Coupon Thursdays

It’s “Coupon Thursday” at my local Shop ‘N Save grocery store:  $10 off $50 or more (excluding fuel, fresh milk, pharmacy, alcohol, lottery, tobacco, and sales tax).  Being the self-professed cheapskate, I know I need to go grocery shopping today.

There’s something about grocery shopping, however, than annoys me.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  It probably has to do with spending money on items that will probably get pushed to the back of my refrigerator and become experiments later in growing penicillin.  It might also have to deal with fighting the crowds, and the hassle of pushing my way through aisles and clinking into other grocery carts.  I tried going to Whole Foods recently to get out of my comfort zone and switch up my choice in foods, and also to “mingle” with different people.  The location was different, and the food a bit more “exotic”, but instead of bumping into others’ carts, I was knocked around by anxiety-filled, Type A people who wore hiking shoes and workout gear and had wiry hair and skin the consistency of cured leather due to over-exercising and lack of trans and saturated fats in their diets (being replaced with flaxseed oil and whole grains).

So, back to Shop ‘N Save I go.  First, I have to take stock of what’s in my freezer, refrigerator and pantry:

1 box of year old popsicles
2 bags of frozen veggies
1/2 carton of freezer-burned ice cream
1 Boca Burger in a freezer bag (date unknown).

The refrigerator doesn’t look much better:

A bottle of champagne from my sister’s wedding 2 years ago
Slimed turkey meat
2 shriveled peaches
eggs
1/4 qt. of orange juice
bread (lots of it)
Yogurt
An almost empty tub of butter
3 bottles of used Ketchup
2 bottles of salad dressing
Tupperware of browned lettuce
Tupperware of brown stuff
1 mushy cucumber
1/2 green pepper

The dry goods cabinet is littered with half-emptied cereal boxes, baking goods, packs of tuna fish, peanut butter, pasta boxes, an assortment of crackers, cans of soup, boxes and bags of rice, and shoved to the back are 3 jars of maple syrup (1 bought probably 2 years ago).  Mrs. Butterworth appears to be scolding my for my excesses and wastefulness.

I write down my new grocery list on my pad of paper.  I add other items like toilet bowl cleaner, toothpaste, and Kleenex.  I get into my car, and drive myself unwillingly to the grocery store.

The Shop ‘N Save is set up so you have to enter at the checkout area and head straight for the fresh produce.  On Coupon Thursdays, Jim, a man in his late 50s with white hair, glasses, clean smock and silent ways, is vacuuming out the produce stands.  He nods at me and silently continues his work, unbothered by the raucous children and crying toddler who are whining to their mother on who gets to sit in the race-car shopping cart.  Jim probably knows my routine fairly well by now.  Today, I secretly decide to surprise him and grab a bag of dried cranberries to pair with the romaine lettuce I just bagged.

I walk over to the bread and condiments aisle right next to the produce and debate on getting fresh bread or not.  While I’m debating this, I see the “two for” signs:  2 lemons for $0.98, 2 bags of chips for $6, 2 jars of applesauce for $4.  I’m hooked.  It’s Coupon Thursday, so I can splurge a little, right?  I throw in a bag of pita chips and a bag of hummus and some more fresh veggies and I’m already up to $25 without going down the main aisles.

$40 later, I’m perusing the coffee, tea, canned veggies aisle where I am stopped by an elderly black woman wearing a long weave, orange flowered, tight dress, owl glasses, and bright orange nail polish.  She mutters something to me and shoves her cell phone in my face.  I am momentarily taken aback.  She does it again, and I realize she is mute.  Her voice comes out in scratchy tones and inarticulate sounds.  I take her cell phone and cautiously say, “Hello?”  On the line is a man and he angrily asks me, “What does she want, do you know?”  I turn and ask her and slowly, and in gravely sound bites she utters something which I decipher to be “…take the bus.”  I relay that back to him.

“Which bus?” he asks me, and I figure he knows this woman, and so back and forth I go relaying their bizarre question-answer segments.  I figure out her bus stop, metro stop, and point of destination.  He tells me to tell her he will pick her up at 6:30p.m., then abruptly hangs up.  I inform her of all this and she leans into me, wraps her arms around me, and gives me a big hug.  I hug her back.  Then, she pushes her cart down the aisle and picks up some canned beans and wheels off.

