Monday, February 27, 2017

Buying Time.

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

“You can go first.”
I glanced at my shopping cart: two gallons of milk, a half dozen bottles of Diet Pepsi, bread, some of those bottled Starbucks Frappuccino drinks (vanilla, my favorite!), and a couple of other things. I looked at the girl’s hands; she held a birthday card and a chocolate bar. “Don’t be silly,” I said, waving her toward the self-checkout line we were vying for. “That’s all you have? You go first.”
With a grin of thanks, she slipped in front of my cart—then stopped dead, looking at the man currently waving items about in the air above the price scanner in the hopes of making the thing beep. “He, uh, has a lot of stuff,” the card-and-chocolate-bearing young lady said, slipping off to find a different line.
I looked ahead. By God, this dude did have a lot of stuff, a whole bunch of stuff, far more than I’d ever seen anyone try to squeeze through the self-checkout before. Usually people with shopping carts full to the top with goods go through the regular checkout; the bagging area at the other end of the belt from the scanner in self-checkout is too small to hold a whole cart’s worth of items, mucking up the entire process and drawing obvious sighs and death-stares from the people waiting in line.
Recalling however that, for some reason or other, Fate has decreed that when Rob goes shopping he will get in the wrong line, I decided to stay put and see what would happen. Besides, Fate seems to get a little pissed off when I line-hop, trying to avoid my curse, and in the past this has resulted in jammed printers, sudden shortages of register tape, emergency phone calls to my checkout clerk, and the clerk’s sudden slamming down of the Lane Closed sign followed by a tight-butt-cheeked speed-waddle toward the restroom. There haven’t been any actual deaths yet, but someday I plan to line-hop incessantly, just to see if I can force Fate to actually drop my store through a giant sinkhole in the Earth’s crust into the realm of the Mole People, who’ve tunneled up and stolen our Stop & Shop because they’re in dire need of Swiffer cleaning products and, besides, they’ve heard the deli counter can give them the thinnest shaved turkey slices in the state . . . but I digress.
Bearing all that in mind (and yes, I stood in the store a moment fantasizing about presenting a Swiffer WetJet to the Mole king)—and not really being pressed for time for once—I settled in for the long haul to watch the gentleman in front of me completely fail at self-checkout.
Unexpected item in bagging area,” said the machine.
“How can it be unexpected?” asked Mr. Shopper. “You just rang it up!”
Please choose the correct produce item from the screen. Thank you for purchasing your beets.”
“Beets? No—those were peppers! Peppers!”
Please remove all items from the scale.”
“Scale? There’s a scale?”
Help is on the way.”
“What? But help just left!”
Unexpected item in bagging area.”
I watched all this go on with a strange (for me, at least) sort of calm, chuckling at each new dilemma and waving people off who tried to get in line behind me. “No, seriously,” I’d say. “It’s too late for me. Save yourself.” People came and went in the other lines around, entering the store, completing their shopping, moving through checkout, driving home, and probably cooking and eating their purchases as I stood there, giggling quietly each time the light above the price scanner took to flashing, heralding yet another visit from the ever-helpful clerk.
The clerk went through several hairstyles as time went on, finished high school, went to college, and started a family of his own. I watched with an odd sort of pride as he trained his oldest son to someday take over for him in the now family business of self-checkout help clerk. The kid was good, really good, jumping right in to enter a code into the scanner when Mr. Shopper was at a loss, or point out the bar code on the bottom of the bag of once-frozen mixed vegetables.
The bagging area is full,” announced the price scanner, long before the cart was empty. “Please bag some of your items.”
“Called it!” I cried, pumping a fist in the air. Several people gave me strange looks as Mr. Shopper, clearly wishing death upon me, tried for several minutes to pinch open one of those plastic shopping bags in the holder at the end of the bagging area.
Seasons turned. Styles changed. I filled out the form that would allow me, if things kept going the way they were going, to use a senior citizen discount when finally purchasing my food items. A dark-haired twentysomething with a basket over her arm got into line behind me.
“Young lady?” I said. I’d reached the age when referring to a twentysomething as young lady became perfectly acceptable way back when the price scanner was telling the openly weeping Mr. Shopper, “You are purchasing an over-twenty-one item. Checkout help is required.”
I leaned a little closer, giving the woman a better look at my gray beard, deepening crow’s-feet, and—let’s be honest—the dim glow of madness in my eyes.
“I was your age when I got in this line,” I said. “You might want to give one of the other registers a try.”
She chuckled nervously, but stayed put. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine.”
“Suit yourself,” I said.
Some time later, when Mr. Shopper dropped and shattered a glass jar of something quite red and very splashy all over the floor at the end of the register lane, I heard a quiet “Excuse me . . . pardon me . . . can I just . . .” I turned to find the twentysomething working her way through the crowd to another register. I didn’t blame her. Hell, I was happy for her. I smiled as I watched Clerk and Son of Clerk descend upon the red mess with a sort of glee, the former waving about great wads of paper towel, the latter wielding a Swiffer WetJet like some sort of neatnik samurai, then laughed when I remembered, so long ago, daydreaming about presenting a WetJet just like that to the Mole king.
I cackled.
The twentysomething turned and waved to me as she exited the store with her purchases, mouthing the words Good luck. I hope she’s doing well.
One day I woke from one of my standing naps to find Mr. Shopper gone. I stared awhile, unable to comprehend what I was seeing, until I was startled by a light poke in the back. “The register’s open,” said the young man behind me. A line had formed while I dozed, and the kid looked a little impatient.
“Well,” I said, my voice thick with tears. “So it is.”
I made my purchases and bagged my goods, the receipt telling me exactly how much I’d saved with my new senior citizen discount. I tottered off to the parking lot where, surprise surprise, I couldn’t find my car. The kid collecting shopping carts from the lot—Grandson of Clerk, I believe—made a couple of phone calls and found out my car had been thought abandoned and towed away years ago.
Grandson of Clerk was good enough to call me a taxi, which showed up a few minutes later. I climbed in as the cabbie loaded my groceries into the trunk, and the next thing I knew the man was back in the driver’s seat and asking me, “Okay, sir. Where to?”
It seems I was in that store for so long I’ve forgotten my address. If there’s anyone out there who knows my son, Handsome, or maybe my grandkids—if I have any—and can let them know where I am? You’d be doing an old man a real kindness.

