Because I hate grocery shopping, I do it once every twelve hours or so. I rush into the store, grab as few items as possible which will still allow me to make something resembling dinner, whip my debit card through the scanner, and race out again. Like gynecologists and teen-aged bathroom cleaners, I'll take speed over effectiveness any day of the week.
Which is why the worst thing that can happen to me at the supermarket is to run into someone I know.
It happened again this morning. I made it through 'produce' relatively unscathed, but then my idea of vegetables is red and green M&Ms. Sadly, the produce department and I don't spend much quality time together. But as soon as I rounded the corner into 'Bathroom Tissue / Picnic Supplies' (a marketing decision with a certain sublime foresight) I came cart-to-cart with a woman I knew years ago when my kids were in elementary school and I still possessed a couple of social skills.
"Oh, HI-YEEEeeee!" she exclaimed, apparently ecstatic at seeing me again. "It's DeNae, right? Cori and Jake are your kids? Am I right? I'm right! Gosh, it's been ages and AGES!"
And of course, you can imagine what was happening with me. All three voices living inside my head were squabbling over whose job it had been to remember this woman's name, and all they could come up with was "Ask her to spell it." I really need to hire some new head-voices.
Fortunately, women like this are accustomed to winning the memory game, and she helped me out. "Sandy, remember? I'm Lacy and Connor's mom! We used to volunteer together in Mrs. Crikey's class? And I helped you with the talent show? Let you borrow my car for a week? Donated a kidney to your cleaning lady?"
"Oooohhh, right. Sandy! Lacy and Connor's mom. The helpful one. Wow. It has been a long time. How are the kids?"
"Great. Just terrific. Lacy's a freshman at UNLV, and Connor started high school this year."
Setting aside for the moment the fact that I wouldn't recognize the alleged Lacy or Connor if they dropped their drawers and whistled Dixie, the clock was ticking on my personal Indy 500. Those 12-packs of Diet Coke and six cans of olives weren't going to buy themselves, you know.
"Well, that's just --"
"What about Cori? She should be graduating soon. Does she still have that beautiful long hair? Are she and Shelby still friends? And if I remember correctly, she was a Jim-dandy speller! Class spelling champ, two years running!"
Geez, who was this woman? Rain Man?
"Uh, yes. Still all of those things. A veritable walking spell-checker. That's Cori. Well, it's been grea--"
"You know, Connor was telling me the other day that he and Jake have English together. What did you think about Jake's presentation on Lewis Carroll?"
Jake did a presentation on Lewis Carroll? Maybe that was why he wore that Mad Hatter getup to school last week. I just figured he was out of clean shirts.
"It was, you know, adequate." What, like I was there? The one thing I count on from school is to give me six hours of 'not thinking about my kids' time. I call it My Tax Dollars at Work.
I looked at my empty wrist and said, "Oh, hey. It's getting late! I should probably finish up..." We both looked at my pitiable cart. So far it contained a pound of peanut clusters and a box of Midol, which pretty much said it all.
"Sure! It's so nice to see you again. Please, tell Jake and Cori that Miz Shmuh-shmuh-nuh" - I wasn't really listening - "says hello."
I gave her my 'farewell' smile - head slightly tilted, eyes wide and obviously saddened by this necessary parting. "I sure will. Your kids, too."
And we went our separate ways.
Now, this would have been fine, were it not for the fact that we met up again in the next aisle. It seemed we were both heading the same direction through the store, but from opposite ends of the lanes. We were now in Aisle 3, "Baby Food / Diet Aids / Headache Remedies." The store ended at Aisle 20, "Ice Cream / Cyanide Capsules."
"Oh! Hello again!" I had to renew my smile, and revise it to 'what a pleasant surprise, there you are.' "Are the kids still good?"
We both chuckled our 'isn't DeNae amusing' chuckle. I hear that one a lot. "Yes," she said, "everything's still A-OK!"
Pass, shop, shop. Turn.
"My goodness, DeNae, we've got to stop meeting like this!" Hee hee ha ha ho ho.
I picked up speed. After all, she was probably shopping for more than two hours' worth of groceries. Surely she had more thinking, more planning, more not facing me in the next --
--Aisle 4: "Pursed Lips / Tight Smiles / Looks of Restrained Annoyance."
I was really getting bugged! It was obvious to me that Miz Sandy Shmuh-shmuh-nuh had come to Albertson's on some sort of twisted stalking expedition.
I played for time. "Would you look at that?" I asked the universe at large. "Rolaids has had another recall. Honestly, I don't know what this world is coming to, I really don't." I feigned interest in the empty 'Rolaids' shelf, hoping Sandy - if that was even her real name - would scoot past and get an aisle or two ahead of me.
But, no. She actually had information on the Rolaids recall. Which she shared with me. At length. And while I shook my head at the sorry state of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, my three inner voices were ordering me to jam a carton of Ex Lax down her throat and make a run for it.
This was getting ridiculous. I decided to skip "Greeting Cards", "Bottled Water", even "Seasonal", which meant I had to pass up the Halloween candy.
That friggin' Sandy. Now it was personal.
I bolted into Aisle 8, "Juice / Cookies / Crazy Stalker Freaks." Was she kidding?? How had she made it there so fast? Her cart was nearly full, and mine was down half a bag of peanut clusters! (We're blaming a space-time anomaly and getting on with the story.)
"DeNae! I forgot to mention, I'm hosting a Pampered Ch--"
I didn't even pretend to smile. Just gave my cart a shove toward hers and hurtled around the corner into Aisle 9, "Baking Supplies / Crucifixes / Holy Water." If I was ever going to finish my shopping, I knew what I had to do. I ran madly out of Aisle 9 and careened into Aisle 10, 'Butcher Block.' Naturally, Sandy was already there, hovering over the Chicken Tenderloins and baring her teeth in the placid grin of the homicidally insane.
"What's your hurry, DeNae?" she purred, reaching for the beef tongue. "Don't you want to hear about my daughter's LaCrosse team?" She wasn't fooling anyone. No one voluntarily eats beef tongue.
"Back!" I shrieked. "I know what you are! You're that time-sucking lunatic who should have had forty kids, and eleven full-time jobs, and maybe been elected Pope or something (although I admit that would present its own difficulties)! But instead you stopped with just two children, and you chose to stay at home so you could terrorize the village with your insatiable appetite for the details of everyone else's lives, and drive them all bonkers with your perfect hair and size two jogging suit and insufferable smile!
"Well, I'm on to you, Sandy! You may have bled the rest of the villagers dry but you'll never get to me! Never! I will buy my olives! I will buy my Diet Coke! I will pick up another bag of peanut clusters after complaining to the manager about their wimpy packaging! And I will do it all in under seven minutes! Do you hear me, Countess Shmuh-shmuh-nuh? Seven! Minutes! Including coupons!!"
And with that, I whipped out the London broil I had concealed under my poncho, and stuffed it down her tiny Gap T. You know. A steak to the heart.
I don't really remember what happened next. I must have retrieved my cart and filled it with essentials, because they're all on the counter now, waiting to be put away. I do remember a voice coming over the supermarket's loudspeaker, declaring, "Doors and windows can remain unbolted from this time forth, as the dark night of evil has past. Oh, and cleanup on Aisle10." Something like that.
As for dinner tonight? Meh, we're ordering carry-out. And DeNae Van Helsing is taking a long, hot bath and then going to bed early, sleeping the sleep of the just.