The cookie wall looms ahead of me.  Like Alice in Wonderland, I imagine I see a sign that reads “Eat Me” on a bag of double-stuffed Oreos.  But, it’s Coupon Thursday and as it is I already have excesses I can live without and so I choose to buy toothpaste instead.  I slink off to the beauty aisle and grab a tube of Colgate.  I look both ways and reach for a box of tampons, too, which I will later hide under a frozen pizza I will pick up 5 aisles down.

I turn down the cleaning supplies aisle and I can hear the same screaming kids before I see them.  When they do come into view, the youngest has lost her shoe and the two older kids are slapping each other while the mom reads the label on the dish soap.  She blindly reaches out her hand, points to the children and murmurs, “Stop it right now” as she picks up another cleaner and places it into the cart.  The littlest one screams even louder and I think to myself, “I don’t need toilet bowl cleaner today,” and I reverse out of the aisle and turn down the pet food section.

On and on my tour of the grocery store continues:  putting away items I can live without and filling up my cart with yogurt, soy milk, frozen pizza, eggs, granola bars, cereal, while almost knocking into other thrifty shoppers who are stocking up as well.  We are numb and bored, and wishing we were somewhere else.  In the snack aisle, I get hit on by a married man who hides his hand in his pant’s pocket when he saw me stare at his ring.  I cut him short when he asks me if I live around here, and I turn and head for the deli area to pick up some smoked turkey slices.

As I turn a corner, a short, middle-aged woman with salt and pepper hair and a pretty smile asks me where she can find the popcorn.  “Aisle 10, on the left-hand side,” I tell her.  Then, I mentally grimace and realize I have spent too many Thursday evenings at the Shop ‘N Save.

One last stop and I can check out and go  home.  I turn down the novelty and ice cream aisle and bump into a 20-something guy in baggy khaki pants, oversized sports jersey, and red ball cap tipped backwards.  He licks his lips and eyes me up and down.  I raise my eyebrows and purse my lips and give a “deer in the headlight” look.  “LL Cool Whip” puts his hand on his pants and says, “Mmm.  Damn.  You got a body.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” I say as I open the freezer door.

“You don’t want all that ice cream to mess up all that do you?  Mmm hmmm,” he croons as he switches hands to hold up his pants.

I grab the Breyers mint chocolate chip ice cream carton to my chest to hide my feeling of nakedness and I quickly turn around and mutter, “Later” to LL Cool Whip who is already checking out the mother with the screaming children.

I get into Kelly’s checkout lane.  She is standing there as usual with her big smile.  She is visiting with each of her customers.  Her big feathered red hair, big glasses, and brown smock have a certain sense of familiarity and comfort to my local grocery store.  She belongs here as much as Jim the produce guy.  As I’m unloading my cart, I realize that this store really is packed with friendly cashiers, clean aisles, fresh food, cheap prices and the best granola bars this side of the Mississippi.  No Super Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club can ever replace that.

I hear a burly voice behind me say, “Damn, you sure do eat healthy.”  I look up to see an elderly man with white hair, plaid shirt, and bolo tie.  He is unloading his 5 steaks, case of Stag beer, 2 onions, a bag of tomatoes and barbecue sauce.  “Cowboy” smiles at me and I smile back.  The next thing I know, he, Kelly and I are talking about neighborhood barbecues and the good ol’ days.  Kelly punches in my last item and tells me that I need $5 more to hit the Coupon Thursday discount.  I ask Cowboy to pass me a pack of gum and the People magazine on the rack next to him.  “Sometimes you gotta smut it up,” I say and we all laugh as I sign my name to the check.

Cowboy and I continue talking about this and that as we bag up our groceries.  I say goodbye and watch him saunter off towards the parking lot:  his loping gait making him seem like he’s been riding his horse all day.  I continue to bag more of my groceries and wonder why it is again that I hate grocery shopping.

