Judy and I took a road trip to visit her brother, who lives in the “cradle of civilization,” Staten Island, New York. Staten Island is a classic place, and worth visiting if you miss the 1980s.
Anyway, on our way home, I decided to stop at my mother’s house. Shortly after we arrived, the skies darkened, winds turned the leaves on trees, and a bizarre light suffused the area. In a matter of minutes, the power was out and we were in the basement rummaging for candles.
The trip had made me feel very in touch with my mortality. Perhaps it was because we hadn’t seen Judy’s brother in a while and his hairline had receded. Perhaps it was because when we sat down to play Risk we found tallies of games played years ago. I don’t know exactly. But for whatever reason, I had this feeling that my daughters were growing quickly, and that people I love were getting old while I wasn’t paying attention.
I noticed the eroding power of time.
And on another level, thoughts of my own mortality paid me a visit as I lay in my brother in law’s bed with Judy, unable to sleep at 2am. The bedroom window was cracked, and sitting on a concrete wall in front of the house, a girl spoke on her phone.
“He will be WASHED. I’m gonna WASH his ass!” (Pause) “BITCH, I already been in jail so don’t think I fucking care. He’s gonna git WASHED.”
I crept over to the window holding my breath, and looked down. She shone yellow under the streetlight, her back to the house, hand waving in the night, alone. I was waiting for a gunshot. I was hoping her mother would come, find her, tell her everything was temporary, and give her a hug or something. She’d find another man. One she didn’t want to murder.
So the thing is, once the power went out at my mom’s house, the vague feelings of threat that had built up in me during our visit to Staten Island, conspired and gave me the urge to “stock up” on supplies.
To get stuff.
And so 15 minutes later, my mom was flashing her “membership card” at some 90 year-old security guy, and Judy and I were strolling into a Costco.
Now, I’m a very cultured guy, but I’ve never been in a Costco.
After a few minutes of walking around aisles wide enough to allow the easy passage of very obese people and wondering if we really needed 28 glue sticks, I started thinking about the middle of America. I thought about the Iowa caucus.
“Rick Fucking Santorum. Sheesh.” I grabbed a sleeve of 36 D-size batteries and threw it into our cart. “I bet my immigrant Italian ancestors were nothing like his immigrant Italian ancestors.” I said aloud to no one in particular, “Who the hell has seven kids in this day and age? God Bless him though…”
An old woman who was eyeing a huge box of discounted Christmas lights heard me. She said, “God Bless” and tottered by.
I looked at Judy, my waifish yoga wife, and compared her to a 300-pound woman riding around in one of those electric wheelchairs. I thought of three Judys in one big “Judy body” while I reached for a Red Cross Emergency Kit. “Maybe Judy needs to gain a little weight,” I thought to myself. I threw a 3 million candle spotlight into our cart.
A mom and her son, both huge, were looking at bags of chips.
“Those bags are bigger than the other ones we got,” the son said while giggling.
The mom giggled back at him. They stood there like that, in front of the chips, shoulders shaking, necks all loose, laughing. I walked by them and picked up 1000 feet of aluminum foil.
“I can’t believe Weisenthal thought Michelle Bachmann’s eyelashes were real” I thought. “Damned Krugmanite should stick to FRED charts.”
I spent a long time contemplating a generator before Judy pulled me away. I listened to a salesman talking to an old guy about Tums.
“If you have a few people in your family taking these,” he explained slowly in a serious tone, “buying in this quantity is a very economical way to go.”
The old guy nodded thoughtfully, and added the gallon-sized tub of Tums to his cart.
All around me, different people were having different conversations but the words I heard were the same… “big,” “bigger,” and “biggest.” An 87 year old woman wearing a Costco visor was handing out free samples of grape juice.
“Where could I find the green tea?” I asked.
“Aisle 32,148,” she said, as she continued to pour the juice into tiny plastic cups.
She didn’t even look up. She was like an 87 year old robot, lifting the plastic cup from the stack, placing it on the counter, and then filling it with purple… over and over. I felt a pang of sympathy for her and remembered how it used to be when old people retired.
“But hey,” I thought. “She probably had credit card debt, and should be happy Costco gave her the opportunity to pay it off.”
Behind me, a lady was struggling to carry a huge bag of red meat. She was grunting as she lugged it toward her double-size shopping cart. I imagined her, as a cavewoman or something, trying to drag a dead boar to her fire. She was hunting here, at Costco.
Other people were pawing over discounted books. One large woman was reading the back cover of a book about the South Beach diet and another, equally large woman, came over and told her that it changed her life.
Men were buying quantities of meat, and cases of beer. They wore sports jerseys and Nascar caps. The mood was light. The people were happy. They were filling their carts. They were getting good deals on big stuff.
What more was there?
We got to the checkout and I realized, in a panic, that there was no way we could fit this stuff into my small car. I worried about this, out loud, to my mother. A man in the next checkout lane overheard our conversation.
“Oh, you find ways to fit it all in. You always do,” he said. Lightheartedly, he laughed, and I felt like I was a member of some new club.
This man was my brother. He spoke in open-ended terms, he sounded wise. He too had found it difficult to fit the absurdly large quantities of stuff into his car, but he had managed. I would manage too. I could consume. There was no reason to worry.
I laughed with him. “Oh, I’ll fit it in! Ha! Ha! Ha!” I thought about purchasing a larger car.
We exited Costco through automatic sliding doors and I looked out over the vast parking lot towards where the horizon should be (instead there was a BestBuy or something). A funnel cloud descended, slowly and silently from the close black sky.
I thought the coincidence of my first Costco trip coinciding with my first funnel cloud was just too much.
The hulking warehouse. The parking lot. The cloud. Death.
It made me feel American.
But at the same time, I lost a little faith in my purchases.
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