I’m working on my blog, minding my own business, on a Sunday afternoon. The phone rings.
He’s calling from Odessa, where he and the brother and sister that are still on speaking terms are taking care of family business. There is no telling what this might be about, as those three think dangerously alike and any negative aftermath of their actions is tripled.
He responds. “Hi Sweetie! I love you!” Immediately, with those 5 words, I’m on red alert. I know him. There is going to be an attempt to involve me in something unsavory.
I take a deep breath. “So, what are you guys up to?”
“Well, we’re here at Lowe’s and Nina and I were looking around at stuff and we were out in the lawn and garden section and Nina found these patio chairs that she really likes but there’s only one and we talked to the guy and he says they won’t be ordering any more ’cause it’s the end of the season for them.”
“Well, so can you run down to our Lowe’s and see it they have any of these chairs? I think they’re just like the ones we have on our patio.”
We have a mix of about 40 different chair styles on our patio, because I’m always going to Lowe’s with the sole intention of replacing one dead plant and instead coming back with furniture and a crate of citronella candles. It’s imperative that we narrow down the destination of this life quest. “Okay. Which exact chairs are we talking about?”
“I think it’s the ones you just got.”
“I bought two different sets the last time. Are you talking about the fake wicker ones, or the fake wood ones, or-”
“These have arms.”
Really? Imagine that. I contemplate having a martini, even though the breakfast dishes are still warm. “Okay. Are the arms curved? Are they metal? Do they have-”
“Oh, wait! Here’s a SKU number.”
Thank gawd. “Okay, go.”
“Okay. Um… 1-4-6-9-1-4. Did you get that? 1-4-6-9-1-4. Wait. No. Yeah, that’s right, 1-4-6-9-1-4. 1-4-6-9-1-4. 1-4-6-”
“I think I’ve got it, poodle.” I take a deep breath and consider my options, because I’m really not in the mood to stop doing what I’m doing now and go do something else. I test-run Plan A, which is to instill a little bit of guilt, an action that helps keep a relationship strong and usually allows one of the partners to remain relatively sane: “I’m still in my jammie pants. I’ve got to shower and all that, so it might take a while.” (Translation: Why are you doing this to me?)
No response. They are on a mission, and we shouldn’t waste any time contemplating the possibility that I may not want to do what they need me to do. After all, exterior decorating is on the line and, as a gay man, I should accept the challenge with grace and manifest destiny, racing out the door as quickly as humanly possible.
So we default to Plan B: “But I’ll hurry, and I’ll call you when I get there.”
“Okay, great. We’ll still be here.” Of course they will. It’s Odessa. West Texas. Going to Lowe’s is one of the few available highlights. You put on lip gloss and you take a picnic basket. That’s just how it is.
So I hop in the shower, slap on something comfortable to wear and head out.
And of course it’s 107 degrees in the shade. I leave a trail of glistening tire rubber on the pavement as I head south. I pull into Lowe’s, and apparently The Pope has stopped by for a shovel and a sermon, because the place is packed.
I claw my way through the mass of unwashed hillbillies and their inbred offspring, all of them fondling a John Deere riding lawn mower like they’ve just seen Jesus in the oil spill under it. I finally make it to the lawn and garden area. I begin my quest.
And I find exactly two lawn chairs with that SKU number, both of them a little banged up and obviously the last dregs. The good ones are all gone. Joy.
I call Terry. “Well, I think I found them.”
“Okay, great, let me head back over to the chairs.” I patiently wait while he apparently bangs his cell phone on any item containing metal during his journey. Three years later, he’s arrived. “OH MY GOD!”
“What?” (Why did I ask that? Do I really want to know?)
“It’s GONE! The chair’s not here anymore!”
I offer comfort, because that’s what my therapist says I should do. “That’s okay. Let’s just make sure we’re talking about the same chair.”
He’s not listening. I can tell by his muffled voice that he’s telling someone who has just walked up “Somebody bought the chair!” I’m assuming it’s Nina. This sidebar conversation continues for a bit, shock and dismay is expressed, somewhere in the afterlife Sylvia Plath begins a new poem about how forcefully life sucks. Then another male voice joins the conversation, presumably his brother Tommy, and again with the “Somebody bought the chair!”
I try to break in. “Okay, this model I’m looking at here is just like one of the batches of chairs I bought for the patio, so I think it’s the right one. How many does she want?”
“She just wants two.”
“Well, there are two here, but they’re pretty beat up. I don’t think that-”
“Somebody bought the chair!” he tells yet another voice that joins the discussion. Okay, we’ve exceeded the number of known relatives in this search party. Is he now involving total strangers in what should be a personal and discreet trauma? Then again, it’s Odessa. There’s not a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon once you’ve praised the Lord and met your quota of racist remarks at the church barbeque. The citizens are yearning for something interesting to happen that will keep them occupied until Fox News airs something that isn’t a repeat.
The 17-way conversation continues, with me throwing in sympathetic tidbits while Terry and Nina determine exactly how they are going to be able to go on with their lives without the chairs that Nina didn’t even know existed two hours ago.
And then, wandering around in the heat and the noise, I turn a random corner, and I’m confronted with towering stacks of the same damn model of chair.
“Somebody bought the chair!”
Just breathe. “Terry, I’m standing in front of at least 50 of those chairs. So we want two?”
“YES! Two. I can bring them back out here the next time I drive out.”
“Got it. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Love you, too.”
And of course, the last two lines of conversation make it all worth it. We do what we have to do to make sure our loved ones are happy and have access to stylish seating options. I pocket my phone and head to checkout, dragging two chairs that have no concept of what this relocation plan really means. But it’s all good. The heat, the noise, the inbreeding. John Deere dripping special Christian oil. No biggie, really.
But I will be having that martini.
Just as soon as they get the Pope-Mobile out of my way so I can leave the parking lot…
(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 07/02/09, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)
Categories: The Stories