There is a time and place for everything.
At the pet store, for example.
Feeding Ivan, our pet tarantula, means having to go to the pet store – a place that reminds me of a kind of low-grade zoo/high-end furniture store – every two weeks or so to buy 6 individual live crickets.
It is not a lot. It’s something like $0.90 dropped into the bucket of a ba-zillion dollar industry.
I know what to do and say at the pet store to get my paltry 6 crickets as quickly as possible so I can get out of there as quickly as possible, and get on with my life:
1. Go directly to the register.
2. Repeat the line:
“Do you sell individual live crickets? I only need six, but I’ll pay for the dozen.”
Pet stores almost always only sell live crickets by the dozen. The clerks are usually quite helpful and sometimes won’t even charge for the full dozen.
But the clerk at this particular store seemed to have fallen off the back of something…
- A truck
- An after school special
- The last immediate century
…And right in front of my existence.
He refused to look up, his hands fumbling under the counter at something that I will imagine as not the crotch of his pants. He sighed heavily at the question and answered, all the while fumbling like it was the best thing since sliced bread and there was no tomorrow and like his life depended on it.
“Yeah,” he said, jutting a jiggling elbow to the back of the store, “just go to the back and ask the brown guy.”
Go to the back and ask the brown guy.
He said it like he said it all the time, everyday. He said that like it was the everyday, said like it wouldn’t leave me standing there, forgetting totally my mission to get out of the pet store as fast as I could and on with the rest of my life.
I stood there, not knowing how to react, something like a ba-zillion responses flashing in my mind. I stood there for so long he stopped fumbling.
We made eye contact.
And something clicked.
For both of us.
“MIIIIIIKE! Go ask Mike!”
Go ask Mike.
Who got me the crickets, all six, but charged me for the dozen.
When I returned to the register to pay, the clerk had disappeared – two bubbly teens working in his place now – had disappeared like some racist mirage. A false blip on an otherwise limitless horizon where people can congratulate themselves for voting Obama.
The Black President.
But as I left, crickets in hand, I saw him again.
In front of me, again, sitting in the food court.
Eating kettle chips.
As real as anything.