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6 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.  Home. Dog walked?  Check.  Cats and dog fed?  Check.  Morning coffee brewed?  Check.  Nutella spread on toast?  Check.  Book, comfy chair, toast with Nutella and mug of hot coffee?  Check. Check. Check.And check.  Bag packed, car loaded, yoga mat in back?  Check.  Check. And Check.  Ahhh…what a beautiful day!!!!

9:00 a.m. Interstate 44 West.  St. Louis. On my way to a yoga workshop with Saul David Raye, a well known healer and yoga instructor.  Pulled over for a speeding ticket for driving 71 in a 55 zone.

Yikes.  Thank you sir, I didn’t mean to do that.  I will pay more attention.  No sir, I haven’t had any recent tickets.  Yes sir, I will hand over my license and registration.  OK sir.  I will pay that right away.  Oh, I have to possibly go to court?  Am I in some serious trouble?  No?  Oh, there’s a website where I can possibly pay it on line.  Yes sir, I will check that out.  You too, sir.

9:35 a.m.  Yoga Workshop at Webster University – Sunnen Lounge. Hopping over yoga mats, and a few people, I find myself situated in a spot facing in an awkward direction because I have to squeeze in between 3 people and a table.  I begin the exercises everyone else is already doing.  The teacher is speaking in a calm voice.  I am not calm, but I pretend to be.

9:45 a.m. Damn’t.  I have to pee.  No, no I don’t.  I’m just imagining it.  Well, I did drink a lot of coffee this morning.  No, focus, Megan.  Focus.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Oh, twist.  Oh  yeah, there’s my bladder.  Yep, I have to pee.

9:55 a.m. (In a hushed tone)  Sorry.  Excuse me.  Oops.  Sorry.  Excuse me.  (Skipping out of door and rushing to the restroom.)

10:00 a.m. At the entrance of the yoga lounge.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Walk inside quietly.  (In a hushed tone) Sorry.  Excuse me.  Oops.  Sorry.  Excuse me.

10:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Finally in a yoga groove.

11:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Meditation and Chanting. Meditation.  Yes, finally I’m calm.  Well, not really, I mean, I did get a speeding ticket.  No worries.  Well, wonder if I’m supposed to be thinking of something lovely and beautiful and peaceful.  I don’t feel that way right now.  Oh man, my jaw is clenched.  Yeah, loosen my jaw.  Ok, now I’m back.  What did he say?  Oh yeah……………………………………………………………………………………………….

Wow!  I went really long without having a thought stick in my mind.  Oh crap.  I’m thinking again.  Isn’t that how it always goes?  Enough with the chit chat, get back to the breath.  Oooh.  I think someone farted.

Oh, huh.  We’re chanting in Sanskrit.  OK, I’ll pretend I know what he’s saying.  Cool he’s translating.  Yes, my body and mind is a temple…………

12:05 p.m.  – 1:05 p.m.  Lunch Break.  No one here that I know.  I guess I’ll walk downtown and grab a bite to eat.  Glad I brought my book.  Man, it is a longer walk than I thought.  And it’s hot outside.  Ugh.  I’m sweating, and now I’m really hungry.  Hmmm.  I don’t mind eating by myself, but I seem to do this a lot.  Oh shit.  Now I’m depressed.

1:05 p.m.  My car. Should I go back for the afternoon session?  I’ll write “yes” on this paper and “no” on this paper and mix them up and let fate decide for me.  Close my eyes.  Don’t peak.  Whatever you’re supposed to do, the paper will reveal.  “No.”  Yeah, that’s what I was going to pick anyway.

1:15 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.  I-44 East and connection to I-64 East. OK.  Check speedometer.  I’m driving the speed limit.  Damn construction.  Huh?  Now what will I do with myself today?  I already ate by myself, guess whatever I do today will be by myself as well.  I could go shopping.  No.  I could go out and take photos.  No.  Well, maybe I’ll do that. Where would I go, though?  And, if I do decide, I probably will be by myself.   Oh crap.  I’m crying.  I”m sad.  I’m lonely.  I’m bored.

2:30 p.m.  to present.  Home. Shower.  Straighten hair.  Get dressed in a cute, sporty outfit.  Now what?  Watch TV.  Eat chips and salsa.  Watch TV.  Read.  Walk dog.  Check facebook.  Write blog.  Bored.  Oh shit!  What have I done with my day?

