New York, New York II: Pepper Spray


Photo by Mark Magliocco

“I can’t belief you vould drag me up dis early for a stupid trip,” my mother said as we walked towards the main entrance of the Middlesex Mall.

Even the security guard looked sleepy as he unlocked the doors and ushered us into the empty corridor. I however, was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was going to go to New York! I imagined the smell of roasted peanuts and the sound of taxi cabs and newspaper boys. I smiled at the thought of walking through a city, arm-in-arm with my first love. For one day in my young adult life, I could stand tall without the sound of Anyu and Nagymama criticizing my outfit behind me. 

We assumed that we could pick up some pepper spray at the K-Mart, but we were out of luck. The K-Mart directed us to the 99 Cent store. 99 Cent store directed us to the Hardware store. The Hardware store looked promising – I walked up to the counter and saw the empty peg for pepper spray.

“I’m afraid we’re out of pepper spray, dear,” the attendant said. “There’s been a bit of a crime spree around, so we’re sold out.”

I looked over at my mom, fearing that she heard the words “Crime Spree”. Instead she was inspecting the inside of a mailbox display.

The attendant continued, “Try the Pathmark, they should have some in one of the isles.” 

I was getting a little anxious.  Everyone I know has a Ghetto Pathmark™ that always smells like mold and only seems to stock items that are three days from their exparation date. This Ghetto Pathmark™ was no different, and of course, it was on the opposite side of the strip mall.

“Anyu, let’s just drive…”

“Your lazy fat butt can valk dere, I’m not vasting gas on dat.”

So, with 45-minutes left until the New York bus pickup, we power-walked to the Ghetto Pathmark™ and walked up to the first person wearing a blue shirt. He was about 500 years old and had thick glasses that were far too large for his head. Honestly, I’m not even sure if he worked there.

“Vhere to get Spray Peppers?” she asked.

“Okay, I show you now,” he replied in a thick Indian accent.

He slowly lead us into the produce isle and pointed towards an assortment of red and green peppers tinged with a yellow glow under the fluorescent lights.

“No, I’m sorry, Pepper Spray, not bell peppers,” I said politely. He looked confused.

“Yah, yah, Spray Peppers,” my mother repeated.

He smiled and shook his head. “Okay, you follow me now.”

He walked a little deeper into the isle and held up a bottle of Fit Vegetable Wash.

“No, ve don’t vant Vindex, ve need Spray Peppers,” she said, not wanting to even touch the bottle. For some reason, mother has an irrational fear of anything in a spray bottle, especially Windex, oven cleaner, and carpet cleaner.

“It’s good!” he insisted, thrusting the bottle towards her. “Good for peppers, fruits, good for-”

“No, Sir, we need Pepper Spray. Mace. For robberies.” Both the attendant and my mother watched me as I tried to mime spraying a mugger in the face.

“Ooooh,” he replied. “Dey no sell. You try mall now. Shoe store have it.”

I looked at my my pager at it blinked 9:35. At this rate, we weren’t going to make it. I grabbed my mother by the arm and dragged her towards the exit so she couldn’t get distracted by all the “Spectacular Savings”.

“Anyu, I’ll be fine without the pepper spray. We should really go.”

“No spray, no New York!”

I sighed. “Please Anyu, let’s try the shoe store, then. I really want to go.”

“Dat man’s crazy, dey don’t sell Spray Peppers at the Shoe Store.”

“We’ve got to TRY!”

We worked our way back into the mall to the Payless. I sheepishly approached the cashier who was busy sorting through a large box of tags.

“Um, I know this is a weird question, but do you guys sell pepper spray?”

“Not a weird question at all,” she said, smiling. “We don’t, but the shoe cobbler across the hall has it right in the front of the store.”

 “Thanks…”  I was starting to think that I was on some kind of hidden camera show. The Shoe Cobbler was the last store left in the little shopping mall, besides the food court. And it was right across from the K-Mart where we started the whole pepper spray search. Of course.

The clock was ticking. I bolted out of the Payless and tried to ignore my mother screaming, “Don’t leave me, you’ll get lost!” I ran all the way across the mall and poured into the tiny shoe repair shop so quickly that I almost slammed into the front counter.

“I need…Pepper Spray!” I said, my palms leaving greasy streaks on the glass.

“You mean, right now?” the old man asked, raising his eyebrows. “Is someone chasing you?”

I struggled to catch my breath. “No…late to New York…gotta buy protection…”

The shopkeep nodded knowingly. He reached behind the counter and pulled out a can of Triple-Action-Pepper-Spray Tear Gas with a UV Marking Dye. “Just one, Miss?”

“Yeah….jus-one,” I huffed. “I don’t…needa…bag.” I’ve never been very athletic.  

My mother waltz in behind me. “Vhat dah hell you running like dat for, you could have tripped and split open you head and den-” She trailed off as she saw that the cashier screen was blinking $19 and some odd cents.

“Twenty bucks for DAT?” my mother said, pointing to the small cannister. ” You think they sell it at dah Home Depot cheaper?”

I slapped $20 on the table. “Keep the change. Let’s ROLL!”

My mother yelled at me all the way to the car. “I can’t believe you didn’t get your change. $20. Vhat a ripoff!”

“At this point, I would give my first born for it to just LEAVE.”

“You didn’t even get your receipt! Vhat if it’s defective?” she asked as she opened the car door.

“Um, well, if it’s defective, that means I’ll probably be dead, so I won’t need a receipt.”

She froze as she was about to put her keys into the ignition. “Oh, no…vhat if it’s defective?”

“Ahhh, I was kidding! It’s fine! Let’s gooooo!”

We arrived at the steps of the Church a half hour late. Everyone was loaded onto the bus and Bob was pacing around in the parking lot. I jumped out of my mother’s station wagon and ran towards him.

“I made it!” I said as I gave him a big hug.

“Hey, hey, NO PC!” Pastor Jim said in a billowing voice. “PC” (Personal Contact) was frowned upon at Youth Group events.

“Oh, right, sorry. I’m just so excited that I’m actually here!”

“Don’t lose my child!” my mother ordered as she handed the Pastor the permission slip.

“We won’t Ms. Yuhas.”

“And don’t drive too fast! The Varrazano is dangerous, you could flip off!”

“Okay, Ms. Yuhas.”

“And don’t talk to HOBOS! Dey’ll steal you!”

The Pastor turned to me. “Okay, Stephanie, just get on the bus, you’re upsetting your mother.”

“What the heck took you so long?” Bob whispered.

“Mom was running all over town looking for pepper spray because she wouldn’t let me on the trip without it.”

“Pepper Spray?” the Pastor Jim said, overhearing our conversation. “That’s a weapon. Hand it over or else you can’t come on the trip.”

I handed him the pepper spray, still in its original wrapping. Guess I should have kept that receipt afterall.