The Policy

For months retail stores have been short of two much-in-demand items — powdered detergent and floor mats. A few days ago a friend was waiting in line at the Galerías Paseo store to buy the elusive floor mats. As she approached the counter, she noticed a printed sign that read, “SPECIAL OFFER — 5 FLOOR CLOTHS PER PERSON FOR 80 CENTAVOS.” Some of the more naive people in line thought this meant that five floor clothes cost 80 centavos. The price was the same as usual. The limit on the number per customer was what was different. Nevertheless, a few enterprising types got in line to buy in bulk.

This, so far, is the context. My friend, amused by the misleading sign, got out her phone to take a picture. Suddenly, an employee approached and tried to stop her. My friend apologized for the mistake and asked the employee to show her where the notice was that indicated photos were not allowed, because she had not seen it. The employee hesitated. There was no sign, but it was “the policy.”

My friend, who knows about such things through programs — those that are broadcast without proper licensing by Cuban television — replied that, if photos were not allowed, there must be a sign that explicitly stated this. The employee’s response was that “the policy” came from the manager’s office. And what was she taking photos for anyway?

My friend’s nephew, who was waiting in line with her and had not opened his mouth, suddenly turned the employee’s face white. “It’s to send to the Herald,” he said. Everyone there understood this to be a reference to none other than “the libelous mafia of ultra-rightists from Miami.”

Taking advantage of the employee’s desperation, my friend asked where the manager’s office was so that she could read “the policy.” This is how she found out that “the colonel” was the author of “the policy.” My friend was alleviating the boredom of everyone in line. “Please don’t tell me this is a military establishment!” she said.

“No, no, the manager is a civilian now!”

“Look, it’s not my fault that nowadays all the managers are from the military,” she said. “It would be better if they worried about theft and embezzlement instead of a photo of a sign.”

My friend made me promise I would not use her name. I could not convince her under any circumstances to let me use the photo of the sign for this post.

August 31 2012

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