Origami

Tear-stains track along my dusty face and crack open my dry lips.  My mascara is crusted into the corners of my eyes.  As I walk to the emptying parking lot, the brittle grass crackles under the weight of my body.  I step onto the sidewalk, which over the years has folded and given way to the whims of the weather.  Today, the dried leaves on the ground add a more somber, earthy tone in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.  The street passing by my place of work moans under the weight of dump trucks, commuter cars, and mini-vans.

Unlocking my car door, I toss my bag into the backseat.  I slam the door shut, open the front door, and flop into the driver’s seat, too spent from my exertion from the previous moment.  The white noise from the nearby traffic, the heat inside my car and its gray upholstery bid me to physically stay still, but my mind is still thinking about today’s terrorism and the passenger jets crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City.  All of this happened before I left for work.  Then, sitting in front of my old radio in my classroom with 25 eerily silent teenagers, all of us shared a moment too surreal to grasp.  The reports of flames, ashes, and falling bodies were enough to erode our sense of security, and we all felt the pea-green painted walls with their mildewy, water-stained creases closing in on us.  The marred and jagged hardwood floors appeared to eat up the creaky wooden desks, and the desire to escape the harsh reality was strong.

During passing periods, we teachers and students alike had to walk outside to get to our next classroom across campus.  The fresh air acted like a balm to us. It brought us back to life momentarily and gave us a sense of normalcy before walking back into our classrooms and huddling around our TVs or small radios to sit vigil and feeling that our daily lives were trivial compared to the tragedy and heroism  unfolding halfway across our nation.

Now, in my car, I start up the engine and wonder what these students have been feeling all day, their youth interrupted by a devastating and bizarre event.  Backing out of the parking lot, I remember that this too is a generation of kids who have witnessed school shootings at Columbine and other states surrounding us.  Students witness to so much violence and hatred.  What fear they must have at times going to school.  Sometimes, that fear creeps into me and I can feel it floating in the ether of space and being pulled into my 4-walled classroom at the click of the intercom and the principal’s metallic voice announcing an intruder drill.  At those times, the shuffling of papers is unnerving. At those times, students abandon their notebooks, pens, and pencils.  They squat under their desks while I and other teachers lock our doors, pull the shades, and tape dark paper to the glass windows of our wooden doors.  At those times, when the lights are turned out, stillness hangs over us, and the movement of the police and campus patrol officers is the only sound being made in the hallways.

Intruder drills and their sense of doom are nothing new.  My parents once compared this type of fear and anxiety to their youth in the 50s when they had to do drills for atomic bombs in preparation of the Communist invasion that could happen at any moment.  They too had to hide under rickety desks.  My dad once told me that during the atomic bomb drills, he used to look up at the ceiling and wonder if it was strong enough to protect him from the explosion or if it would cave in on him; and then he wondered, if it did cave in on him, how would it feel to die?  Would it hurt?  Would he experience any pain?  His little seven-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend the fact that someone wanted him and his classmates dead.  He would see the teacher’s feet walking past him and hear her say, “Keep your heads down.  Stay under your desks until I say it’s OK.”  He would realize that it was just a drill and that his death would not be coming to him on that day.  Yet, he wondered when it would happen, and constantly worried about an attack until he was nine years old and the school-wide drills weren’t as frequent.

My mother’s accounts of the school-wide drills were similar in that, she too, worried about death.  “No one really knew what a Communist was,” she told me one day while we were eating breakfast and discussing her Cold War childhood days.  When she asked her mother what a Communist was, her mother had merely told her it was someone who “is a bad person.”  I guess she really couldn’t describe a Communist anymore than the next mother, father, teacher, mailman, grocer, druggist, or neighbor down the street.  When my mother would go to the movies, the media reel’s Public Service Announcement would come on, warning kids to keep an eye out for Communists.  It was burned into her brain that anyone, anywhere, could be a Communist in disguise, like the man on the newsreel who was wearing a nice suit and tie, a fedora, and carrying a briefcase as he was walking to work.  “Your neighbor might be a Communist,” the announcer’s dramatic voice stated at the Soviet Union flag flashed onto the screen.  My mother would crouch down in her seat.  Later, she would look around to see if she recognized anyone in the movie theater, and if they had any telling signs indicating they were Communists, and if so, would they harm her?

