After “The Walmart Incident,” it seemed appropriate to take practical measures toward meeting dating candidates. And when my sister Katie started picking out guys on an online site one night, I decided I’d do better making my own selections. Not that she has bad taste; Katie just thinks that I’m younger and wilder than I really am. A little projection on her part, I think. I’d like to be that woman: “Free diving adventurer who’d rather shovel snow than watch TV.” But the truth is, I’d rather swim at my own pace and not worry about whether my mascara is waterproof.
Chapter 1: You Look Like A Very Nice Lady
The Walmart Incident began near the bread aisle as an invasion to my peripheral vision. Spotting a double take from a guy in a plaid button-down, I allowed the implied compliment to put a little spring in my step as I headed for checkout. But when my admirer later found himself to be but three short checkout lines away, he left his cart and approached me with a close-mouthed, sunken smile that made me wonder if he had enough teeth to prop up his lips.
“Hi there.” He beamed at my forehead and clutched a rubber-banded stack of neatly clipped coupons. A single strand of his nondescript brown hair floated up on an invisible draft of store ventilation. His brightening smile seemed mismatched to his bespectacled, slightly worried eyes.
“Hi.” I smiled slightly, adding an awkward polite nod for good measure.
The cashier had already begun ringing up my order, and I needed to price check. It was so much easier to catch errors before they printed onto the register tape. But Mr. Double-Take trapped me with a hopeful look, his gaze finally drifting down to meet my eyes. I had a feeling there had been an earlier dress rehearsal in front of his bathroom mirror.
“I couldn’t help noticing that you have a beautiful smile.”
I smiled? Oh. Maybe when I found my dropped grocery list. There must have been a little flicker of joy back there by the bagels.
“Thank you,” I murmured, uncomfortably aware of curious glances from the next aisle over.
He was oblivious to my deer-in-the-headlights moment, however, scrolling through his mental script with the confidence of a hungry understudy debuting before his first actual audience. “You look like a very nice lady.”
“Lady? My mom was a ‘nice lady’.”
Beep, beep, beep, beep… (Quick glance at the price screen) Paper towels – $2.79. Peanut butter – $3.29. That sounded about right.
“Thank you,” I said automatically.
“I see you like the whole grain tortillas.” He raised an eyebrow suggestively as my groceries paraded past the scanner.
I was uncomfortably aware that a box of tampons would be rolling by on the conveyor belt for him to assess at any moment. “Have to feed the kids, you know.”
“Kids are great,” he enthused like a man who had watched them perform many times on TV. “How many do you have?”
I almost said twelve, but honesty and a vague suspicion that I recognized the woman two carts back from spinning class at the gym prevailed. “Three.” I offered him no more information, my polite smile fading a little as he continued to milk the connection he had apparently felt during our five-second moment in aisle twelve.
“I would love a chance to talk further; buy you a cup of coffee sometime…”
What did I say when the wrong guy asked me to high school prom? Excuses piled on like the defensive line in a peewee football game. Too busy. Too soon. Too many kids.
As he thrust his business card toward me, I gave him points for courage, but it was the sort of valor that might propel a tone-deaf drunk to center stage on karaoke night. I wasn’t about to reject him in front of so many people, several of whom had access to the store’s public address system right at their registers.
Attention shoppers, we have an attempted pickup in checkout 8.
“Maybe we could continue our conversation somewhere a little more comfortable.” He paused to acknowledge our surroundings, wincing slightly as if to question the wisdom of storing so many perishable food items in one place.
“Thank you.” The phrase sounded odd to my ear this time. Stilted. My temporal lobe was at risk for a repetitive stress injury.
I think you said “Thank eww.”
I turned the card, acknowledging its presence in my hand with a vague nod. No business was listed. Just his name and phone number with an inspirational phrase: Create your next opportunity.
There was a splash of relief as I realized I might not be pinned down with a direct invitation.
But while hovering near my bagged groceries (which I suddenly remembered I should have been placing into my shopping cart) Mr. Double-Take had at this point completely lost his own place in line, his cart pushed aside and his items now at risk for restocking. And now the only scanner beeps were coming from adjacent checkout lines. Crap. Walmart was waiting, and I was holding up the line. My eyes darted to the cashier who was shrugging apologetically at the lady behind me. I quickly handed the clerk my credit card and tried to give an equally remorseful smile to the lady behind me, but she wasn’t having it. She lifted her arm and glared at her watch without reading the time. Mortified, I turned to sign the sales slip. Thankfully, my admirer could read this social cue.
“Talk to you later. Gotta go!” he chirped. He waved as he rescued his cart.
“Thanks!” My gratitude was sincere.
I rolled to the exit, still holding the card; resisting a convenient trashcan on the off chance that Mr. Double-Take was a Triple-Take kind of guy.
So this is how it works. This is how one meets people at a grocery store. He had a carpe diem moment while checking freshness dates. One of those “what can it hurt; I’ll never see her again anyway” opportunities, I guess?
I scurried through the early November chill to my car, rewinding the exchange for a replay on the way home from the grocery. It felt like a beginning and an ending all on the same page.
But never again came about two months later from across the bananas of yet another grocery store. It was the six-o’clock, prime time for singles hour, and we each had a flash of recognition.
“Oh! I know you!” he mouthed, sucking his lips into that almost-smile I remembered all too well as he edged his cart closer.
“How are you?” I blurted insincerely, waving my shopping list to indicate my dire need for foodstuff before heading directly to dairy, leaving him beside a pile of unripe bananas.
Disturbing. I tried to admire his gutsy gusto, but segued rather quickly into feeling vaguely uncomfortable and edgy as I browsed the shredded cheese selection.
It depressed me to think that my future relationship options might depend directly upon where I buy my produce.
Thriftiness is my virtue. Could I actually date a guy I meet over a bargain bin? And my dating checklist would definitely include fit over flabby. Will I have to choose a store near the gym over one with good tomatoes? Not a fair choice. In fact, why choose at all?
I tossed a twelve-ounce bag of sharp cheddar into my cart and headed for checkout.
From “Pickup in Aisle Twelve”
© 2012 Heather Dugan All Rights Reserved.
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