Click here to read Part 1 of this story, if needed. Otherwise, here we go…
And thus began a satanic pact between a gossipy Southern gal with strong hypocritical tendencies and the City Slicker from southern Dallas who may or may not have evil intentions but certainly has an obsessive-compulsive shopping disorder.
Okay, it wasn’t a pact, really, but more of an instant mutual recognition that we could satisfy at least one of each other’s desires despite huge cultural differences. She wanted money, and I had some I could give her. This is really what society is all about, finding that one meet-point with people you don’t really understand and then trying to go from there.
I started going through the immense stacks of boxes, carefully reviewing the contents, and shoving select items into a pile that I clearly intended to keep as my own after an appropriate financial transaction. She started salivating, absently wiping away a line of drool before it could burn a furrow into the thick layer of facial makeup that did not match the rest of her skin tone.
(What is it with that subset of certain older, Southern women who simply refuse to understand the basics of makeup selection and application? How did they learn this horrid plaster technique, where all the colors are wrong and they end up looking like a moist, demented china doll that has gone sour after prolonged exposure to the heat?
After all, they had to have stood in front of a mirror at some point during the process. How can they not realize that something has gone terribly wrong, and that they do not look appealing in any way whatsoever? Sweetie, nobody’s gonna hit on that. Dial it down or some slimy entrepreneur will have you sign something that means you end up in Madame Tussauds’ recreation of the Burning of Atlanta.)
Anyway, after an extended period of review and consideration, I had a stack of seven boxes placed in my “cannot live without this” pile. Lou was visibly trembling with anticipation, a small part of her fighting back the gnawing fear that I was just toying with her and would suddenly march out the door and truly start selling drugs like she had originally assumed was my mission when I blew into town with my city ways.
But no, I had made up my mind. These were the things I wanted, for now. This place was too rich with treasure for just one visit. I would be back. Of course, I wasn’t going to let her in on this part of it, so that when I did return, perhaps she would be so overcome that there would be an even better discount the next time around. We were already in full co-dependency mode, feeding off each other’s desires and learning to manipulate them, even though one hour ago we knew nothing of each other.
We carried my selections to the check-out area, where Lou proceeded to ring me up with shaky fingers on the ancient cash register. The sum total was around 300 dollars, an amount which can be perceived in two ways. One interpretation is that I was out of my mind and in the full throes of addiction. The other is that I had found a damn good deal, because this same stack would have run 700 dollars at the snootier Hallmarks where sale prices are considered tacky and verboten. I prefer to think of my glass, and my bank account, as half full, thank you very much.
As I signed my life away on the little charge slip, Lou suddenly realized that she didn’t have any sacks large enough to hold all these boxes. After all, she was used to selling a single greeting card at a time, or perhaps one of the Christmas ornaments made out of rusty gun parts. These things fit into the typical cute little Hallmark sacks. Small buildings, especially several of them, did not. I would have to carry them out of the store one or two at a time.
Perhaps sensing that this lack of proper transport materials might prove to be a deal-breaker even this late in the game, Lou slightly panicked. She began to sweat a bit, thereby increasing the already astounding humidity level of her facial makeup to astronomical heights. She was no longer somewhat frighteningly dewy. She was now this shimmering mass of undulating liquid that could burst at any moment, instantly drowning small towns downstream in a thundering flash flood.
Lou apologized profusely. She once again commented me on my particular choices and just knew they were going to look SO cute once I displayed them in my home, even if my home was dripping with the sacrilege of the Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name. Grasping at straws, she quickly selected a bookmark which she placed on top of one of the boxes as a wonderful gift with purchase, beaming at me with what she assumed was a winning smile. (At least I think it was a smile. Hard to tell, what with all that molten lava flowing around on her face. It might have just been a fissure releasing super-heated gases.)
I glanced briefly at the bookmark. It was one of those cheesy gold-glitter things, with a tacky tassel and a bible quote of some kind, a message that was probably advising me to give up my life of sin and go begat some little cherubs to fill up some of the half-empty churches around here. The production cost of said bookmark was probably 2 cents.
Weak move, Lou. Don’t really want it, certainly don’t need it, and the tawdriness of your desperate proffering is an affront to my precisely-tuned gay appreciation of the finer things in life. Expensive porcelain housing? Praise be. Cheap paper products bearing scripture declaiming things that I have probably already done at least twice today? Cast them out.
But it was really no big deal. I was not offended in the least by having to carry out my items in multiple trips. In fact, I’d actually prefer this slower but safer process when compared to poorly-educated and uncaring mutants cramming my purchases in an overstuffed plastic bag and then shoving the mess at me with a belch of insolence, which is the normal shopping experience in these days where common courtesy is lost on the young and the stupid.
Then Lou apparently had an inspired idea. She turned her bobble head toward the back of the store and shrieked out a few words.
This sound she emitted might have been a name, but I didn’t quite catch it. “Rebar”? Maybe “Tree Car”? I don’t really know. If it was a name, it wasn’t something respectable like John or Sally. It might have been one of those intricate Southern names with too many syllables, so that if you suddenly shriek this name in an enclosed space, it sounds more like you’ve just had a small seizure rather than you attempting to address an acquaintance or relative.
But I guess it was a name after all, because there was stirring in the back room, and a large shape appeared and began meandering through the various poorly-planned aisles. The shape came into full view after fighting his way through the sickly stench surrounding the Candles of the Apostles display.