Nowadays, someone’s suicidal child can build a bomb from directions on the internet, and load up on guns and take their fellow classmates hostage.  Nowadays, terrorists from undetermined nations can sneak into the country, take flight lessons and use box cutters as deadly weapons. Not that the 50s was an all over idyllic time, McCarthyism was in full swing, atomic bomb drills were rehearsed and paranoia was just as prevalent then as it is now, but the chaos seemed more contained and disassociated with daily life.  Nowadays, an intruder drill at a school could easily turn into the 6:00 news, and a car bomb could explode at the downtown hotel and though tragic, we chalk it up to the new “normal”.

When Columbine occurred, I was teaching at a junior high school in Normal, Illinois.  The same sense of loss, fear, and confusion washed over me then as it does now on this tragic September day.  The children at that school proved to be more resilient than us adults, however.  One boy organized an effort in his Language Arts class for the entire student body to make one thousand origami cranes and mail them to Columbine High School as a symbol of loyalty and peace.  According to Japanese lore, cranes are majestic birds that mate for life and are a symbol of fidelity.  Legend has it one who makes a thousand origami cranes as an expression of his love and loyalty will bring peace to those around him.

Seeing as our students were acting as one, the wish was for hope and peace to be restored to the city of Columbine.   The students wrote their messages on the small slips of paper and precisely folded them as previously instructed.  The librarians hung the paper birds with fishing line and paper clips from the drop-out ceiling tiles in the library.  The birds were made of various colored paper:  turquoise and red, yellow and green, white and gold, pink and lavender.  With the glow from the ceiling’s halogen lights illuminating the backdrop of the pale yellow walls, the origami birds gently fluttered and spun.  A few of the origami papers were scattered on the center of long wooden tables, making them look like abstract art.  The ones hanging had loosened in the creases and looked like the snow geese that took flight from the winter fields I saw every day on my drive to work.  Boxes were stacked along the walls, waiting for teachers and parent volunteers to fill them and take them to the post office.

Back in the present, sitting in my Nissan Sentra with its windows rolled down, I hear someone honk his horn behind me.  I realize I need to stop thinking about this now infamous day and not reflect so much.  I make a right turn onto Main Street and begin to head home.  I notice now that the sun is out.  It is brilliant in its glow and my somberness has momentarily passed.  I don’t fully acknowledge it as a sign of hope or optimism, but instead I take it as a call to action.  The sun has kept its promise to shine and move the day forward, and I too must move along with my day.  I drive home, noticing now the buildings and houses of the town.  Made of wood and solid brick, or finished off with vinyl siding, the buildings are meant to shelter and protect us.  How fragile these structures suddenly seem to me.  How fragile all of us are, really.  Our lives can become bent and creased and shaped in any direction by small twists of fate.  They can unfold, crinkle, and rip like delicate paper.  Yet, they also can be transformed into something beautiful, peaceful, and graceful like paper origami cranes.  If given a purpose.

“…don’t think your life didn’t matter.”  -Basho

Playin’ The Sevens

“Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?  And why should I not speak to you?” – Walt Whitman

Upon entering Kohl’s, I went to the shoe department and aimlessly began browsing.  That’s when I heard his voice:  loud and filled with laughter and kindness.  Half-expecting to see my grandfather (who has been dead now for over 16 years), I turned and in my grandfather’s place was an old, black man wearing khaki pants, a khaki jacket, a matching hat and white tennis shoes.  He was asking the young salesman to bring him a pair of tennis shoes in size 13.  The young man simply pointed to the aisle and said, “Any tennis shoe we have would be down here.”  The old man and his tag-a-long friend (a black man in his 50s with crazy hair, sloppy clothes, a Carhart jacket, and a red knit hat sitting precariously on his head) stood and looked perplexed at this young kid’s statement.  The old man calmly asked again for a pair of tennis shoes, no matter the brand, just as long as they were on clearance and a size 13.  It was obvious to me that the kid didn’t understand “old school ways” in which the salesclerk used to have you sit down and would measure your foot, bring out the shoes to you, and help you try them on while also helping you decide which shoe best suits your overall look.

