In a Huff

As a freelance copyeditor with seemingly endless work hours, a lifelong consumer of entertainment gossip who often checks for “news” updates, and an insomniac who lately only sleeps between the hours of 3:30 and 8 am, I spend about 15 to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, on my laptop. That is rather ridiculous but such is my life.

Because I spend so much time using my computer, I’ve become adept at using it as I eat and drink, so it came as no surprise when I recently noticed that several keys weren’t functioning properly, clearly hindered by crumbs, dirt, and/or gunk. Although I hadn’t used one in years, I knew that I needed to buy a can of compressed air keyboard cleaner. I used to be much more diligent about keeping office supplies on hand but that’s just not the case anymore. As such, I headed out to the store to find what I needed to get back to work.

Little did I know that changing times were about to turn what should have been a simple purchase into an unanticipated educational experience.

My favorite local supermarket stocks a wide array of office supplies so I headed there first. They had several cans of the air cleaner… for 8 freaking dollars a piece. My memory is quite good and back in the day, I never paid over 2 dollars for the air cleaner, so there was no way in hell I was about to pay 4 times that amount. I wondered what on earth could have necessitated that kind of price increase… for a few ounces of AIR.

Salty and annoyed, I next traveled to Walmart, figuring they’d have what I needed for the few dollars I’d planned to spend. Turns out, I was wrong again. There, I found several varieties of air dusters, the cheapest of which was 6 dollars. Still salty and even more annoyed, I put it in my cart. Clearly, something was going on that had dramatically inflated the cost of canned air, and I wasn’t going to keep running around wasting time and energy to find a cheaper option.

Oh but my education still wasn’t complete.

After ringing up my purchases at self-checkout, an alert prevented me from completing my transaction. For reasons unbeknownst to me, my items —the air duster, press-on fingernails, and 2 frozen dinners— were flagged and a light above my head began to flash. A store attendant soon showed up and cleared the screen so that I could proceed. I asked her what could have possibly caused the issue in the first place. She pointed to the air duster, which is now an age-restricted item. Again, I asked why. She smiled sadly and said, “Kids aren’t allowed to buy them; they use them for drugs. You know, huffing.”

No, ma’am, I didn’t know about huffing, which Merriam-Webster defines as “inhal[ing] (noxious fumes) through the mouth for the euphoric effect produced by the inhalant.” Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health, in 2012, “National surveys indicate[d] that nearly 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and older have used inhalants at least once in their lives.”

So adding up this information, which I never wanted to know in the first place, we —as consumers— are having our legitimate purchases flagged, and being forced to pay more money, in efforts to keep kids from doing dumb shit like huffing.

Generally speaking, I like to think that I’m a compassionate person. I help people when and where I’m able, and, as I’ve dealt with difficult life situations, I try to empathize with others.

However, with regard to this issue, and its impact on my wallet, I’m essentially left… huffing mad.

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