So NSTIW (any military vet knows this acronym), standing in line at the Walgreens up at the corner in North City. It’s walking distance from our shotgun shack — not a “shotgun shack” in the N’Orleans sense that you could fire a shotgun from one end to the other, but in the Pacific NW sense of looking like you might get shotgunned for trespassing here, and I make no further comment on that, ’cause it’s not like we posted a sign or nothin’ and we get along with our neighbors real good — and I sometimes walk up there under escort from Tucker the soon-to-be-Great Dane.
Tucker’s a sweet beast, eight months old and already tall enough for our 70-lb. geriatric Albanian Schmaltzhund to walk under his belly. Great Danes engender jokes that are either funny to their owners (“What kinda dawg izzat?” “Tennessee Walker”) or passers-by (“Hey, are you walking your dog or is it walking you?”), but rarely both. They also stimulate endless, impromptu tutelage, unfortunately with a high degree of repetition. Thank you for your judicious appreciation for the obvious, gentle stranger, but please presume that I’ve already been informed that “Wow, he’s gonna be big.” It’s okay. We can move one of the kids into the yard. Most likely the teenager, next time he insists that he could do everything better on his own.
So anyway, Tucker is my candidate for Service Dog and I plan to sew the patch onto his Shetland pony blanket and draft him into standing behind me in crowds, but he wasn’t even there today. That was just gratuitous Great Dane name dropping, right there. “I have a puppy,” is the implicit message, “a puppy like no other. Tucker Dog is, in fact, the greatest Dane ever to clumber across the floor — even if he is completely irrelevant to this story.”
He’s also beautiful, but that’s neither here nor there. And he only ever has “accidents” in Teenboy’s room, which I’m having a hard time convincing the lad is not trained behavior. Again, I digress. My apologies.
Tucker wasn’t with me because I didn’t walk to the store. I hadn’t planned the trip, which was readily apparent to anyone taking notice of my traveling duds. When the Lad was due to leave for Hebrew school, I jumped up, grabbed the Toyota keys and headed out. On the way back, I remembered an errand and cut into the drugstore lot.
Which explains why I was standing in line all dolled up in my quality writing ensemble, consisting of thick grey sweatpants (only lightly stained), a thin cotton Henley shirt with a few battery acid transparencies, my Levis jacket (worn almost white), a dingy fishing company cap jammed over my uncombed hair and a pair of flappy, brown leather slip-ons under bared varicose ankles. No one tell Mom. I did have clean underwear on, but you’d have been forgiven for guessing otherwise.
There’s an Asian woman working there, of a certain age. That would be the age at which clueless white guys — and no, I’ve got no excuse for such cluelessness, having been married to a Taiwanese woman for fully a decade, pretty good by my standards — have a hard time guessing whether she’s closer to 35 or 60.
Now, she and I don’t exactly get along, and we don’t exactly don’t get along. We just have a hard time communicating sometimes. Like my ex-wife, the Wal-clerk and I communicate best when we communicate least. Her moving to Texas would doubtless improve the situation (and you can guess which two I’m talking about), but that’s probably not in the cards this week. Why don’t people just move out of state when they’re no longer part of the story? Not all my exes live in Texas, but there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t. Plus there’d be room left over for this drugstore cowgirl. It’s a big state.
So there I am in this line — remember the line? At the drugstore. Pay attention, now — waiting to check out with my purchase, and looking pretty damn fine for a mid-40s guy with a gut and a lumpy cap jammed over his greasy widow’s peak, one overcoat short of a neighborhood perv costume, and I put my goods down on the counter and look the gal straight in the eye, expecting to get my receipt and a glazed old fashioned Haveaniceday or be told about the Walgreens daily special (“are you interested in our special of the day?”) because G-D knows everyone queues up at Walgreens for their half-quart special on two percent milk or Maybelline which it seems you need more than a half quart of, judging by the wives of TV preachers diluting it into long inky streaks over their amplified cheekbones with the purity of their precious bodily fluids, and instead of any of this fine and special treatment she looks me back, straight in the eye, and says, “Mother’s Day?”
Now what you need to understand right here is that I had stopped at Walgreens for a very particular reason; some might call it a personal reason; and that what I had set — whether with a defiant smack or a tentative gesture is left as an exercise for the reader, if’n any of you are still with me here — right there on the counter in front of G-D, the sullen Asian clerk and everybody (OK, the store was nearly empty and yes, I had waited for that, but I had my reasons for that and you just have to trust me here; this is my story) was what you might call a personal product. For personal usages. And it was, in fact, a female personal product — not that I’m being a sexist here, or even that I wasn’t, in my hidden, dark and shrunken heart, hoping to shall we say participate in its deployment — but it was not — and let me just underscore and emphasize here the word “NOT” in all its concept-negating glory — the kind of thing a son buys for his mother.
And as I looked at her and she looked at me and then we looked down together, we each summarized the available facts and and applied our judgment and came to a conclusion and realized one thing and one thing only. Only it wasn’t the same thing.
Employing my prodigious powers of perspicacity, I quickly ascertained that she was proffering a bright yellow, Xeroxed sheet listing 30 or 40 special and incredible and sentimental and sweet items that were available for purchase from Walgreens to please one’s mother on her special, special Hallmark day. And she, with equal alacrity of lightning-swift judgment, deduced that the items on the counter were not — COULD NOT BE, despite my crusty and disreputable costume, barely suitable for cranking out degenerate screeds intended for anonymous internet voyeurs such as surely not you, gentle reader — earmarked for my mother. For a mother, maybe, but surely not for my mother.
Having lost my wallet in Israel — that’s another story, longer and stupider than this one — I quickly paid in cash. That’s the transaction that went with my dress code, anyway. I’d like to say that we shared a smile over the transient misunderstanding, but that would be stretching the truth and while I may hang things all over a truth and in fact dress it up like a gay scarecrow on prom night, I’d never stretch one. That would be cruel. No, she looked at me, hard-eyed and purse-lipped, and handled those bills pulled from my soft-handed Cabela’s doeskin wallet like she’d fished them out of a mud puddle. Behind a whorehouse. In Calcutta.
Hey, that’s a new wallet, lady! Maybe you should move to Texas, git you a shiny barbeque gun and grow some hospitality and good manners under that bright blue vest of yours.
As for Mom, she’s doing fine but there’s nothing on the yellow sheet that she wants, and nothing in Walgreens that I need to know she needs, or wants. Especially wants. I’m buying her lunch on Sunday, though. Then I’m riding home to celebrate Mother’s Day right proper. I even brought a present home.
Walking up to the house, fresh plastic Walgreens sack clutched in one hand, I ran into Sonboy. He wanted to know what I got for Mother’s Day, and he didn’t know what to get and could he share?
“Kid,” I said, “neither of us could afford that.”
“I have some money,” he said, always the argumentative sort, but I checked and it wouldn’t have even covered the first year of therapy.
Don’t you dare say it’s a shaggy dog story. Tucker has a very fine, short coat. He’s a merle, too. For Mother’s Day, he’ll be all stretched out in front of the fire, groaning every once in awhile, his beautiful blue-grey coat nicely counterpointed by a pretty red collar.
From Walgreens, of course.