"You takin care of a big ole pet?" asked the eternally befuddled clerk at my usual Walgreens.
I could see why she'd ask. I'd handed her two packages that said Adult Diapers in billboard-sized lettering, two packages of Adult Wipes in all their flag-sized glory, a thick packet of bed coverings labeled For Adult Incontinence, and a package of pads instructing For Adult Night-Time Use. I stared back at her stonily, wondering what kind of big ole pet would use these and came up with a) a large injured ape, b) an ancient Irish Wolfhound, and c) Hogzilla with a cold.
I come to this Walgreens so often I could claim citizenship papers. Plus I drop serious coin at this store, so I expect all and sundry to know my trip: Husband had a massive stroke, doing okay some days, other days not so much. Wife doesn't go for check-out happy-chat shit. Don't even try. Evidently, here was the dependable 2% that never gets the word.
"Ho, yeah," the clerk said grinning, hoisting up a package, "Diapers. Now I 'member 'ese. I put my first in the cloth uns with rubber pants overem. Found out they dint like goin around wet in them ole soggy things. Tell you whut: Cruisers was a blessing."
"My husband's a huge hulking adult," I said evenly, "and he doesn't like going around wet either."
"Shoot no," the clerk told me, with a dim smile. "Who would? Well. Enjoy them li'l ones. They grow up fast."
I took my packages resignedly and wandered out to my coveted Handicapped Parking spot, thinking,Well, I guess she wanted to be nice...it was the sort of thing you tell yourself after a mildly bruising encounter, but the following day was a different matter entirely.
To begin with, I have a gummed-together Lockian-William Burroughsy-noble savage view of the world as a huge animated being, and so I notice things, like how red cars all tend to park together. Also beige Japanese models. Also 1979 white Volvos. Plus I know when the pudding just rises up on its own and boils over like so much karmic lava, which was maybe what that day was about.
But who was the target?
On that particular Friday, I'd come to Albertson's on a not-too complicated errand: pick up one of my boy's prescriptions and 1 pkg. of Immodium, buy Saltines, buy sugar-free Jolly Ranchers hard candy in traditional JR flavors only, buy the perpetual 25 cansaFancyFeast cat food, get some fish of the wild persuasion and, last, don't forget the watermelon chunks.
So when I got to Albertson's, I noticed that all the capper spots were taken, every one and Albertson's does not stint the cappers. Even the ones by the cafeteria had been glommed by piggy oldsters clamoring for their LuAnn plates. Ditto for the dry cleaners and the tax prep place. So I parked three quarters of a mile away, hiked the steaming pavement, and wandered into the supermarket. At the produce section, I grabbed a plastic bowl of watermelon chunks, then decided to get the Saltines and Jolly Ranchers next since they would require some examination as to sugar content, rat droppings, et al. Crackers and candy were close to the meat counter (fresh wild snapper!!!!) and then I could swing to the cat food aisle, go to the pharmacy and from there be on my shank's mare journey out to the parking hinterlands.
Soon, though, I was hunched over a package of Saltines, sweating bullets, reading the fine print. Goddamn, I thought, this is deeply fucked up. Somehow we had become a nation that couldn't save New Orleans but can offer salted Saltines, no-fat Saltines, no-salt Saltines, lightly-salted Saltines, lightly-salted and 0-trans fat Saltines, unsalted whole wheat Saltines, and salted 0-trans fat whole wheat Saltines. I had just decided on the white flour lightly salted 0-trans fat Saltines when an ear-splitting wolfish whistle sounded. I glanced in its direction and saw a very young meat-cutter standing in front of me. I shrugged and bent back to my cracker-reading and heard a, Hey! and then, Rubia! The meat-cutter was looking straight at me, grinning and making a happy you n' me gesture.
He was 18 years old. Max.
Ah, jeez, I thought. Doesn't this kid know I'm older than Grendel? This is so fucked-up.
But you can't argue with the rubia-thing. Rubia meaning blonde. Mexican men are seriously nuts over blond hair. La rubia! I've had Mexican male strangers stick their fingers in my hair, loudly compliment me on my wild haunting beauty, follow me through stores, blinded to everything but my hair. La rubia! Short or long, it doesn't matter. In response, I can only flee, wondering as I hobble along, why they prefer my tuckered-out split-ends when Mexico is a Perfect Hair Country. That black glistening river of hair, coursing down the backs of girls who have the glorious loveliness of a gardenia in full flower.
Now, faced with teen-age rubia madness, I thought, Forget the fish, take the Saltines, and zipped over to the candy aisle.
The same hidiousness of choice had spread to the Jolly Ranchers hard candies like a cancer gone wild. There were Citrus Fruit Jolly Ranchers, Tropical Fruit Jolly Ranchers, Raspberry Jolly Ranchers, Pomegranate Jolly Ranchers with Acai Berries, and Green Tea Jolly Ranchers, none of them sugar-free. I knew this from other bootless forays and had once asked my husband why the fuck he had to have sugar-free Jolly Ranchers Original Recipe, which are far more disgusting than the many spin-offs. "Because the real Jolly Ranchers taste the most chemical!" he howled at me. "They don't taste like anything I know, but goddamn, do they have a flavor!"
That day Albertson's was out of the prized real Jolly Ranchers, leaving only off-brand sugar-free glop. This is so fucked-up, I thought sifting through piles of ersatz crap. Better go get the prescription.
At the pharmacy, a stout woman in her seventies, sunburned a dark rust color, dressed in a tight t-shirt, cargo shorts and wearing an Aussie bush hat was in the process of sliding down the side of the counter like an egg yolk. "That's fucked up! Give her the goddamn drugs!" the manager was screaming at the new-hire pharmacy assistant.
"But according to Federal regulations we have to offer counseling and then note the client has declined it and ask them to sign...," the new-hire complained, tapping a pen against her front teeth.
"Gi' me the fucking drugs," the old woman croaked, bush hat askew, "...don't need no goddamn bag. Just puttem in my purse." She gestured at a commodious Louis Vuitton handbag.
The new-hire pouted at the manager, then at us. "She's got to sign the statement about Federal Privacy Regulations..."
"Jesus Christ on a crutch!" the manager snarled. He snatched a bunch of amber bottles and dropped them in the old woman's purse, helped her to stand upright. "Much obliged," she mumbled and staggered off.
"And that's how you do it," the manager announced, while those of us who'd been waiting, applauded him generously.
Well, score one for the little people, I thought happily, wheeling my few purchases across the immense hot parking lot just as a Lexus SUV slammed into my cart, sent it spinning to hell and gone.
And I thought, This is just so fucked up.