disposable diapers What they did not have was condoms.
I learned a lot from that girl in our short ride and I learned that you truly do make an ass out of yourself when you assume things. I was writing the counter guy off as a mysoginistic, racist, prick, but again I was wrong. According to the girl, the man was the store owner and he had been right: She was 16 and he did know her and her family. Although the man did not know it, she had purchased condoms from his store before. Usually his son or another employee was at the counter. She actually worked at a local drugstore and she would buy "them" there later, but it was hard to do and embarassing even if someone friendly was at the counter. At that point, I realized why she didn't want to go to either of two drugstores and I tried to imagine myself buying condoms in front of my co-workers; especially when even at my age, I can't buy tampons without avoiding eye contact. One comment that stood out to me in our brief exchange: "I'm just trying to take care of myself".
She assured me that she was "OK, now" and thanked me for the ride. I gave her my cell phone number and told her if she ever needed anything to call me. I meant that.
She asked me a million dollar question in our ride, and although I gave her the correct answer, it took me a Google search and call to Planned Parenthood to be absolutley certain. "Do you have to be a certain age to buy condoms."
According to the Planned Parenthood (Springdale), there is no minimum legal age to buy condoms in the United States. Period. In my Google searching, I found that nearly every state has varied versions of "age of consent" laws, however these are meant to curb abuse of legal adults preying on minors with the exception of Texas. As recently as 2002, sex between consenting minors of the same age would have been illegal punishable by juvenile detention. This has since been modified to exclude consentual sex between minors with an age difference of no more than three years.
Personally, I'm still very angry with the store owner's decision not to sell condoms to her for many reasons
I know that the man meant well. He knows this girl, he knows her family and probably thought he was doing the right thing. I'm sure he thought he was discouraging her from having sex but he may have just been encouraging her to have unprotected sex. Had she wound up with a child, was he going to help her take of it? If she wound up with an STD or even HIV was he going to foot the bill? What if he hadn't known her? What if "she" had been a "he". Would a boy have still gotten the moral judgement of "he's too young" or would it be the age old double standard of "boys will be boys"?
Legally, can a store owner pick and choose what items to sell someone? I know store owners, even managers have the right to refuse service, but he actually sold her the other things she picked out. Does he have the right to choose which legal purchases she gets to make on the basis of his morality and her age?
I'm obviously overweight. What if the store owner thinks that being overweight is a morality issue. He feels it would be morally wrong to sell me a honey bun, but he's happy to sell me orange juice because he feels it's a better choice. Or depending on how well he knows me, maybe he sould require me to have a relative call with my calorie count for the day before selling me anything but water? Where dol we draw the line that keeps his nose out of my personal choices or anyone's, especially someone trying to prevent the life-changing events of pregnancy and/or disease.
One of the many critical health issues of the day is whether pharmacists have the right to deny women legal birth control based on the pharmacists personal and moral judgements. For those who may think that these denials are limited to the emergence birth control prescription EC or the "morning after pill", think again. Many pharmacists are denying women the right to the good old fashioned "dial-a-pill" birth control. Are we at a point now where women are deemed so dense to making their own decisions that we now eave their birth control choices up to anyone and everyone who owns, manages or merely works in a store, but not the women themselves? I find this shameful.
But I see that I have only scratched the surface. My experience has only raised more questions so I will do a follow up to this post. I will talk to the store owner and see if he is willing to answer some of my questions above. I will talk to a physician, a lawyer, and a pharmacist and a few store owners in my neighborhood. I really want to find out why that Kroger sells pleasure gel but not condoms.
I want women to get choice of their own bodies back and keep it.
Part II of this story will be posted on Friday, January 13.