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Second Place Isn't So Bad
Two elderly gentlemen stood on the walk near the front door of Super One Foods, in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The ornery look on both their faces told me I should slow down and do a little eavesdropping. Maybe, I would learn something today.
The man headed in was pushing two small shopping carts; one carrying his green re-usable grocery bag. He was wearing a green plaid long sleeve shirt, buttoned all the way to the top and tucked into his perfectly pressed blue jeans. A handsome fellow, he sported a grey tweed Gatsby cap.
The other man, heading out, was wearing khaki pants with tennis shoes, a faded Minnesota Vikings windbreaker, zipped all the way up, and a worn tan fedora.
“I don’t know why everyone thinks I’m 98.” said the man wearing his team’s logo, “I’m only 91 - born in 1927.” He explained. The second man, in the plaid shirt, said, “It’s because you’re just an old bag of dust. That’s why they think you’re 98.” They shared a good laugh together.
“What about you? Aren’t you the same age as me?” Asked the man in purple and gold, of his friend. Defending his youthful age, the second man replied, “Heck no, I’m not nearly that old! I’m only 89.” The first man laughed, “Well, what are you talking about? You’re just an old bag of dust yourself!” The men shared another hearty laugh, followed by a series of dry coughs.
“Well, I gotta go.” Said the first man, explaining, “My boy already went to the car. These kids just ain’t got the energy our generation has.” I smiled thinking to myself, “If he’s 91, his boy is probably 70 or so.” They said their farewells. The first man shuffled off toward the parking lot.
I stepped ahead of the second man with the green plaid shirt, who was going into the store. I waved my hand for the sensor and the big panes of glass glided off to their respective sides. “Here, allow me to get the door for you.” I said, motioning for him to go before me.
“You’re just like me.” The man chuckled, “I always offer to get the door, too, but I only do it for the ladies!” We shared a good laugh. “Well, you seem like quite the gentleman.” I said, adding, “I’ll bet the ladies really go for you.” “Yes, they do.” He said, laughing, then asked, “So you like boys, huh?” He began roaring with laughter as he pushed his carts into the vestibule with a bit of a spring in his step. It didn’t seem he was going to give me time to reply.
I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when he said that, as the beverage surely would have come through my nose! It took me a moment to join him in laughter as I followed him inside.
“Here. You want a basket?” He asked, pushing one my way. “I always bring in two from the parking lot.” He explained, “One for me and one to help the kid that has to bring them all in.”
I took the cart and thanked him, then, pushing the small cart with the rest, I pulled out a big one. The man stood, watching as I did this. “A big cart? So you’re married, eh?” He said, laughing as he headed inside the store.
Later, when I told my wife this story she said, “You should have told him, ‘Yes, I’m married. His name is George, but I never let my husband do the shopping.”’ That made me laugh. Normally, I would have had such come back, but I was caught off guard by his original question. I’ve never been asked if I liked boys, let alone by a man of his age.
Inside, I made my way down aisle five, looking for lasagna noodles. There was a young couple with two kids in a racecar shopping cart and a third pushing his own miniature cart. They were standing in front of the pasta sauce in this same aisle.
The oldest kid was reaching for a jar at eye level on the second shelf. “Not that one. Get two from the bottom, honey.” His mom said, pointing to the spaghetti sauce on the bottom shelf. The kid did exactly as he was told.
While mom looked at something behind her, he grabbed the very bottom jar; the jars stacked on top of it tumbled to the floor. Then he went for a second jar from the bottom, knocking down even more jars! In all, two jars of sauce were in his cart, while seven jars rolled freely about the aisle.
His dad started to scold him, “Pick them up!” He demanded in a cross voice, but made no effort to help the kid. I retrieved two of the jars that came my way. I handed them to the boy who was on his knees gathering the others. “Here you go, partner.” I said to him. He took the jars one at a time. Looking down toward the floor, in a soft, ashamed voice he replied, “Thank you.” “It’s okay,” I said to reassure him, “There’s no harm done. None of them broke.”
I smiled at his dad and asked, “When did they start putting Paul Newman spaghetti sauce in a plastic jar?” The dad grumbled something. Obviously, he didn’t want to be at the store. I said, “If this is the worst thing that happens to you today, then you’ve had a pretty good day, friend!” He gave me a less than pleasant grin and said, “Yeah, right.” I moved on down the aisle, thinking to myself, “What a jerk.”
