They studied me as I flipped a family-sized jug of ketchup and a jar of pickled banana peppers into my buggy. Usually at the market, I am immersed in my grocery list, coupons and my mission to make every penny count, but something made me look. Caught in the act of staring at me, they twitched a little, furtively averted their eyes and began an animated conversation about salad dressing. My one fast glance their way yielded detail.
The tall one had long brown hair and wore a tight fitting floral blouse with acid washed jeans and flip-flops. Her face was shiny, not made up, and her eyes, sparkly and dark, were recessed under a set of savagely plucked eyebrows. The short one had short bleached permed hair that stuck out at right angles from her head and wore what once were probably beige shorts and a faded t-shirt, barefoot. Her face was shiny too and mottled with scabs. She held her head cocked back so that she stared out of lidded inflamed half-closed eyes. I got the “what are you looking at?”glare from that one so I quickly kept my look-see to myself. These ladies were not Thelma and Louise. They were more like Squeaky and Aileen
Grocery shopping is not my favorite activity. I literally bribe myself out the door, clutching my enviro-friendly grocery bags and my club discount card, making promises to reward myself with ice cream or wine (or both) if I complete this onerous task. I opt to shop at odd hours of the day or night. That way, not only do I avoid the rush hour crowds, as a person with Parkinson’s, I can also take my time. No one is running up on me in the produce department impatiently clipping my Achilles tendon ram speed with their cart. I don’t have to navigate around huge expanded families including day-old screeching infants and audibly flatulent grandpas wielding mean walkers arguing about whether Cap’n Crunch is better with crunch berries. Or not.
And, even better, I reduce the incidence of having to explain to little Johnny or Janie why I shake while their helicopter parent unabashedly stares at my active limbs and walks away murmuring “There but for the grace…”.
Off hours make shopping do-able for me especially when you can fire a cannon down any aisle and hit no one. But that day, it was different. I shared the store with two women who, and this is without being intentionally mean or judgmental, creeped me out. It was a vibe I couldn’t shake. And as a woman who thinks I can do anything if I just devise a work around, I try to deny any reminders of my inconvenient vulnerability.
They seemed to materialize down every aisle I chose. I was forced to squeeze by them a couple of times as they held their positions not moving or yielding me the right of way. Eventually I just didn’t go down an aisle where they were. Their cart was filled to overflowing with food. So was mine.
It was a relief to roll my buggy into the cashier chute which was one of three chutes completely available. The lights were on. I was halfway through unloading my order to be checked out when they rolled in behind me. My cashier paused briefly to let them know there were other cashiers open, but they ignored her and moved further in behind me. Ever feel someone enter your personal space with purpose?
I had a huge cartful and the only bagger in sight, a vapid aimless Tweedle-Dee, was walking away tenaciously avoiding eye contact with either me or the now panicked cashier. I hoped those women would focus on the magazines on the racks right there because this was going to take time.
Then, the short one, waving her tatted sleeve arms brandishing an unlit cigarette, called out a long indecipherable sentence ending with “…too fuckin’ slow.”
And she shoved her cart into mine with a loud clang. “Someone’s in a little hurry” said the pale cashier.
I am a babbler. And a flapper. When this kind of stress rears up, I go kinetic and flood the immediate area with jabbering and flapping and this was no different. “Sometimes it’s hard to be patient. Patience is difficult when you can see something is going too slow. I just try to take deep breaths and stay calm…I like to listen to what the Dalai Lama says on these things…” and on and on as I worked as fast as I could to get this task done and me out of there.
“Young lady, may I have the distinct pleasure of escorting you and your groceries to your car on this lovely day?”
I hadn’t seen him coming. A tall elderly Morgan Freeman of a man in a white apron and a black Winn Dixie cap materialized, bagged my stuff with flare and speed picking up where I left off talking soothingly of patience and calm and service to others.
Clapping his hands together and laughing, he allowed that he is a fan of the Dalai Lama too. And a Baptist. And couldn’t see a conflict between the two. I looked back at the two women, who could plainly hear the entire conversation, and they had turned their backs on us conferring with each other in whispers. A manager dropped by and sent my poor frightened cashier to her break taking on the next check out himself.
And Lucius and I strolled out into the beautiful day.
He says that even at his age, he is considering a tattoo on his chest. Peace on one side and Amazing Grace on the other.