You'd think that I'd have learned by now how to select a line at the grocery store. It's not like I haven't been dealing with cashiers and rickety carts and the 12-items-or-less counter for a million years. That which seems quick and easy upon checking out never is. When I zip in behind a guy holding one item, and then silently congratulate myself for avoiding the next lane over where an old man is transferring the contents of a cart piled high with frozen dinners and canned peaches to a broken belt that's not moving, I deserve to be punished. Case in point: Valentine's weekend.
Fool that I am, I take my place behind a guy holding a string, which after straining my neck backwards, I see is attached to a huge helium balloon floating several feet above our heads. I am amazed at how big it is, and appreciate this man's attempt to impress his Valentine with a large red lightbulb. Wait. What? That can't be right. Maybe it's a misshapen heart. Actually, it's both . . . a heart-shaped lightbulb with the phrase YOU TURN ME ON! emblazoned across one side.
Sheesh. I look away quickly, not wanting to embarrass the man. Obviously, he's going for the biggest, flashiest, most expensive balloon that he can find to assure his spouse that she is one sexy mama. I imagine a 40something wife sitting on the edge of the bed weeping that she feels old, fat, and unattractive. Her poor husband sits next to her and awkwardly pats her hand, vowing to himself that he will use this Valentine's Day to prove to her that she's still his sweetheart. He'll show her! He'll buy her the biggest balloon he can find to declare his undying desire for her. YOU TURN ME ON!
I look toward the left end of the store where a sea of helium balloons shimmers and hovers over the shelves of chocolates and stuffed bears. Those balloons are all red and shaped like hearts, but not one is as big or bold as the lightbulb that the dude in front of me is holding. He must have snatched up the last one. Of course, the plastic disk he's clutching in his hand is not marked with a price. The cashier takes the weighted end of the string from him, turns it over to make sure there's no sticker on the other side, then swipes it across the scanner just in case. Nothing.
The cashier spends a minute or two flicking through the pages of her little directory, then picks up her phone and punches in the number of someone who can run down a price for her. Good luck with that. In the decades that I've spent food shopping, I have yet to find an available employee who can help me find anything at the grocery store. She waits another minute until Mystery Price Clerk finally puts down his sandwich and picks up the phone, then starts explaining her situation: she's got a balloon with no price. She doesn't know what type, it's a balloon. Helium. Let's see . . . it says . . . she looks up . . . squints . . . YOU TURN . . . she giggles nervously . . . it says, um . . . she drops her voice to a whisper, "You turn me-on-or-something-like-that." Mystery Price Clerk can't understand her. The cashier tries another tack. "I'm on 7. Can you see it?" She begins jerking on the string, so that the enormous balloon begins bobbing wildly. Anyone in the store who hadn't yet noticed the monstrosity can't help now but to stare in wonderment at YOU TURN ME ON! bucking around the ceiling. The man's face has turned a brilliant shade of organic beet, but bless his soul, he doesn't say one word. In for a penny, in for a pound. He's going to reassure his insecure wife if it kills him.
The near-sighted Mystery Price Clerk hiding behind a tinted window somewhere finally puts on his glasses and spies the risquè Macy's float, proceeds to take 5 minutes looking up the price in his Mystery Price Computer, then relays the amount over the phone to the cashier who keeps casting apologetic glances toward the restless masses who have gathered in the non-moving line that currently snakes past the magazine rack and around the soda cooler. Our misery is almost over. The poor guy throws his cash in the direction of the register, seizes the string to his balloon, and races toward the exit with YOU TURN ME ON! trailing behind him like a cartoon speech bubble. The stunned cashier stands there with the unclaimed receipt in her outstretched hand. The dozen or so people who have stacked up behind me begin shuffling their feet in anticipation of advancing. Lord knows what they're thinking about that man and his balloon.
I move forward and place my box of tampons on the belt.
Dinner last night: quick and easy Chinese chicken, rice, green peas
Exactly one year ago today: