THE HUNCHBACKED WAL-MART DAME
Apparently my local grocery store has put into place an enticing exclusive discount program in hopes of luring every single senior in the state of AZ into their establishments on specific days of the month. It’s been wildly successful.
I lack the ability to pay attention to detail when said details do not directly concern me. A bit narcissistic maybe, but with my busy life, what’s the harm in that, really? This is why for a while there I didn’t really notice right away that I always happened to hit the grocery store on the first Wednesday of the month. In fact, it took me three long, frustratingly crowded grocery trips to realize I was an unwilling participant in a very apparent senior saving frenzy which was going on around me.
Incidentally, I later googled this phenomenal and for those interested, its 10% off everything first Wednesday of every month, 55 years or older.
Don’t get me wrong. I love me some grandma and grandpa and I really don’t mind reaching up every 45 seconds to grab that one specific can of sliced tomatoes from the very top shelf at the frequent request of the scooter sitting senior, or whatever the select item of choice may be contingent upon which aisle I am in at that moment. I don’t mind because I know from personal experience that those chairs sit very low to the ground. It just takes so ever lovin long to get in and out with the overwhelming abundance of scooter chairs, walkers and basically just slow moving (bless their hearts and souls) elders.
Once I was aware though of the senior savings extravaganza it was simple to just avoid the grocery store on that particular day… What I hadn’t thought past though was that my local grocery store was not the only one offering tantalizing bargains in this fashion.
I had had a particularly stressful weekend at work and this particular Monday was looking pretty horrid as well. My “happy pills” as I lovingly describe them, prescribed by my doctor for stress relief, PMS, and the first Wednesday of every month, had been waiting for me in the Wal-Mart Pharmacy since the previous Friday but I hadn’t had time to get them over the weekend. Hindsight is 20/20 but this little detail has been filed and put away in the “humorous irony” section of my memory banks. Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t survive another day without
seriously jeopardizing the security of my job as I was expected to always provide positively outrageous customer service so, running late as usual I made a beeline for Wal-Mart.
It was around 2:30 in the afternoon yet the parking lot was full. I mean, jammed packed. Like it was the day before Labor Day or Black Friday or….. The first Wednesday of every month. As I pulled up, an endless sea of grey headed hair came sharply into focus, moving in smooth, slow motion, thanks in part to the “mart carts” provided by the store. I realized in horror I had yet again, placed myself in the middle of senior sale frenzy. If I had planned my life, complete with complicated spreadsheets, mathematical equations, a Day-Timer and a personal assistant/Soothsayer, I couldn’t have been more precise. But its apparent God has a unique sense of humor especially when the opportunity presents itself in which to teach me a lesson, in, oh I don’t know…maybe pride, selfishness and the ever popular “random acts of kindness for dummies”.
Since leaving wasn’t an option and even though I could clearly picture the cart line leading up to the one lone pharmacy cashier, for the sake of myself, my co-workers and especially my passengers, I had to get in there. I could already feel the nerves move to the outside of my skin and burn there waiting.
Luckily I found a parking spot in the outer far row halfway down. Quickly, I aimed toward it; almost taking out the hunched over senior driving his little cart through my space to most likely shave off some of his time in getting to the store, based on his speed. He took the turn like an ancient daredevil, his body leaning waaaay over to the right; off the charts the way Jeremy McGrath’s great, great grandfather might have done it. Luckily, Gramps weighed no more that 110 lbs soaking wet and his cart did not have the ability to go over 3 miles an hour or he very well could have spilled it right then and there, therefore causing me to get involved and ultimately making me late for work.
I slammed on my brakes and watched as he slowly, gradually made his way around my car, his body still dangerously shifted to one side. I sucked in oxygen, held it and then slowly exhaled just as I had been taught at my stress test appointment, as I waited for him to make his appearance in my rear view mirror. Which he finally did, straightening his cart but not his body, that was still hanging perilously sideways, and then madly defying the odds as his speed crept up to a risky 3 ½ mph. Then, with just outright death defying lunacy, he unsteadily raised his right arm from the handlebar half a foot or so despite the very real danger of biffing it bad especially with the teetering he was still doing, all in order to convey the unmistakable backward shaky flip of the bird directed at me. My mouth dropped open in disbelieve at both the vulgar sign language as well as his success in managing to stay on his scooter. Mesmerized, I watched as he inched out of sight, his body still all the while favoring the right side.