This was a boy who appeared to be about 16. He also appeared to have just consumed a Pinto station wagon.
Lou beamed at him with undiluted fakery. “Honey, can you help this nice man carry his things out to his car?”
Now she thinks that I have the wherewithal to actually own a car? Previously, she was convinced that I thundered into town in the back of Satan’s Hummer, which was now double-parked in front of Wal-Mart while his evil minions transform the shoppers into alcoholic, drug-smacking liberals who think it’s okay for women to have the right to vote.
Honey just looks at her. Then he looks at me. Then he sighs, and with what is apparently a tremendous amount of effort, he picks up the smallest box and heads to the front door, stomping along in his over-priced, unlaced and irritatingly-ugly tennis shoes. See, I told you, kids these days are rude, unfocused, and over-fed. (Of course, apples fall from trees, so we should really be pointing fingers at the trees, but in our modern “responsibility avoiding” society, the trees get away with pointing at school teachers, as if the fruit wasn’t already rotten when it walked in the door of Ronald Reagan Junior High.)
Anyway, I pick up three of the boxes with relative ease, and putter along behind Pinto and his pointless attitude. As I exit the door, I duck down just in time to avoid the deadly bell guillotine. Lou has got to do something about that thing. Can you imagine being killed in a Hallmark? There’s just nothing redeeming about that.
Pinto is standing on the sidewalk, holding the single box out in front of him like it contains fish bait that has expired, and furtively looking around to ensure none of his XBOX friends have spotted him holding something so girly. He glances back in the store with a look of pure hatred for Lou.
Really? Has a problem with this, does he? Hmm. Perhaps I should pretend that I can’t find my car. Maybe ask him out on a date. (“All the pie you can eat, then we can go back to my place!”) Ramp up his freak-out factor until he can’t even speak, just quiver.
Then from somewhere comes a brief moment of compassion. He is what he is. I am what I am. You can’t expect everyone to realize that acceptance and decency is the better part of grace. You would think we would all know that by now. Then again, mankind has had thousands of years to perfect the art of intimidation by differentiation. Make your neighbor different, hold him up to the light and criticize, and somehow justify that this makes you better. And find someone who agrees to agree with your pointless point. And now you have power over the other guy.
Sound familiar? There are supposed “leaders” in this country focused on doing just that, divide, separate, and conquer. So my hope for 2010: As a people, as a world, we continue with the tiny steps down the road to day when all humans respect all humans, regardless of color, creed, beliefs, the flavor of the person they love, or choice of fashion accessories. Keep the faith.
Then my Gandhi moment quickly passes.
As I head toward Pinto and his squirmy holding of my girly porcelain house, I pull out my car keys and hit the button on the fob that opens the trunk. The trunk of the car directly in front of Pinto. Click. The trunk is wide open, in clear view of everybody, including Virginia the Presumed Untainted as she sits in her Yugo, still confused about where to insert things, like car keys and manly bits.
He clears his throat. “So, man, which car is yours?”
Dear Gawd. How can he be asking that? My thoughts of universal acceptance of my fellow man are swirling down the drain. I’m clinging desperately to the belief that we can all just get along, but you’re making it very hard for me to do so when you don’t even seem to have a pulse.
Put yourself in his unlaced shoes.
Okay. “Dude, it’s this car right here. See, I can open the trunk by pushing this button on my key chain. That’s why the trunk is already open. Maybe you didn’t see that.”
Pinto looks around the entire parking lot, and then somehow manages to focus on the car in front of him, the only one with the open trunk. I push the button again, just so there’s that empty clicking noise from the car that says “dumbass, you already pushed me once, what is your deal?”
Pinto sees the light. “Dude, that is so sweet. I want a car like that. What kind of car is this? Do you have to pay for that special key? Does that take batteries? Man, I’m always runnin out of batteries, all the time.”
Truer words were never spoken, me thinks.
But the ice has been broken. We talk about cars for a bit, with me acting all butch when I really don’t know anything about cars except how much they cost, and him talking about saving money for his own wheels. It’s hard to save money. Yeah, I know, but you can do it. Then he finally heads back inside for more of the boxes while I carefully position things in the trunk so there’s minimal bouncing around and potential damage.
Pinto quickly returns, this time carrying all three of the remaining boxes, walking carefully, and he gingerly handing them to me so I can secure them. We’re good to go, but he lingers for a bit. He still wants to talk, not sure why.
“Dude, that McDonald’s one is pretty cool.”
“Yeah, I really like it. Glad you guys had it.”
“It’s got a chip, though. Did you know that? That one’s been around a long time. Nobody wants it cause of the chip.”
“Well, that chip doesn’t bother me. I can fix it up, no prob. Little bit of glue. Done.”
“Yeah, that’s cool.”
He stands there a bit longer, while I finish moving things around until I’m satisfied about minimizing breakage, then I close the trunk lid with another click. “Well, thanks for your help.”
He kind of jiggles his head, like he’s been thinking of lots of things, beyond just porcelain products and remote-controlled trunks. “Cool. Okay, guess I’ll head back in. See ya, dude.” And he turns and moseys back to the front door, dipping down to avoid the guillotine door bell.
We all have our chips, right? And we all have our glue. So somehow we make it work. But hopefully, some day, we’ll realize that the chips make us unique. Because really, isn’t perfection boring?
Click here to read the next entry in this story…
(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 01/01/10. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)
Categories: The Stories