It's funny what sticks with readers of this column, by John McGauley

Some time ago I wrote a column that got me more response than anything else I’ve even written for The Sentinel.

The subject was my take on the zeitgeist of the various grocery stores in the area. Now zeitgeist is one of those words I use to make sure you all know I’m better educated than you. I’m not even going to tell you what it means, but it’s not French. It was such a jejune piece of fluff I wrote.

It took me about 20 minutes to write that column, pretty much just a little confection, but people still tell me they howled when they read it, that they still think about it when they’re shopping in those grocery stores. Praise about my column is oxygen to my fragile little ego.

A couple of readers took exception to my description of the typical denizens of each store, particularly to those at Market Basket in Swanzey, mainly my reference to the size of its clientele. You can take that either way, but the market baskets in Market Basket are very big. And, since I wrote that column, Hannaford customers have gotten even older. Langdon Place, Hillside Village and RiverMead now have sign-up tables there and the incontinence aisle outstrips pet food sales.

There’s one store I didn’t include back then, but I’ll talk about it now because I find it so fascinating. Dollar Tree. It’s next to Petco in the same strip mall as Staples and T.J.Maxx — the store that’s like catnip for women and where the few guys dragged in by girlfriends and wives stand around like zombies, staring at the bundle-size packages of Hanes underdrawers, which is really about the only item they offer for men. If you’re a guy and you find yourself looking at those really big bras at T.J.Maxx and imagining the women who fit into them, it’s time for a new direction in your life.

There’s a lot of stores now with the name “dollar” in them, but Dollar Tree is the only one where everything actually is a dollar. One dollar. Ten bucks fills two bags of stuff.

Now, I tell you, where can you get stuff for a dollar?

And, they have everything. Food, too. I buy some food there, mostly baked beans and jars of peanuts, but avoid those sardines from China. I was told they’re not really sardines.

Now here’s what’s so obvious when you’re there, and I go there a lot. Many poor people shop there. That’s not hard to figure, with everything being a dollar. But wealthy people go there, too. I’ve seen some very well-off people there, in fact, people who drive Mercedes and BMWs. I know some of them, but I won’t name them.

Hard to pass up something for a dollar, no matter who you are.

The second-most popular column I wrote, in terms of reader response, was the one on depression, my journey through that affliction that often has no finish line. People now tell me their own stories about their experiences. So many of these recountings are both similar and very different at the same time. What I appreciate so much is that it’s rewarding to remind people to drag that monster out into the daylight, slap it to the ground like a serpent, and not keep it hidden inside their homes and unto themselves. Talk about it. That’s no cure, but it helps a lot.

The third most popular column? The one on how many prescription drugs I get at CVS. I wasn’t really exaggerating too much when I wrote that they hand me my drugs in a brown grocery bag, not in just those little white bags like most people get. I revealed all my various medical ailments in that column, and someone actually came up to me and asked if Lipitor is really for your lips, as I’d written. Oh, boy.

Another person asked me if I really did work part-time as the Statue of Liberty guy waving the sign out in front of Liberty Tax Service here in Keene. I said yes, that’s the God’s honest truth. When they walked away, I noticed they got in a car with Vermont license plates. Figures. Probably Brattleboro.

Speaking of Brattleboro, I was wondering when somebody was going to raise a ruckus about how their famous Strolling of the Heifers festival is cruel to dairy cows and inhumane treatment of animals for the sheer entertainment of us humans. I mean, come on, protesting anything is what makes Brattleboro Brattleboro. Well, this year’s heifer parade is Saturday, June 8, and I found this out from an April 19 story in the Brattleboro Reformer that the event’s organizers have had to defend the stroll against animal rights activists who do say it’s cruel to the bovine population.

Rikki Risatti of Brattleboro, who boycotted the festival last year and who has previously suggested banning the event, spoke up at a recent meeting and said this, according to The Reformer: “I saw the photos afterwards and I thought it was very unethical. People were pushing the animals forward and pulling them too, and the animals did not seem comfortable being surrounded in an urban development outside of the farm and that was unnatural for them.”

I guess she’ll be whining next about the annual Cheshire County Bear-Baiting Festival. Complainers, they’ll always be with us.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at

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