The young salesman looked confused and started leading the two men up and down the aisles.  After a few minutes of searching, the kid walked away and the old man and h is friend were left to search for themselves.  The old man started laughing and continued looking while repeating to anyone that would listen, “Yes, I’m lookin’ for a pair of tennis shoes, size 13.”

As I picked up a random shoe and looked at the price for myself, I decided it was time to move on and stop eavesdropping.  Just as I put the shoe down on the shelf, I looked up and made eye-contact with the old man.  He had the loveliest face.  Though he looked to be in his 80s, his skin was smooth and the color of mocha.  He smiled at me, and his big, dark brown eyes drew me in and seemed to say, “I’ve been lookin’ for you.  I know you.”  He had the nicest smile and the kindest face and those eyes literally sparkled.  I felt like I could cry, and before I knew it, I was in love.

He grinned at me and repeated again that he was looking for some tennis shoes, size 13.  No longer an observer, I took it upon myself to join in the quest for tennis shoes.  This old man welcomed me into his search party, and I asked him what exactly he was looking for (as if I didn’t know).  When he told me, I said, “I can help with that.  Why don’t you have a seat right here, and I’ll bring a couple of pairs to you.”  He liked that idea and sat down and began talking to me about his day.  He informed me that he and his buddy, Melvin just got back from the Casino Queen, and he decided he needed to buy himself some shoes because he had a coupon and a senior discount coming to him.  I smiled at him and turned to Melvin to see what he had to say about all this.  Melvin just smiled, and his gold-capped tooth lit up  his mouth.  He mumbled something to me, and since I couldn’t understand him, I turned back to the old man and asked him what color of shoes he wanted – white like he was wearing,, or brown to match his clothes?  He replied, “Something that will fit my feet and go over my stockings.”  Saying this, he pulled up his pant leg to reveal compression hose that helped with poor circulation.  With those instructions, Melvin and I split up.  He took the clearance aisle, and I perused the newer sales nearby.

It was obvious the old man was a “talker” and, in this regard, he reminded me a lot of my grandpa.  My grandpa never met a stranger.  You could leave him sitting at a bench in the mall while you quickly stepped into a store to buy something, and when you came out, he would be talking to someone and extracting his life story.  Other times he could be in line at the bank or down an aisle in the grocery store and talking to so-and-so about this-and-that.  Grandpa’s face was a kind face, just like the old man’s.

It’s been my experience that people who have kind faces have warm, open hearts and can share life’s small moments with you, easily and simply, regardless of the short amount of time spent with them.  A glance or a smile in passing or a brief conversation in the shoe department of a local store is all it takes to make time become more fluid.  In its wake is an intense moment of sharing, of loving, of swimming soulfully in each other’s presence.

I brought a couple of pairs of shoes back to the old man and placed them at his feet.  He began searching through the first box, but stopped before taking the shoe out.  He smiled up at me and asked what I was doing out alone on a Friday night.  “You should be on a date,” he playfully said to me.  I informed him that I didn’t have a boyfriend.  “Girl, you’re too pretty not to have a boyfriend.  What’s wrong with you?”  I meekly said to him, “I just haven’t found the right guy, that’s all.”  After drilling me on how old I was (33) and if I had any babies (no), he was speechless for the first time since I met him.  He quickly recovered and told me I better get to work to change all that.  I sheepishly tried to tell him that I was a liberated woman and that I didn’t need a man to complete me.  He saw through my mask to cover my loneliness and just smiled at me and changed the subject.

