I rather pay more for what I need than have to fight my way through crowds of five in the afternoon brain dead and surely people to get it cheaper. Maxim: The more people the less humanity. I know where the cheap stuff is sold and increasingly I’m being forced by budget constraints to venture into zombie territory. It’s like they know I don’t belong there. They can sense my distaste for having to breathe their high fructose corn breath and to walk in the wake of their one slow step at a time thinking. They know I do not belong. It’s a matter of time before they kill and eat me, like they did Michael Rockefeller.
The one thing I can do better than they can is get up early. I’m moving at four in the morning and I know, I really know, I have them beat. I can get in, get back out, never have to dodge a dead walking body, not have to circumnavigate an aisle blocker, not have to push an abandoned buggy out of the way, and I can get out without having any writing material. Seal Team Six couldn’t get in and get back out again quicker. I’m a trained professional when it comes to shopping on the run.
Universally, human beings ignore signs. There is no sense in posting signs. The most useless sign is “wet paint” because everyone who reads it has to touch the paint to see if it is actually wet. If you posted a sign that read, “Touch this object and you will die a horrible death, writhing and screaming, and your children, and their children, will be maimed, disfigured for life, and one major city in the world will burst into flames and a kitten will die” people would be stacked upon one another screaming like hell, rolling on the ground in agony, and more coming to touch the object. It would be like Mecca with a punk rock soundtrack.
The first sign this morning, the first sign someone would ignore would be “right turn on red after stop”. Now most people ignore this sign by not stopping. But the guy ahead of me ignores it by not turning. What’s more, he pulls out a loose leaf copy of “War and Peace” and begins to read random pages aloud while trimming his toenails by rubbing them against his windshield in hopes that, over time, the friction will wear them down. Honestly, this is all speculation because I have no idea why anyone would camp out at a red light before dawn when there are as many people on the road as there Justina Beaver fans living next door to him. But this guy isn’t moving. The light turns green and he’s still pondering the many mysteries of the multicolored periwinkle. I start to pull around him and suddenly he’s all get up and go. The light turns red again so if there was a cop around it would look a lot like I was passing someone at an intersection during a red light. Just pull that guy over instead, Officer, and look at his toenails! It will be a hoot!
The parking lot is empty. Great Glorious Grand Feelings of Grandeur; it’s like seeing a sunset over the Grand Canyon or sunrise over Fred Phelps’ grave. You have to love the way this looks right now. The damn place might as well be closed. And visions of Daffy Duck dance through my head. Mine! Mine! All mine!
Did I mention my espresso machine died? It was given to me back in 1996 and has served me and my habit well since then. But now, now, it’s dead, Jim. I’ve been thinking about living without one, and I think I can, but one of life’s many simple pleasures is writing while under the influence of espresso. I can price one while I am here and still get the hell out before the zombies arrive. It’s an iffy thing. To hesitate inside of a retail store is to risk being trapped in some way. Every moment spent inside is another way things can go horribly wrong. But I have to have two things before life can function normally again; soap and dog treats. Lucas likes treats as much as I like espresso. The people at work will be happier if I use soap every day.
Sure enough, the very idea of hesitation, the very concept that I might do anything, anything at all, other than get in and get the hell out attracts Them. They drew lots and the one who lost, or who was so brain dead he didn’t realize they were scamming him into the early shift, is waiting for me to slow down long enough to be dragged down. I am the zebra who stares in one direction for too long. I am the gnu who thinks it is a log. I am the rodent who strays that one small step away from the fence line and then looks up into the sun and sees the hawk’s shadow, blotting out the entire sky, death on swift wings has come and the world ends with sharp beak and talons…
“Excuse me, sir, but do you know how many children you could feed with those dog treats?”
Ah, the overly religious! No one, nowhere, at any time, is safe from these people. After all, the Supreme Being of All the Universe, has sent them out, to speak to me, about my indulgence in a box of dog treats. War, famine, and twerking he can live with, yes, but dog treats? God has spoken! He’s a pale looking zombie with a wrinkled suit. I think he’s been sent to prowl the dog food section because They know I have to come here.
“Can they do puppy snot on command?” I reply. “Because simple begging is boring.” That’s the one thing They are never ready for; retaliatory aggression. They are used to people feeling judged and guilty when approached by the Overly Religious but They are not accustomed to someone actually fighting back. The field mouse pulls a Plasma rifle in the forty watt range. Tastes like chicken.
“What?” The Pale Young Man is taken aback. This isn’t in the script or scripture. “Uh, well, the Bible says…”
“When those kids can do puppy snot on command I’ll give them treats. But right now Lucas is learning Galump-galump, so they’re going to be behind the curve a little, best get a clicker and start training if you want them to compete.” I ease away from the Pale Young Man as he is processing this new and totally unexpected information.
“I’ll pray for you!” he calls as but I am seriously on the move. I can get out of here with what I have and be happy.
As much bad press as they get there is something to be said about automated checkout. Give me ten seconds and I can be out of that building like my ass is on fire and my head is catching. Two items, ten seconds and I’m door bound, the sinner’s box of dog treats under my arm like a football. He’s at the twenty, the ten, the five…
But there is a van parked next to my truck. How can this be? How! Can! This! Be! There’s fifty-eleven-billion parking spaces open! I’m a quarter mile away from the door! Why in the name of the Sahara Desert would anyone park in the same area code where I am? Was there a sign telling them not to? But not only is the van parked next to my truck, but there is a woman trying to get something out of the passenger side of the van, and she’s parked within INCHES of my truck. She can’t get her door open all the way. It looks like someone blacktopped Nebraska out there and she’s so close to me with that Chevy Hippie, 1970’s spray painted van that she can’t get in and out of it without hitting my truck.
I get into the truck and crank it up and she turns to look at me as if I’ve just pinched her on her breast in the middle of the Pope’s benediction. She’s right outside my door and she looks like a celebrity, and suddenly the name “Carol Channing” pops into my head even though I am fairly certain I’ve never seen a Carol Channing movie or whatever it is she did. Remember the blonde wig Julie Robert’s wore in “Pretty Woman”? This woman’s hair looks like that but she looks like she’s been smoking two packs a day since the first tobacco plant was invented. She looks like the outside of a smoked ham, magnified. She’s a mummified creature with a scarecrow’s scowl and blonde hair curled up at her ears. Usually, when a woman looks at me like that I’ve said something totally stupid that does irreparable harm to a relationship. (yeah, I’ve seen that look before) Just the idea that someone might see her, see me, and think this is the case makes me want to leap out of the truck, abandon the dog treats, and seek out the Pale Young man for Divine Intervention. Instead I put the truck and gear and I hope that she sees me leaving as a good thing. She slams the door of the van shut and backs away. I pull away and she levels a finger at me, right at my window, and forever that face is burned into my memory. Zombiefied Channing I will see on my deathbed and scream.
The path is clear. The road is open. There is nothing but space between me and freedom, sweet freedom, and I go. But I still have a dead espresso machine to contend with.
Is it worth it to go back in, ever?
I need a sign.