Tom Spader / August 2015
"Diapers, bread, milk, Tampax. Diapers, bread, milk, Tampax...," the rhythm of the list danced in Kyle’s head as he walked towards the all night food store. "Why was it that we always ran out of diapers in the middle of the night?" he wondered, his hands dug deep into his coat pockets against the cold "Or during a storm. Or both, like now, two o’clock in the morning and snowing hard. And why was there always the while-you’re-there” items thrown in at the last minute?"
Trudging along through the two inches of fresh snow, Kyle looked up as he approached the store. Swirling icy flakes were picking up the different colors from the glaring advertising lights on the store front giving the night a surreal Christmassy look.
The snow seemed to move in slow motion sending mini white tornadoes swirling around a young couple who were sitting on a bench outside the store’s automatic doors. It was falling with such intensity that the girl, sitting very still, was nearly covered in a fine layer of white. The only places on her that the snow had not yet masked were her face, which was shielded by the greasy brim of the store’s blue ball cap and her right hand as it brought a cigarette to her lips from where she held it between her legs under the bench away from the weather. Her face looked pale. Her eyes were wide as if straining to comprehend some intense information coming from the guy.
As Kyle neared, the guy stood up and began waving his arms to emphasize his words. His overly animated gestures and constant motion had him almost snow free. The dark skin of his face melted each flake as soon as it touched, sending small wet streaks down into the open collar of his LA Raiders team jacket. His hair was styled with four inch dreadlocks, bleached light brown at the tips, that flew from side to side throwing drops of melted snow in all directions with each point he made. His conversation was intense and his audience, although looking near frozen, was glued to his performance.
Kyle watched the couple from a distance. As the girl took another drag from her cigarette, Kyle ducked into the protection of street-side bus stop and lit one of his own. He looked toward them, then away and then at them again. He pulled hard on his cigarette and exhaled through is mouth and nose and they disappeared in a wash of smoke and winter breath.
Kyle could not hear what the guy was saying, but the expression on the girls face said it was not good. No, good news would have been shared inside the store or at least near the doors, near the wall of vending machines and colored lights. Good news could definitely be shared in a setting of gumballs and key chains and temporary tattoos, but bad news always needed to be shared outside. The weather seemed cruelly fitting.
The stunned look on her face and the back and forth almost robot-like motion of her one dry hand bringing the cigarette to her quivering lips told the direction of the conversation. The guy’s face was tense, direct and his body was in constant motion.
Kyle paused the scene as he took one last drag and flicked the half smoked butt away into the street and moved towards them. The girl looked relieved and the guy, although quieted by interruption, never stopped moving.
He made eye contact with the guy first and then the girl. The guy had himself so wrapped up in his speech that his eyes darted first at Kyle, then at the girl, the store, the lights, then side to side. His eyes were black and piercing. Although his conversation had lost its cadence, his body moved like a boxer before a fight, weaving from the waist back and forth, his arms failing in short jabs, fingers clenched, then extended as he kept his rhythm waiting for Kyle to pass.
The girl, on the other hand, sat very still and looked on the verge of tears. She looked up in Kyle’s direction and he smiled in awkward apology for the interruption. Her eyes met his, but her focus was somewhere far beyond where Kyle was standing, far beyond anywhere. The blankness of her watery stare was almost eerie and he quickly looked away.
Diapers, bread, milk ... Diapers, bread, milk and ... his next step found a puddle of slush that confirmed that he had misjudged the depth of the snow when he opted for his sneakers instead of his boots. “What next", he said under his breath as he passed the couple. Kyle stepped on the automatic doormat, swinging the doors open. He heard the guy start into his rant again. He couldn’t help but strain his ears to hear.
"Yo, that's where I'm at see,” he said. " I told you from the start. I got things going on... I don’t need this right now. Yo, I told you!"
Kyle took a quick look over his shoulder to see the guy’s arms going back and forth in motions that would have made the promoters of MTV proud knowing that their product had graced this scene. The girl was glued to him while fighting the wind to light another cigarette. Kyle turned the corner into the store. The door closed drawing a curtain on the play outside.
"Bread, diapers, milk and ... what else," he whispered to himself. "There was one other ... oh yeah, Tampax ... great."
The store was empty of customers, but there was a flurry of activity as the night crew was busy stocking the shelves. If the snow kept up its pace, there would be an early rush of heartier souls braving the elements to pick up the things they would need and much they didn’t for another snowy weekend. He knew that the city was probably in winter-storm mode last night. The store would have been packed with people buying everything they thought they might remotely need for the next few days. It seemed that the vision of being snowed in would immediately surface the need for two or three times the normal groceries. If it was going to snow, better pick up two gallons of milk instead of the usual one, a box of Twinkies, some Draino and a new toothbrush.
Kyle had only been in this store once before. The store closer to their apartment was not a 24 hour and tempting fate with a diaper-less one year old did not seem like a good idea.
Kyle’s slush filled shoe reminded him of his footwear choice as it let out a wet squishing sound with each step as he made his way down the fresh produce isle. He was in the fruits and vegetable section, not because he needed anything from there, but just because it was the first isle. At two in the morning it was easier to travel up and down each isle and let the things he needed find him.
Milk was dairy and bread was ... well, bread. But, diapers ... were they grouped with the toilet paper under the paper goods overhead sign or would they be with the baby food? Surely, they weren’t food, but in a baby's short digestive process they weren’t very far apart. There wasn’t a sign stating All Things Baby. It turned out that they were not in the paper goods isle with all other people’s toilet needs or near the baby foods ... although everything else for a baby was. The store's inventory plan had them over the frozen food cases, where they were out of reach to anyone under six foot ... as if the genetic pool of shorter couples was less fertile than those of the taller ones.
He grabbed the milk and bread and briefly contemplated the location of the Tampax. Were they paper goods? Were they all things woman? It turns out they were grouped in with the hair care products ... dyes, bleach, colors, highlighters, combs and brushes.
With the double pack of extra absorbent Pampers under his arm and the forty count box of super absorbent Tampax in his hand he smiled at a mental image of accidentally dropping the shopping bag in the parking lot and as the bags tore open and the diapers and tampons spilled out into the snow all the water piling up outside would instantly be sucked up into a giant heap of chemical gel and tape and balloon-sized cotton tubes with strings and flushable applicators leaving the parking lot dry as a bone. Such were the places his mind went at two o'clock on a snowy morning.
The fun of Kyle’s last thought soon faded as he approached the checkout isle. There was only one checkout register open at this hour and it was being operated by a very attractive young girl with a wild mane of dyed fire red hair. She wore a standard issue store staff shirt that was at least two sizes too small, straining each button across her chest. She was snapping her chewing gum and had her face glued to the most recent issue of People Magazine as she waited to wait.
"Why her?" Kyle thought. He always hated buying things like tampons. He hated the process even more when there was a young girl at the check out ... and even worse when she was young and attractive. Why couldn’t she be old and gray or one of the rare guys that worked the checkout? No, tonight it had to be her. He felt uncomfortable. He couldn’t understand why. He imagined, no, he knew, that she used these things ... unless she was in a constant state of pregnancy. She probably even used the same brand, but it still made him feel ... less masculine.
He was still half way down the Tampax isle when he came across something that would make the whole process much more pleasant. Condoms.
Condoms ... two feet away from the Tampax. He smiled to himself at the similar use of the two products, but the humor was fleeting.
"This was perfect," he thought. He would buy a pack of condoms and that would definitely send out the message that yes, indeed, he was having sex. Oh sure, he was out in a snow storm at two in the morning buying diapers and tampons, but he was still man enough to need a pack, no a box, of condoms. In his mind it made him seem much more manly and virile in front of the girl at the checkout when he threw the box of tampons down along with a box of super lubricated, ribbed for her pleasure, extra strong condoms. He picked the 40-pack.
In the few minutes it took him to decide on the size and style of the condoms and make his way into the checkout isle, he hadn’t noticed that the girl that was causing him all the trouble had gone on break and was replaced by a heavy set woman in her mid-sixties, with graying hair and heavy thick glasses. This was even worse than the tampon girl. He could have easily bought the Tampax from the older woman, but now to purchase the econo box of condoms, super lubricated and ribbed for her pleasure from a woman his mother’s age had him clumsy with embarrassment.
As the graying woman plugged in her numbers and fumbled with the new cash drawer, Kyle stared down at his items sitting on the black conveyer belt. The sudden movement of the surface placed the golden box of condoms, with the picture of an embracing couple, to within an inch from her sizable hip. Her name tag read, Florence - Ask Me - I Want to Help.
The thing that was supposed to make him seem cool and sexy to the buxom redhead now revealed him as dirty and repulsive. He tried to rationalize that Florence probably had some of these at home in the drawer near the bed. She probably called them Rubbers... a throw back to the wars years. None of these thoughts helped. He was the depraved degenerate that could only think of having sex ... even in a blizzard. How low. Never mind the diapers and tampons, they became invisible next to a box of forty condoms.
Kyle tried to gather his thoughts and prepared to think of something clever to say.
Florence slowly rung up four of his five items with the condoms being last. Kyle reached for his wallet while he scanned the store for the girl with the red hair, the sale prices ... anything. He looked down to see her ringless left hand pick up the box. She paused and turned the box over once, then again, slowly as if reading everything except the price. He felt his throat tighten.
Florence said something that snapped Kyle back to the moment. She was holding the box in a gesture of what Kyle took as disgust. Kyle didn’t hear what she said and swallowed hard, fearing the worst, said, “Excuse me.”
A broad smile spread across the lines of her face, “These are my favorite, Honey. I just love those little ribs...” she said with a wink and a mischievous smile. Kyle, feeling faint, dropped his wallet. The woman smiled. Her eyes unglued him to his very core. He regained his composure enough to pay, gathered the bags and quickly made for the door.
The snow was still coming down. Kyle saw the young check out girl, her red hair glowing under the harsh neon lights and snow. She was bending over talking to the girl on the bench brushing the snow from her. The red haired girl said, “Come back inside. You’re going to freeze out here and your break is long over. Forget that asshole. Come on, let’s get back to work,” she said.
With his eyes, Kyle followed a fresh set of footprints in the snow leading away from the bench. Half way down the block, arms still flailing, he saw the guy disappearing into the storm.
The snow-covered girl slowly got to her feet and wiped a tear from her face. She took one last drag from her cigarette and let it drop. In words that were carried in a swirl of smoke said, “Guys suck.”
The red haired girl put her arm around her pulling her close and with a smile said, “Only if you’re lucky girl, only if you’re lucky."
They turned away, triggered the doors and disappeared into the blaze of the store lights.
Observations at the supermarket
A kid's modern history lesson
As seen by me at 8 years old
Labor Day 1973
(Part III of the adventures of Haiku Lou)
Observations/true story while bar tending in Baltimore 1984
The night Nixon quit through my eyes at 15
Chance meeting in a snow covered city park
Observation at the all night mini mart
Adventures of a street poet
Lou and Omba in Washington Square
God's ant-like face shines
Changing roles in a city library
Coming soon ...