While he was chatting about something else, my mind began to carry me back to my teenage years.  My grandpa used to talk to me a lot about the topic of finding a “good feller” when I was in high school.  He old me that I was pretty and could pick any boy that I wanted.  In my warped, overly sensitive teenage brain, I used to  hear:  “Something is wrong with you.  What do you do that makes boys not like you?”  That thought pattern has stuck with me on and off throughout my adult life.  My grandpa was my hero.  The man who told me stories, made me laugh, and even listened to me as I shared my fears of puberty; yet, anytime this particular subject rolled around between us, I always felt like I was disappointing him by not having a boyfriend:   the crowning glory and reward for my youthful beauty.  Now, here sat another old man before me telling me the same thing.  His comments seemed sharp and judgmental.  It stung a bit, and it was all I could do to fight back tears.  Didn’t he realize this was a sensitive subject for me?

I forced back a tear long enough to take another look at him.  He sat there smiling at me and fumbling with the shoestrings.  I realized then I wasn’t ready to walk away from him.  He had asked me my name, and so I pushed back more tears and told him.  He introduced himself as Andrew.  He asked what I did, and when I mentioned that I was a high school teacher, he sat up straighter in his chair and said, “My wife was a teacher.”  I asked him what she taught and he replied, “English.”  This time, I was the one who smiled deeply.  Regardless that I teach mostly Spanish classes, English was my major in college, and it is how I define myself.  “I bet she keeps you on your toes.  We English teachers have a way about us,” I teased.  He laughed and told me that she was a really smart woman and she never minded that he was just a janitor at the school where she taught.  He went on to say that even though he wasn’t book-smart like her, he was a good mechanic and also fixed all of the buses in the district.  I told him I believe there are a lot of different ways to be smart in this world.  He simply looked at me, and I noticed that his shoulders relaxed a bit, and he had a teary look in his eyes as well.  Leaning forward, he simply told me, “You see right through to a person’s soul with them big, brown eyes.  You could be a fortune teller with those eyes.”  Then he chuckled like he was telling me something I should already know.

Again, the onset of tears.  Mine.  No one, except grandpa ever said anything that revealing about myself to me.  I didn’t know how to react, so I changed the subject.  I mentioned that I overheard him say that he and Melvin just got back from the Casino Queen.  “Did you have any luck?” I asked him.  Before he could answer, Melvin came over and handed him a shoebox.  Andrew looked inside and fished out a spiffy pair of white Nikes with blue and gold piping on them.  Andrew liked these and proceeded to take off his shoes and try them on.  His compression hose were not fully pulled up past his toes.  They had puckered up at the ends and made his feet look like and elf’s.  He grabbed a shoe from the box and then said, “Oooh yeah.  Me and Melvin play at the casino.  I play the Sevens.”  Not being a gambler by nature, I had no clue what he was talking about.  He mimed playing a slot machine.  I laughed and said that he and my mom would get along well together.  She loves to play the slot machines that line up all the 7s, fruits, and diamonds, all while she smokes and talks to anyone who happens to be nearby.

I turned to Melvin and asked him if he played the Sevens with Andrew.  Melvin mumbled something I took as playing Blackjack and occasionally winning.  I smiled at him and wondered about this seemingly odd pair.  I turned back to Andrew and asked if he ever won.  “No.  It’s not about winning.  It passes the time.  But ooooh boy, when everything lines up, I feel lucky!”  He laughed and tried to lace the shoe with his arthritic hands.  He mentioned luck doesn’t happen all that often, so you have to take it and run with it and enjoy that moment.  “Does your wife care that you gamble?  Do you take her out to eat or buy her something nice when you’ve won?” I joked.  He stopped what he was doing and looked up at me and sorrowfully said, “She’s been dead now for three years.  But we were married for a little over 60 years.”  My heart sunk.  I apologized and told him how sorry I was to hear that.  He smiled and skipped over my comment.

He asked me again why I don’t have a husband or any babies.  The old feeling of disappointment washed over me, but I decided to be honest with him, instead of guarded and defensive.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “I’ve just had a hard time meeting or finding someone.  Why do you think that is?” I asked.  Expecting to hear an analytical answer or a sympathetic statement to my question, I was taken aback when he told me it was because of my eyes.  “You’re choosy,” he said and went back to pulling the shoe on his foot.