A baby honk snapped me out of my trance. A glint of silver blinding light reflecting off the sun ricocheting from my front bumper then veering off to the unknown source hidden low in front of my vehicle. I rose up over my steering wheel to peer past the dash and there in front of my left front tire sat another old gent impatiently waiting on his own old fart cart, waving furiously at me. The source of the honk came from what looked like a black vintage rubber bulb attached to an old silver rusted horn strapped to the borrowed cart with what looked like lime green duct tape. I was still only halfway into my parking space and needless to say, holding up his opportunities for great savings. Giving up, the elderly dude looking freakishly like one very pissed off Christmas Elf, flipped the red switch on his trike handlebars, whirled his head back with surprising agility, put that little speedster cart in reverse and then… crept… inch by inch back until it was safe for him to move his little cart forward, away from me. With two more angry honks for good measure, he too eventually disappeared into the throng of carts, house dresses, tweed sweaters (in Arizona in July) and walkers (think I may have even seen one hospital bed being pushed along, but I could be wrong), swelling together like one old bizarre morphed mass, inching toward the entrance of Wal-Mart sort of reminiscent of that 80’s movie “The Slime” but more grayish and, you know, slower…
“Crap!” I looked at my watch. I had exactly seven minutes to get in and out and still be to work on time. I could not waste another minute. I got out of my car and sprinted toward the door. I had almost made it when I heard her.
Why I knew this was meant for me, I cannot tell you. It just was. Why I didn’t just keep on a going, I cannot say either but you know that part inside you that refuses to allow you to choose the callous thing that your brain is screaming at you to do. JUST IGNORE IT! IT’S NOT MEANT FOR YOU! THE PARKING LOT IS FULL! LET SOMEONE ELSE TEND TO IT, WHATEVER IT IS, YOU ARE GOING TO BE LATE FOR WORK AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE YOU WITHOUT YOUR MEDS!
That other part of me however, stopped my legs from moving forward, cocked my head to one side and slowly turned my body around to confirm that yes, a frail, anxious looking, tiny, hand waving Granny did indeed appear as if she was gesturing directly to me.
“Ooooohh….Maaaammm! Misssssssss! Helllllooooooooooooo…” She was way, way down the center parking aisle standing in the center of the row so far away she was almost to the main street. Ridiculously, hordes of people were passing all around her. The brown spots and blue veins which decorated her frail arm, took sloppy seconds to all the colorful plastic bracelets and rings that adorned both arms and fingers. I had a feeling this was not her ordinary Monday through Friday wardrobe. Nope, this outfit was only for the very special days. Next to her which she held onto firmly was The Cart, so tight was her grip in fact that it seems she was afraid if she let go, she would lose it…
The sensible part of my brain told me she could not possibly be speaking to me, what with the throng of people passing her in all directions as well as the insane distance between the two of us. I was positive we’d never met before and still, my arm rose all on its own, my fingers turned toward my chest in the universal sign language question, ME?
She risked taking her tiny hand from the cart to joyously clap her hands together and gave a very slight hop in delight. Her face broke into a brilliant smile while she enthusiastically bobbed her tiny gray head up and down until the miniature bun which sat squarely a top of her head loosened a bit exposing the cotton balls that were carefully nestled inside.
“Yes, dear, youueew!” she sang and my shoulders sank. I glanced again at my watch. Five minutes 37 seconds. Impossible. I glanced longingly at Wal-Mart’s entrance which conversationally, I never thought I would ever say in this lifetime. For one tiny minute, I’m ashamed to say, as I momentarily lost Gran behind a mass of bodies I thought, Now’s your chance to make a run for it!
“Thank you, deeeaar. Would you be so kind as to spare an old woman a moment of your time?” My! It was just uncanny the way her voice could carry all the way across the heated asphalt, rising above the drone of the crowd. Extraordinary, really. Almost unbelievable.
Resigned I jogged over to her, intent on letting her know I had no idea how to help her work her scooter but would be more than happy to send out the first helpful Wal-Mart cart getter I saw who happened to be in the direct path from here to the front counter of the pharmacy. If nothing else the pharmacist could make some sort of general announcement to whoever helped with this sort of thing.
Meanwhile to reassure her, I’d pull her and her scooter out of harms way before Daredevil Sideways finished his shopping, climbed into his 1969 Lincoln Continental going straight but sitting sideways and then coming right for her.
“Thank you honey,” she smiled pleasantly as I finally made my way to her. “Are you planning to go in there?” she asked, her voice was so squeaky and high and gooey sweet I thought for a moment it had to be fake. She pointed in the general direction of where I had just been. I gazed back, searching for somewhere else. Giving up I again looked at my watch – just under five minutes left – then looked up to catch her nodding encouragingly at me as if I might be slow.
Impatiently, and bordering on unkind I snapped, “Into Wal-Mart?
She nodded furiously, her smile bright and sparkly, a reward for guessing correctly.
“Well, Yes! Of Course I Am!! You had to have seen I was almost there when you, beck…um, when you called out at me!” My impatience was nasty yet Gran chose to ignore this in me.
“Oh Good!” She chirped and clapped her hands together once more as if we were suddenly participating in a riveting game of password and she had just totally lucked out by scoring herself a decent partner.
Lovingly she patted the handlebar of the shopping scooter which up until then I had thoroughly forgotten about and said, “Would you mind then just taking my shopping cart back up with you sweetie?”
What?! “No…no no no.” I was shaking my head way before she had finished her “sweetie. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I said rudely, snuffing out that smile like I had spit and distinguished it in between my thumb and forefinger. She took her tiny wrinkly hand off the scooter, spread all ten fingers apart and placed them gently together pad to pad. Then drawing her index finders to her chin, she leaned toward me intent on catching every word of what I had to say next. Which was something like, “I can’t… really hurry… so late…where’s all the kids?…I’m sorry….In such a rush….it’s so damn hot….why me?….Where’s all the damn cart fetchers?….pull it out of the way…. Happy pills….,” I looked around furiously, for what I wasn’t sure, a beautiful, silvery-white scooter fetching angel would be nice, but I’d settle for some clear direction for an option # 2 that did not involve me returning the cart or offending this sweet, old lady.
Her hands were still up by her face, fluttering, but her sweet smile was gone, replaced by a look of anxiety as if her password partner had suddenly turned from a brilliant answer giver to a complete tard. A perfectly formed small letter O replaced her smile, colored in and outside the lines in cherry-red sparkly lipstick. “So very late….” I trailed off. I could stand here continuing to waste precious time arguing with Gran while dozens of useless people passed us by or…. I could just do it already.
“Ok,” I snapped meanly. I slapped my hand on the handlebar, furiously looking for the thumb throttle. I twisted the grip useless knowing they wouldn’t install twist throttles on old people carts. Aside from the rarity that was Daredevil Sideways, on average they would not be able to cover their accidental insurance costs. I couldn’t find anything to make the stupid thing move. I had figured I’d just move the cart slowly (was there any other way?) and holding onto the handlebars bent over, I’d simply just walk the thing back up to the front completing my good deed for the year with an honorable mention to the considerable selfless sacrifice of having to go another day completely bitchy.
I yanked the handlebar toward me intending to drag it around so it was facing toward the store. Except it had turned into a boulder and would not budge. At all. It seemed as if it were cemented into the hot asphalt, the parking lot having been poured and built around it.
“Ok, alrighty, okay…,” I said, “How do I work this thing?” I turned and asked Granny who stood there innocently.
“Well…” she smiled brilliantly, instantly excited and up for the challenge of teaching me what ordinarily would have been an easy course in Scooter Maneuver 101. “Of course you sit on it, dear, and you press that button,” she pointed at a little red button located underneath the right handle bar.
“Well,” I chucked without humor, “I am not sitting on it…” ending that discussion once and for all. Standing on the left side, I bent over, gripped both handlebars and turned them hard to the left and then jammed down on the red button. The stupid thing did not move. There wasn’t even a whisper from the motor. With sweat dripping down the middle of my back while more formed an alliance along the hairline of my forehead. I was beginning to get a bit grouchy. “It won’t move!” I snapped at poor innocent Gran.
“Well…” she said in her little chirpy voice, “That’s because you gotta sit on it!!” This she sang gaily as if all of it was such fun and games. She bobbed her head in time with mine as I was shaking mine no, and I had to fight to keep myself from reaching up and pushing her cotton balls back up into her bun.
“I’m not sitting on it and looking like a moron…” I said under my breath, trying my best to make eye contact with anyone passing by, wishing I was anywhere except here in the middle of this worthlessly crowded parking lot.
“Well, then, I guess you just won’t get it to go. Unless you sit on it…” This was said in a know-it-all singsong, like a five year old would say to her tragically, simple minded friend, confident in Scooter Maneuver expertise yet sympathetically aware it was just a matter of time before her friend was proven a fool.
“I. Don’t. Want. To. Sit. On. It.” I said through clenched teeth. I glanced once again at my enemy the watch as I wiped a think layer of sweat from my forehead. Didn’t old people sweat? I thought randomly as I gazed at Gram’s dry powered complexion. “Dammit!” I cursed, causing those around to stare and causing Gran to take a healthy step back. Three minutes, twenty seconds.
Realizing I had no choice, I sighed, swung my leg easily over the frame and squatted down on the cushy orange seat. I looked up to see Gram towering over me. My knees were pulled up almost touching my chin and my back was hunched over as I gripped the handlebars. As if I was sitting directly on the ground.
“There you have it!” Gram exclaimed, thrilled that her challenged pupil had the capability to catch on once I set my mind to it. Grumbling, I again turned the handlebars, looked straight ahead and without another word to my new friend, punched the red button.
