A Published Essay Sample

Take the opportunity to write what you see and experience. Here is an essay sample that might never have been written. Too plain. Too ordinary. But A daily paper bought it and used it on the Commentary page.


by Kathy Coogan

Sometimes cynicism creeps into the most optimistic heart. Sometimes the trigger is startling. Sometimes it’s more subtle. Two handwritten signs caught my eye one day this week.

The first sign I saw was at a deep discount store in suburbia. It was neatly printed in Sharpie pen on cardboard. The sign was suspended from a grocery cart aligned as a barrier to a row of wheelchairs meant to be used as a convenience by customers. It read: “Driver’s licenses must be left with management while using wheelchairs.”

I was fascinated by the sign. It rang of desperation, of a storeowner for whom the theft of a wheelchair, by god, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can just imagine the poor manager counting his wheelchairs at night before closing up the store, counting them again when the inventory didn’t jibe, shaking his head, thinking, “What next?”

Was there a Robin Hood in the neighborhood who stole wheelchairs from the rich storeowner to give to the disabled poor? Had one teenaged prankster dared his buddies to dash and grab, laughing as they burned rubber out of the parking lot, their bounty bouncing and rattling in the back seat?

In any case, shouldn’t a wheelchair be sacred? A device so sacrosanct that no one would dream of stealing it? Wouldn’t the basest petty criminal who thought nothing of grabbing Grandma’s purse think twice before stealing a wheelchair? Wouldn’t the bells and whistles, signifying conscience, jangle for even the sociopath who covets a wheelchair?

The second sign that I noticed the same day read simply, “Place money here.”

We recently moved to a new community still bordered by country. Happily, there is a woman who raises what used to be called a truck garden. She grows all the vegetables that symbolize summer to me: tomatoes in a kaleidoscope of reds and yellows, robust corn, zucchini the size of my forearm, peppers as shiny as a Michael Jordan’s head.

I saw her display shelves, initially bare, in the spring and couldn’t wait till they would be filled with her daily harvest. As I drove past each day I wondered what her sales system would be. I wanted to meet her to thank her for growing my favorites and for being the kind of woman that I always admired yet never was.

Finally, the bounty appeared on the shelves. I could see them through my windshield as I passed the final curve in the S that led to my street. I pulled into her driveway and smiled to myself when I saw her complex marketing system: “Place money here.” There sat a little green box with a slot in the top in which to slide the few bills and coins required to take home these homegrown treasures.

There were no chains binding the box to the shelf, no cameras mounted on overhead poles, no cash registers printing complicated ribbons of numbers, no warnings about exact change or requirements to show I.D. or reminders of only one to a customer. There was no suspicion or concern, just big, fat, fancy vegetables waiting to be taken home for supper by neighbors who would slip a little money into the little box.

My faith in humanity that had teetered when I saw the earlier wheelchair sign was reestablished by the simplicity of the honor system that was expected here. With juicy tomatoes tucked into a used bag provided by this merchant and a dollar bill tucked into the cashbox, I climbed into my car and felt my creeping cynicism slide away with the anticipation of my first homegrown summer salad.

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