Thursday, May 15, 2014

Briefs and Shorts [May 15]

Assorted (true) stories, vignettes, ephemera.

The Banana Divorce
WaWa convenience store in my neighborhood, circa 1990s: I was in line at the deli for a quick sandwich. A couple entered the store. They looked to be in their mid-to-late 60s—and in foul humor. Both were tanned and suitably wizened, as if they had flown in from a resort.

The gal was particularly cranky, with a bouffant coif, hooked nose and downturned mouth. They headed to the meager produce section, a sad collection of pallid offerings. I expected her to pick a lemon to suck on.

She started, "Lookit these bananas. That price is outrageous! I'm not payin' that for bananas!" Her voice had a nasal, armor-piercing fierceness that must have taken years to hone.

I watched hubby's shoulders sag. It seemed as if her voice had been gradually ruining his posture over the years. I felt the weight of her harangue, as well.

"Honey," he said. "This is a convenience store. You don't buy bananas here. We came for the paper and a coffee."

Wifey was just warming up—sparring, if you will. "I don't care that we didn't come for bananas. I KNOW WE'RE NOT BUYING BANANAS! THIS CONNECTICUT IS A HELLHOLE! WHY ARE WE HERE?"

"It was your idea. To be closer to your sister." By now, even the indigenous urbanites—some of the most unruffleable people on the planet—were taking notice.


She asked the cashier, "Where does that bus take me out there?" There was a stop strategically placed right in front of the store. "Train? Bus?"

The kid shrugged, "Both."

To seal the deal she said to hubby, "And YOU can shove your bananas up your ass!" And, carrying her voluminous valise, she was out the door.

In a plaintive voice, the guy said to the gap in the door as it waned, "But we didn't even come here for bananas!"

As luck would have it, a bus came within seconds. She got on, never looking back, as the entire store looked on.

"Gimme some Salem Lights 100s," said the guy.

I saw him in the parking lot, digging in an old Florida-plated Country Squire (which was loaded to the gills with luggage and whatnot). I couldn't resist, so I approached him.

"Is she really gone?" I asked.

He offered an expanse of false teeth, arrayed arow like little gravestones. "Finally," he said. "I been prayin' for this for 45 years."

The Turkey Bologna Incident
Stop 'n Slop, Fairfield, CT, circa 1980s: In an era before supermegagiant grocery stores, this outlet was decidedly a throwback. I would go there especially for the deli. The section was eternally manned by two size-endowed Middle European women. They were both wan and dour, perhaps refugees from an erstwhile Latvian shot-put team. One had dishwater blonde hair; the other, mousy brunette, both cuts dutchboys. Small talk was not happening. BUT, they could slice cold cuts and lade salads into tubs like nobody's business.

The unwritten rule was that customers formed two lines. The Take-a-Number machine had long been tapeless. A dark "NOW SERVING" sign hung listlessly on a wall behind them. It really didn't matter which line you got in.

The guy and I were both one customer away from being served. I immediately learned that he was an "I talk to everyone" person. One tends to find these person in lines, elevators or other places from which there is no escape. He spoke just loudly enough for everyone to hear, not quite shouting.

"Yep," he said. "I'm getting some of that turkey bologna. I love the stuff." He would turn as he spoke, as if looking for approval from the eight or so folks in the area. I pretended to ignore him. Two almond-headed ladies of a certain age offered paltry smiles.

He was an odd mug of around forty. His overall appearance was a confusing amalgam of decades. He had an old-school 'do: flat top with fenders, slicked back with an excess of macassar. Mutton-chop sideburns splayed. A stocky guy with beefroll penny loafers, showing white wooly socks under Wranglers with the cuffs rolled up. I imagined he deemed himself a Dude. I decided to tacetly call him Buzz.

Finally, it was Buzz's turn to order. "Yeah," he said. "Gimme a pound of that turkey bologna. Sliced nice and thick." He was far from done. "You bet. Who'da thought of that idea? Tell you what: I get home from work, get an English muffin an' some butter an' ya know what I do? I make myself a sandwich! With TURKEY BOLOGNA!"

Mirabile dictu!

Once again, he scanned his audience, nodding his head. By now, even the almond-faced women had grown disinterested.

The Mousy Brunette raised her eyebrows at me. This meant my turn had arrived. Here was my chance. I grabbed at the brass ring. Trying to adopt Buzz's oratory technique, I upped the volume a tad. "I'll have a half bound of bologna, please."

I could peripherally see Buzz's face light up. Had he sold me?

I continued: "Not that that fake turkey bologna, please. I want REAL bologna."

Buzz wheeled on me as if I had physically spun him around. He had a pleading, decidedly sad look on his face. But I still had the floor at Club Deli. Buzz had been the opener. I was the headliner.

"Yeah. A half-pound, please. Sliced nice and thin, the way cold cuts should be. Why would anyone eat TURKEY bologna? I know what turkey tastes like, and it ain't bologna. They must put some chemicals in it! Yeeech!" Of course, the two deli ladies ignored my rant, as well.

By now, Buzz looked thoroughly defeated and deflated. The almond-headed ladies tittered between themselves.

Mission accomplished.

The Kid and the Car
Bridgeport, CT, 1995: I was out mowing the lawn at my mom's on an innocently sunny Saturday that summer. Midland Street was nearly deserted.

A kid came around the corner from Seaside, standing across Midland from me. This appeared a tad odd for he couldn't have been more than three or four. He was a pleasant-looking little towhead, but it appeared to me that he was a wee bit wee to be walking around the neighborhood alone. I hadn't lived there for four years, yet still I knew most of the locals.