I’ve been told so often that I’m picky and that I’ll throw away any man if I don’t like the way he walks, talks, dresses or acts.  Now, here I stood in the middle of a department store with a kind old man who didn’t mince words, nor did he take pity on me.  He was telling me the truth about myself.  He looked right through to my soul with his eyes.  The The truth is, the loneliness exists because I place such great emphasis on the expectations of having someone in my life.  In the past, I was looking outside of myself to gauge how I was doing.  I would make excuses or lie to others as to why I wasn’t involved in a serious relationship:  he’s not attractive enough, he competed with me, he told me I wasn’t pretty enough, he said I was controlling, he lived too far away, he wore a Nascar jacket.

Hearing those words from Andrew, I was stripped bare of excuses.  Part of me thought I should leave our conversation and continue down the same familiar path I’ve been traveling; a path that was littered with routine, blame, and bitterness.  However, if I did that, the same results would keep happening:  men would break up with me by e-mail, my phone calls would never be returned, I would continue to sit on my couch trying to understand what I was doing wrong, and trying to manipulate situations and scenarios that would increase my chances of meeting someone.  If I stayed here with Andrew, I could be real with him and bare my soul just enough to see if he could help me see myself more clearly.  The truth is, I’m running out of excuses and am at the point where I have to turn the table and take a look at myself to see what needs changed in order to unblock the love that is mine for the giving and the taking.  Maybe this was the conversation I was supposed to have a long time ago with my grandpa.

I looked over at Andrew and saw him fumbling with the shoe and trying to push it on his foot.  Without thinking, I knelt down at his feet and helped him.  We began talking casually again about his granddaughter in high school, about his late wife and the house they lived in.  He shared with me how they met while he was in the Navy (she thought he was handsome in his uniform).  His arthritic hands rested on his knees while he allowed me to lace up the shoes.  His hands reminded me of my grandpa’s.  Grandpa had rheumatoid arthritis in his late 40s, and when I knew him, he was on pain medication and had already gone through two hip surgeries and rod implants in  his toes and fingers.  My mother once told me that he constantly lived in pain, but he never really talked about it nor engaged in self-pity.  Instead, he always shared his life, and asked me how I was doing in school and told me stories about his youth.  With every story came expressive hand gestures in which they flew in excitement or reached out to you when he asked a question.  His body language made you feel what it was like to give a rich man a ride in a cab when you were young and starting out in life, or made you visualize delivering the mail with him along his route.  Ending with every story, tall-tale, or recollection, was his smile that radiated from his eyes.

Kneeling in front of Andrew, I looked up and saw a similar smile.  Immediately a flash of energy crossed between us, and I forgave myself for being briefly angry over his earlier words to me.  Suddenly, I was moved to ask him, “Is it so bad being picky?”

“No, it’s not.  You should be,” he said.  He set me straight by saying,, “But I didn’t say you’re picky, I said, ‘you’re choosy.’ There’s a difference.”  He proceeded to tell me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.  I realized he was saying I had a gift.  That I could look at people and read them and connect with them on a deep level, but my intensity sometimes got in the way, making people feel uncomfortable.  All a man wants is someone to recognize him for who he is, he instructed me, and that I have to use my eyes to do this.  “How?” I asked him.  And he turned to me with a loving look on his face, put his hand out, and simply replied, “You just smile.  That’s all.”  Then, he smiled at me with his eyes shining and sparking like moonlight rippling on a calm ocean.

At that moment, Melvin brought over two more boxes of shoes, and Andrew discarded the flashy Nikes for a more conservative pair of brown New Balance tennis shoes from the clearance rack.  I helped him put them on, and he said he liked them.  He stood up, walked around and stated that they were a fine pair of shoes.  He had Melvin put his old ones in the box, and he took out the 15% coupon from his wallet along with some money.  Andrew reminded Melvin to not forget his senior discount either.  Melvin took everything and crossed the aisle to the checkout counter.  He stood back patiently waiting for Andrew and I to say our goodbyes.  Andrew reached out his hand for a polite handshake, and I wrapped my arms around him, hugging him tightly.  I almost wept, and I thought, “My God, I love this man.”  Andrew hugged me back, and I knew then it was my cue to leave.  I said goodbye again, and I watched him turn and walk towards Melvin.  They both got in line, and time opened its door to the future and ushered me out of the store.