No matter how I try to avoid it, I eventually end up grocery shopping at Wally World, more an experience than a place, on a Friday night.
When I pass through the automatic doors, I feel grotesquely transformed into a mama wearing undersized spandex shorts and an oversized T-shirt, who before entering stomped out a cigarette with a bedroom-slippered foot, screeching, "You kids better git yer butts over here! I said shut-up!" I always feel uneasy, like something important is missing; maybe my lipstick, or a baby dressed only in a disposable diaper.
It ain't pretty.
When that inevitable Friday night arrived, I cursed my fortunes and railed against the necessities of life. As I entered the packed parking lot, however, I resolved to make the most of things and keep my conduit open for story lines.
First thing, while grabbing dog food, I overheard a wizened woman speaking to a young lady with a newborn.
"Ooh, let me see that baby, chile" the older lady said. "That a pretty baby. How old she be?"
"Fo weeks," replied the new mother.
"What you callin' her," the grandmotherly woman inquired.
"Shauntantaniqua, but we say Tanika."
"You can spell that?"
"As long as you can spell it, girl, you alright," said the matron.
I went to the dairy section, thinking, I bet I couldn't spell it the same way twice.
Many aisles later, believing the story well dry, I picked through produce. Two aged men sharing a grocery list approached. They weaved to and from each other gathering items. One ended up by me.
His friend drew near and exclaimed, "What are you doing?"
"The list said red apples. I'm getting apples," the man next to me gruffed.
"Those ain't apples, you old fool. You've got tomatoes in that bag."
Tickled by this exchange, I let a giggle slip, which turned the mistaken man's ire on me. "That's not funny," he growled. "I cain't see worth a dern. You laughing at the handicapped."
I blushed from the knees up and immediately steered my buggy toward the check-out lane; a bottle neck of children crying, noses running, ice cream melting, and parents giving "butt whoopins." I coached myself that if I could squeeze through that narrow passage of torment with my sensibilities and bread still intact, I could take on anything.
But broken by Wally World, I dragged my tattered sensibilities to my car and started putting flattened bread into the rear. A deep male voice from behind asked, "Ma'am, can I help you?"
Of course, being a female alone in a parking lot on a Friday night, I felt threatened. "No. I've got it," I tersely assured the young man dressed in a white oxford, black tie, and dark pants.
"Let me explain how you can spend eternity in paradise with your family," he persisted.
"What? You know how I can dodge coming here on a Friday night?" I retorted with sarcasm. Noting my resistance to his ill-conceived method of message spreading, he tucked tail.
Then, as I rounded the side of my minivan, a wiry, weathered man smoking a cigar sat on the bumper of the auto next to mine. "Yes, ma'am," he addressed me in a bluesy voice. "I jest prays for 'em all. That's right. I jest prays fer 'em all. Amen."
"That's nice," I hastily affirmed.
"C'mone back here," he invited. "I needs to talks to you."
At that juncture I decided I would not conduct anymore column research at Wally World. I best stick to bike shorts, bedroom shoes, and blending in.