Talk to you later?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bucket-O-Pancake―Now With Chips!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
I’d stopped to pick up Miss D on my way to Handsome’s house. The two were going to be heading to the mall in a bit to catch a morning movie, and since I’m a parent, I’m the ride; no worries, I get that. The boy had asked that I let him know when we were on the way, and I thought I also got that: just a little forewarning to make sure he was showered and pantsed by the time we walked in the door. It turned out I was wrong—he wanted the time to fill the house with smoke.
The blue haze greeting us as we walked into the kitchen. A great shape, notably larger than me, loomed before the stove, the outer edges of a pair of pans just visible around either side the dancing bulk. Eggs were happening in the pan on the left, while something pancakish was occurring in the one on the right, and there was a whole bunch of cracking, pouring, shaking, spattering, and spatula-ing going on—not to mention just a bit of under-the-breath cursing.
Handsome was committing aggravated breakfast.
“Has there been an actual fire?” I said.
I waved a hand to hopefully clear a breathable patch. “The smoke.”
He sniffed the air, such as it was. “I can’t smell anything. But I have a lousy sense of smell.”
I continued to wave. “But, don’t you have to breathe? Can’t you see?”
He squinted. “Yes?”
“I don’t smell any smoke either,” said Miss D, standing back (wisely, I thought) quite a bit from the scene of the crime stove, and I will neither confirm nor deny that she covered her mouth and nose with a sleeve as she vocally stood by her man . . . from across the room.
“Quick pro tip,” I said, leaning past Handsome to poke one of the buttons on the front of the microwave/vent hood. The fan came on with a whir, sucking smoke out of the room a bit like Genie going back in the bottle (If you’re too young to get the reference, ask your parents—and if they’re too young, just keep it to yourself).
“Well,” he said. “Would you look at that!” Then he grinned at me, in a way we writers sometimes describe as maniacally. “Thanks, Dad. Want a pancake?”
I finally did what I’d been avoiding all this time, and actually looked at the stovetop. My eyes shot back up to meet his again, and he may have seen something in my face. Could have been shock. Could have been horror. Could have been a blankness entering my eyes as I started to feel faint. But whatever he saw, it made his own manic smile falter a bit, and he went a little soft around the eyes, and that hint of disappointment touching my son’s expression made my own heart go pitter-pat.
I sighed. “Yes,” I said. “I’ll have a pan—”
“How about eggs,” he said, flipping a bunch of stuff onto a plate. “You want eggs?”
“I don’t eat eggs,” I said.
“You do today!” He thrust the plate of scrambled egg-covered pansplat into my hands.
“But I don’t like eggs,” I said.
“You do today!” he repeated, turning away to fix his own plate. Miss D came to me while he was distracted and rescued me from my eggs. I love that girl.
“Enjoy, Father,” Handsome said as he and D walked away with their plates. “If you want any more, there’s plenty of batter there.”
He was right: sitting on the counter by the stove was a mixing bowl containing more than a half gallon of pancake batter, with what had to be a whole bag of chocolate chips stirred roughly in—which did go a ways in explaining the oddly cow flopish shape and coloring of the pansplat on my own plate. The wooden spoon stuck straight up from the center of the mass, and when I tried to pull the spoon out the bowl lifted up a bit before thunking back down to the counter, the strangely industrial-looking muck releasing the long-handled stirrer with an obvious sucking pop.
“What the hell,” I shouted, “am I supposed to do with this?”
“Put it in the fridge?” he called back. “I might want more pancakes later.”
“Oh, and we need more pancake mix.”
“No kidding?”
“And chocolate chips.”
“Right,” I said. Then, for want of anything positive to say about the kitchen—which looked like I’d need to hire one of those cleaning teams that come in after the police have released the scene—I said it again. “Right.”
My pansplat, by the way, hideous as it was, was delicious.