The boy stopped and smiled. I waved while I maneuvered the mower. I could see that he was talking to me. I stopped the machine and looked at him.

"Hello," he said gaily.

I said, "Hello, how are you?" He began to cross the cross toward me.

I was about to ask him where he lived and why was he unattended when It Happened.

I heard the car before I saw it. The rumble came from up the street, where Midland took a blind dogleg. As soon as I saw the nose of the car—it looked to be a largish Cutlass or Toronado or Riviera—I jumped into the street. The kid was about halfway across.

Yes, you hear people say this, but don't believe it. Believe it. I had no idea what happened during those next few seconds. I ended up in the gutter on the opposite side of the street, dazed and confused. I had skinned both elbows and knees pretty heavily. It took me a few more seconds to regain my senses.

The car—it was bronze in color—had either turned or reached another curve two blocks away. I could still hear the throaty exhaust, mocking me.

The boy stood about three feet away from me on the sidewalk, as good as new. He smiled at me and waved. "Good-bye," he said. Then he walked away.

I was still sitting there, extricating cobwebs from my noggin and road debris from my limbs. I finally got up and moved as quickly as I could to the corner whence he had come. No sign of the towhead.

Did I grab the kid? Did I save him? Did I almost get hit? Did he hustle back to the curb himself? Was I a hero? Idiot? Both?

I'll never know.

The Big-Headed Faux-Donegan Woman
A different Stop n' Slop, 1990s: It was fairly late one evening when I ventured into the Ultra-Colossal grocery store to pick up a few things. It must have been close to close; there were scant few shoppers.

As usual, I started in the produce department and worked my way toward the frozen and dairy. In the cereal aisle, far ahead of me, I thought I saw one of the Donegan [name changed] sisters.

The Donegans were near and dear to me. They were a huge Irish clan from down county. Nearly everyone in the family had musical talent. Some of the men became restaurateurs and club owners. The Donegans children numbered three girls and about a dozen boys. Well, maybe not that many. The eldest sister had married and moved away while Anne and Mary—virtual twins—had stayed local and wed fine, strapping men.

I hustled down the aisle, steadying my wobbling, weeping-wheeled cart and approached. Was it Anne or Mary?

Or neither?

As I neared the shopper, I realized something was wrong—very wrong. The already Arctic temps in the store seemed to drop. Did the fluorescent lights dim? She half-turned to look at me. I was perilously close. I could smell dead flowers. Could Rod Serling be far behind?

For it wasn't Anne or Mary at all. It was ...


Yes, she was the right size; perhaps a little too tall or broad-shouldered. The hair was basically the right color, but longer and ropier. There were small appurtenances in the locks. Talismans? Pagan death symbols?

I struggle to write this: She looked like an angry claymation expert had drained a bottle of absinthe, sat down with an actual Donegan as a model—and had gone berserk.

The head. My Lord, the head. It was like a cubic cinder block. Bigger. Maybe the corners were slightly rounded off. Her eyes bulged like individual satellites, protruding unnaturally from an acromegalic forehead , skirted by a bulbous, shelf-like brow. The mouth was too wide, the lips too thick. She was dressed like a cross between a gypsy and an dirndled extra from a Frankenstein movie. Her legs, hidden by a long, fawn suede skirt, ended in angrily worn boots, the heels skewed sideways—no doubt due to misshapen, vulpine ankles.

I have no idea how long I stared. The BHFDW treated me to a malevolent, feral smile, revealing perfect, gray teeth. Then she spoke.

Her voice seemed to come from the next aisle. Maybe she was able to teleproject her words into the store's PA, preempting a Muzak version of "Kid Charlemagne." It was a deep contralto, bordering on baritone.

"May I help youuuuuuuu?"


I could barely purse my sere lips. "Um, yousee I saw you and I thought you looked like someone I knew. And... I'm sorryitwasa mistake, dint meantobother you and sosorry."

She have me another rictus grin. I thought her eyes were going to reach out and sear me. "Very well then," she intoned and moved on.

The lights came back up, as did the room temp. I scurried apace down the other aisles, throwing things I didn't even need into my cart. Tampons. Miracle Whip (which I detest). Lava instead of Lifebuoy. I was skirting  the Supermarket Reunion Syndrome. You see someone in an early aisle ... and you are bound to meet that person again before you finish.

I was about to check out when I realized I needed "bath tissue," a grocery-only word I have never heard a shopper use. I didn't even squeeze the Charmin before I tossed it into my cart. Too late.

There she was again, bearing down on me like Mrs. Stepford piloting her Humvee. Was she grimacing? Was she about to cast a spell on me? I tried to avert my eyes. I couldn't.

She didn't smile this time. Instead the eyes, still fully dilated, bore down on me like twin lasers, ready to burrow into my soul and make a Faustian claim on it. Her mouth looked more evil than the gold tragedy mask in my Aunt Louise's dining room.

The eyes, widened even more—now the size of saucers—as she spat, "Good day."

I checked out, sprinted to the car and headed for my Club. I think I had two shots of Jaeg down before I sat. Looking around, there was nobody to tell the story to. My buds would have shipped me straight to Bellvue.

When I saw Anne and Mary again, I couldn't get the BHFDW out of my mind. Their heads and eyes seemed to distend right before my eyes. Finally, I realized I was looking at the real deal.

I have never been able to tell any Donegans this story.

Also, I know I won't sleep well tonight.

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