Several items later I was in the main aisle that runs down the middle of the store, perpendicular to the grocery aisles. An older lady was looking over the display of specially priced cereals. I grabbed a box of Cheerios, placing it in my cart. Nodding toward her smaller grocery cart, I asked, “Do you want to race that thing?” She scowled at me and replied, “Don’t be a smart aleck!”
I smiled at her and wheeled my way back toward the dairy section. I needed sour cream - and speaking of sour, how about her attitude, huh? I began wondering if some place in the store there was a kiosk where they were handing out free samples of grouch biscuits!
I grabbed my dairy goods and headed for the checkouts. Oops, I forgot to get bananas and strawberries.
Back in the produce section, I again came across the little boy and his family. They were by the bananas. I was standing by the strawberries. With a small bunch of bananas in his cart, the grumpy dad said to the boy, “We need more bananas than that.” The kid grabbed a few more small bunches of bananas, two or three in each, placing them one at a time in his little cart, until the dad complained, “Why didn’t you just get one big bunch instead of all those little ones?” The kid reached for a larger bunch, and the dad snapped, “Put those back. You don’t need any more.”
I thought if I could get the dad to smile, maybe he’d lighten up on the kid. “You never want to put all your eggs in one basket.” I said, then offered, “So, it’s probably safer not to keep all your bananas in one bunch.” The dad didn’t say anything, but gave me another look of distaste. I smiled, put my strawberries in my cart and moved on.
I clearly wasn’t going to make him smile - not today anyway. I guess some people just want to be miserable, but did he have to spread his misery to the young boy?
Walking down the center aisle toward the checkout lanes, I passed the man in the green plaid shirt. He no longer had his cart, instead he was carrying a basket with just a few items, and his green reusable grocery bag.
“Where’d your cart go?” I asked him. “Well, I guess I didn’t need as much as I thought, so I traded the cart for a basket.” He said. I grinned, “Did your date for tonight cancel?” “No,” he chuckled, “She’s taking me out for dinner and she’s buying.” He replied. We shared a good laugh, then each went our separate ways. He one-upped me again!
I paid for, and bagged, my goods, then placed the full sacks in my cart. I pushed it out to my car and loaded the bags into the back seat. While returning my cart to the corral, I saw the lady from the cereal display walking out the front doors. I thought about saying something to her, but felt it may be better if she was left alone. It’s like poking a hornet’s nest and getting away with it - you’d best not give it another poke. I kept quiet and returned to my car.
She passed me while I was backing out of my parking space. I pulled forward a bit until she was right alongside my car. I couldn’t resist. I lowered my passenger side window to challenge her, “I’ll race you to your car!” She gave me a scowling look and kept walking.
Just ahead, a van was backing out from his parking space. It was one of those big Ford Transit vans with the high top, extra long, and no back windows at all. Assuming he could see me, I stopped to let him out.
Behind the van on the opposite side of the lane, was a full-size, four door Dodge dually pickup with a long bed. He was parked at an angle, taking two spaces and his rear end was still sticking out from his space. The van was so long the driver had to do some maneuvering and wiggling to get out.
I didn’t see where the older gal went; she must have passed behind the van with her cart. She was standing with a now empty grocery cart at the end of a Buick waiting to greet me. She positioned her thumbs on each side of her head, with her fingers all stretched out. I looked at her; I was puzzled wondering, “Is she giving me...she is! She’s giving me moose antlers!” I started laughing out loud!
As I passed her, she scrunched up her face, stuck out her tongue, and went, “pftttthhhh!” while wiggling her fingers. She won the race fair and square. I conceded, giving her a couple congratulatory toots on the horn and waving with approval. Well played, ma’am. Very well played!
Pulling onto the street from the parking lot, I zipped up to the intersection hitting the light’s green! “This has been a good day!” I said, turning left onto Highway 61, heading for home.
I thought about the two gentlemen, the little boy and his dad, and the lady. The man in the plaid shirt outwitted me. I wasn’t going to break the dad’s foul mood, and the lady beat me in a race when she was on foot, and I was driving my car.
As I came to the last intersection in Two Harbors, I smiled, rolling through the green light. I may not have won a single match today, but I did hit all the lights green going through town - and second place isn’t so bad!
“Darn it.” I said aloud. “I was standing right there...I got the strawberries, but forgot to put bananas in my cart.” Oh well. Now I have a reason to go back to the grocery store tomorrow.
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