Talk to you later.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Red Rum

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

I mentioned in my last WYMOP post that my son is moving into the basement, and we were doing some remodeling—mostly plaster and paint. He’d helped me with all the priming, then looked at paint samples with his mom and chosen the color (okay, he’d chosen black, but they’d settled on a color). I’d gone to Home Depot and had them mix me up a couple of gallons of Behr’s Red Red Red. Then came the weekend again, and I had the time, so it was on with the crappy clothes and down into Handsome’s future room to wield the roller like a Jedi.
I plugged my earbuds in and made with the painter’s tape. I popped open the first can, gave it a stir, and made my way around the room with the brush, cutting in all the borders and being careful not to get any Red Red Red on the freshly white ceiling. I’d picked up the audio version of Stephen King’s Different Seasons collection from the library earlier in the week, and I’d gotten to “The Body” (even if you’ve not read this novella, you may have seen Stand By Me [1986], the film based on it). I wrapped the brush and broke out the roller and paint tray as Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern made their plans to see the body of Ray Brower and set them in motion, facing down mean store clerks, evil dump managers, and even the vicious Chopper along the way. When the book came out in 1982 I was thirteen, just a year older than the four heroes of the tale, and I guess I was fourteen (the same age my son is now) when I first read it; maybe that’s why it’s always been one of my favorites.
I was having a fine time.
When I was done (and I only got a little red paint on the ceiling) I went upstairs to clean up. What the hell, I thought, I might as well just take a shower. First, though, I wanted to let my writing partner know I’d be working on our collaboration like I’d told her I would. I was a bit painty-fingered, so I just put my phone on the counter and pinkie-poked the speech-to-text icon.
“We have a red room in the basement now,” I said, leaning over the phone a bit. “Going to clean up some and then I’ll get to the writing work.”
I poked Sᴇɴᴅ, nudged the phone away from the counter’s edge, and headed for the shower. By the time I was dry and dressed again, she’d already responded:
You sure that’s a good thing?
I was confused. I’d thought I was doing pretty well with the collaboration, so I couldn’t see why . . . I (now clean fingered) scrolled back to my message to her—and blinked.
We have a red rum in the basement now . . .
If you’ve ever read/seen the Stephen King story The Shining, you know why this gave me pause. If you haven’t, just read red rum backward and you’ll have a clue. Strange that voice recognition chose the day I’d been listening to a King story to make that particular mistake for the first time.
Handsome’s never seen or read The Shining. I think I’ll not mention this . . .

Talk to you later?

Monday, February 6, 2017

All Grown Up And Much Change To Show

Hey there, WYMOP readers!

I may have mentioned this before, but my son, Handsome, is growing up. I’m not even kidding. The day he turned fourteen he was already bigger than me—not just taller, but bigger. If you’re a regular WYMOP reader, you may have already gotten the story of his fairly sophisticated and perfectly executed plan for last Christmas (if not, see Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It . . .). He seems to constantly be doing little things here and there—his own laundry, cooking, and being more diligent in his studies, for some examples—that drive home to me just how grown-up he’s becoming.
So when the basement became available (a family member who’d been living there moved out), I wasn’t surprised when he put in an immediate claim for it; he’d long outgrown his own little bedroom, and had just been waiting for this opportunity. First, though, I had my own demands: some work needed to be done down there before he moved in. The family room had been finished down there before we’d bought the house, but it was kind of a shoddy job, and though I wasn’t going to make him wait while I ripped it all out and started from scratch, some serious plaster and paint work needed to be done down there, and that just for starters.
I put in the time skim coating and sanding the walls and ceiling (you’re not supposed to see any screws or seams in finished drywall, never mind every), and the time had come to prime and paint. I informed Handsome he was helping with this part (to be fair, he did offer to help with the sanding, but I sent him outside to shovel snow instead), and he informed me that his girlfriend, Miss D, was also helping. It seems they’d discussed it before I even mentioned anything; yet another sign that my boy is growing up.
Miss D did the cutting in with a brush while Handsome and I worked the rollers, and in less than two hours the patchwork of new joint compound and old salmon paint (yup, salmon. I told you it needed work!) was the uniform gray of fresh Kilz®. I stood looking at the job we’d done, reflecting on the fact that this was all just another step in my little boy’s journey toward adulthood. He’ll be driving in about a year and a half. Then comes graduation, followed by college, and then
I’d started to feel a little overwhelmed, when I glanced over at Handsome. There stood my six-foot tall, soon-to-be driving, future high school graduate and college student, face wreathed in a beatific smile . . . using his roller to carefully apply an even coat of Kilz to his entire latex-gloved hand.
I let out a sudden, relaxed breath. It was good to see some things don’t change.

Talk to you later!