The cart whined for a moment, gave a very tiny lurch and then….inched, very, very slowly into the infinite space that separated me from the entrance to the store. Leaning forward, I prepared myself for what could only be, the longest cross country trip I’ve ever taken. Inching along the vast landscape that was the Wal-Mart parking lot, I didn’t break my concentration even long enough to glance at my watch. That ship had sailed. Plus, to be honest, now I had no intention of making eye contact with anyone in my path.
The people, who had deemed me so unimportant up until this point, suddenly took great interest. Walking along side of me, they took notice of my blonde highlights and non-polyester pants and the awkward bending of my body which now was shaking and tremoring as I desperately willed the stupid thing go faster therefore eventually putting an end to this bizarre humiliating situation. Some stopped to snicker and whisper to each other, some pointed and called me “The Hunchbacked Wal-Mart Dame,” (which is just stupid, I mean, really?) Teenagers laughed out loud and poked the others in their party so as not to miss the sweaty mom on the Ol Fart Cart. Not to worry though they all soon strolled unhurriedly past me and into the crowd. The more serious folks such as families lingered a bit, gazing at me in bewilderment before they too passed me by, seemingly without a drop of exertion. Some even shook their heads in disgust that I an obvious non-senior would selfishly take advantage of senior citizens by stealing their scooters. I heard one mom say loudly to her family, “Its just tragic how some people are all about themselves in today’s world! I mean, if she really needed the scooter which she’s obviously just lazy, lookit her sweat! Why couldn’t she have done it on any other day except on this third Monday of the month reserved especially for Wal-Mart’s wonderful discount program, Scooter Squatting Senior Savings? I mean, it’s absolutely shameless…” until they two passed me by and I could no longer hear them. I almost gave up ¾ of the way there when first, with the help of his dad, I was passed by a toddler on wobbly legs soon followed by a very, very elderly man who tsk, tsked at me as he, with the aid of his walker, easily passed me as well.
Finally, gloriously, I reached the curb, letting go of the powerful throttle too late and causing the front wheels of the scooter to collide gently with the curb. I hopped off and that is when I finally came in contact with the Wal-Mart Cart Collector. I patted the orange seat and almost giddily said, “Take care of this for me will ya, James?” Just like Batman would have after he finished up saving the world, leaving the Maserati running to be tended to by the always dependable butler or houseman or whoever.
“Hey! You can’t leave that there!” the obviously not dependable cart guy yelled at me. “The policy clearly states when you check them out to either bring them allllll the way back into the store or leave them in the cart stalls conveniently located all over the parking lot.
Just short of making it, so close I could see the glow of the pharmacy lights, I stopped and whirled around. “What did you just say?” I asked him. He stood looking scared for a moment, so I relaxed and smiled. “I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry. What did you just say about leaving the carts?”
That you could bring them alllllll….,”
“Not that part,” I rudely interrupted, noting this was the second stranger I had done that to today. “The part about outside?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said, quickly running through his memorized speech to the part I wanted to hear, “Or leave them in the cart stalls conveniently locat..”
“You’re talking about the granny carts, with motors, not regular shopping carts?” I interrupted for a third time.
“Yeah,” he said, “exactly like that one you left in the street,” he scolded and pointed at my little cart which was sitting there looking abandoned but in reality had just been rescued. By me. I didn’t have time to explain.
“And I so appreciate you taking care of that for me. You are a doll!” I turned and determined to get happy if it killed me, marched into the store toward the pharmacy. By some small miracle, or better, a gift from God for maybe not exactly a job well done, but definitely a job done that could have been done worse, the pharmacy was a magnificent ghost town with absolutely no lines, no seniors and best of all, not one cart. I didn’t even have to wait for a tech as there was one standing by the register waiting; it seemed, for me. As I completed my purchase and turned to leave for just a very tiny split second, I must have been mistaken but I thought I saw a glimpse of a little old lady looking directly at me with a cotton ball bun and a cherry red sparkly smile. I started, turned and walked quickly toward where I thought she had been, amid all the vitamins, cosmetics and lotions, but she was gone. Just in case, I quickly scanned all the immediate aisles but there was no one there. It must have been the heat and stress, causing my brain to play tricks on me. I turned and rushed out of the store but not before I unmistakably heard a soft chirpy voice say, “Thank you dear, for stopping, you are one of the very few who did…”
I shook my head, told my eyes to look straight ahead, fighting the urge to look back behind me. Reaching the doors I took off in a full sprint not stopping until I reached my car. I peeled out of Wal-Mart, not daring to look in my rearview mirror, afraid if I did I’d see a glimpse of the top of a cotton ball bun in my back seat. I ripped open my prescription bag, swallowed two pills dry and waited for my heart to return to a normal beating pattern. And wouldn’t you know it? Incredibly…. unbelievably….. miraculously actually, it just so happens, I made it to work on time after all.
Shelley Allsup AKA Scooter Squattin Biatch
All Rights Reserved
August 28, 2012
The Hunchbacked Wal-Mart Dame