Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Tip of the Domino

An aspect that cartoons and real life have in common are those moments where one encounters the catalyst to an impending tragic-comedic series of events on the quivering edge of kicking off the whole entropic Rube Goldberg clusterfandango. We typically gape in horror as it slowly swings into motion, and we are as helpless against it as we are against the unseen monster we cannot escape in a nightmare as we attempt to flee in slow motion.

Years ago, in the first couple years of our marriage, pre-child, my wife and I were on a shopping adventure. Isn't it always an adventure when you go shopping with your spouse? I don't recall the reason - perhaps I was picking morosely at things on shelves, or just had the aura of needing to be put to use (my wife had the list after all, and therefore was the chief) - but I was dispatched to go procure condoms. Further, I was given strict instruction on the features and qualities that said condoms needed to possess. (Let me stop the pervs right here, and clarify that it had to do with the nature of the spermicide, and not any molded machinations "for her pleasure" - that's my exclusively my responsibility in the endeavor, thank you very much.)

Nonetheless, off I went. We had not been in that store before, so I had to search. Unlike my current grocery store, where they are adjacent to the Hallmark cards and bouquets of flowers (apparently for convenience or for those on a mission), they were in a recessed area in the back of the store. Like most married men, when I've been sent to obtain something specific by the missus, I carry low-level trepidation because too many times the store doesn't stock the very thing requested, and will the manager or the chain bear the brunt of the disappointment and questioning? No, the crosshairs will alight firmly on me. So, it was with relief that I sailed around the corner to probable success - and right into a trio of high school girls buttressed up against the display. While this tableau might make a cute photo for the lead-in to a "Playboy" article, in real life it promises only oblique embarrassment for all.

TLD: Actually, I was hoping for only oblique embarrassment as I had the full goose bozo version stampede across my person when trying to procure birth control for the Senior Prom. I purposely went in the middle of the morning on a weekday to avoid running into anyone I knew, or ANYONE for that matter. I had researched and chosen my product prior to, in order to get in and out like a commando. I had cash ready in all denominations so I could abandon the least amount of change if it came to that, and I had even planned my route through the store as the plastic bags they used were semi-transparent, thus I would require an obscured but direct route back to my car. I had even gone to the trouble to dress in such a way that it was clear I had no ability to shop-lift, because a high school kid, blushing crimson, bee-lining through the store on a weekday morning would certainly pull the attention of the manager, and I didn't want to have to turn out all my pockets on top of everything else.

The initial stage went off without a hitch. Within nanoseconds I had the box at the counter, the money out, and the ancient pharmacy clerk was hunting and pecking out the buttons on the old, manual cash register faster than usual - evidently she was sharper in the morning. Then it happened. She pushed the total button before she noticed she had miskeyed a number. Her little old face scrunched up like a white prune, she mouthed a G-rated curse word, and proceeded, glacially, to pull out the full-page form they had to fill out when they've hauled off and totaled on an error. I offered to pay the overage, but that only produced a lengthy explanation on how she would be grilled on why she'd overcharged a customer. I shut up and let her do her form.

In the five minutes that took, lo and behold, a herd assembled at my back. Worse, she hadn't put the clearly labeled product in a bag and had placed it so anyone behind me could see it. In a case of bad teenage judgment, I thought that if I didn't touch the box to move it out of sight, perhaps I could pretend that the actual item I was purchasing was out of view in front of me, and it was someone else's. But, no, somewhere in those five minutes where I was beginning to grasp what Einstein had posited about time being relative, I heard one of the matronly ladies "tsk, tsk" behind me, obviously gleaning my motives. And, once, when I made the mistake of turning around to shoot a commiseratory glance at my fellow captives, two of the women seemingly instantly memorized my face, perhaps out of fear that their daughter might be my intended paramour.

The ancient clerk finished her homework and reentered the purchase - by now I was so deeply into "fight or flee" alternate reality that I could hear each and every cog shift and grind inside the cash register - and SHE DID IT AGAIN! Again, we had to wait through the paperwork. By the time I had my albatross in its little see-through bag and turned to leave, 13 people were waiting in line behind me, all of them scowling - in the direction of the bag, no less.

My mom hyperventilated from laughter when I told her my tale of woe, later. (My mother was intent on the topic of my brother or my not fathering a child as a teen, so when she intuited that a tryst might be on our horizon, she always cornered us on birth control - thus the topic was not taboo.)

So, I cruised on past the gaggle of girls, because - and this is on my long list of the many proofs of the existence of God that I continually compile - there was a magazine rack just past the love gloves, and as I had not broken my stride I could reasonably fake that I had intended to check out this month's "Macworld."

Either the girls were doing the same thing I was and hadn't reached a consensus on which ones to buy, or this was their little enclave from which they could escape the world of parents and undesired peers. I bet it was little of both, but mostly the prior, because when more than two teenage girls consult each other on a purchase, you'd think you were at an economic summit of the superpowers. And, come to think of it, you sort of are. Watch some shop sometime in one of those costume jewelry stores that offer the gamut of thrifty female adornment and free ear piercings with any purchase, and I promise you will be entertained for well over an hour - and may even come away with a good idea for a blog. ;)

Anyway, my ruse proved to be fortuitous because I discovered that the color classic Mac was due in stores soon, which was the sole object of my gadget lust at the time. Perhaps this is why I didn't see my wife until she appeared on the far side of the condom display. I looked up the moment she arrived. She looked at the condoms with slight annoyance and then spotted me.

Now, dear reader, imagine if you will in your mind's eye, as my eyes widened in pre-shock as things began their egregious course, a single extended finger as it nudges the first domino. I was frozen in place, the proverbial bug in a jar.

"Hon," my wife said in the tone that perfectly embodies a wife's doubts about their husband's ability to do as asked with the implicit commentary chaser on his intelligence, "they're right here!" Her delicate finger pointing so as to remove all doubt, re the subject. In unison, three ponytailed heads swivel to my wife, then make a slight adjustment to glance at the condom rack indicated in classic Vanna White fashion. After the obligatory pause for comprehension to bloom, three fresh teen faces turn to me with eyes gleaming, bejeweled with a collection of lopsided smirks.

"Oh," was all I could manage as a response.

Then, as only teenage girls can do, they dove together as if to do the big team cheer before a game, and burst into giggles. They stole glances at me as I plodded by on numb ghost legs, probably wondering if I would continue to exhibit ever-deeper shades of red and what would be the final shade of crimson I could achieve. Still not even slightly aware that she should hunt for a ticket booth in order to eventually board the clue train, my lovely wife (and I do mean that with all affection) casually chattered away about the selection and which one might we try (even though, for those of you keeping track, she had already told me which ones we were going to buy; but we all know that a foregone decision does not forestall further consideration of a purchase for most of the fair sex). I dutifully nodded in silence, hyperaware of the running commentary from the peanut gallery, who didn't have the graciousness to leave. No, this was waaaay to entertaining to miss on what must have been a slow night. Plus, I've noted in my time here on earth that universally girls tend to find endless glee and amusement in the harmless humiliation of their significant boy others. When the missus finally plucked our intended purchase from the rod, a sarcastic "Oooo, good choice!" drifted from the audience. The final domino comes to its rest.

"Thanks a lot, hon," I mumbled a couple of aisles later.

"What?" she asked, as in: "what did I do?"

When it dawned on her, she laughed through the whole checkout line, all the way out to the car, and half the way home - with intermittent gusts of guffaws throughout the evening. For approximately a year after that, she did not ONCE pass up the opportunity to exclaim, "Look, Honey! The condoms are right here!" when we were restocking.

Yes, I married well.

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