This story starts with a fire at Sharkey’s apartment complex on Tuesday afternoon and ends here, in this newly tidy corner of my BandAid Pink bathroom. Isn’t the tile ghastly? It is! However it looks on your monitor, it’s ten times worse in real life, where I gaze upon with my real eyes. Ew!
Sharkey: The apartment two doors down and up a floor caught fire yesterday.
Tata: Get out! What happened?
Sharkey: Well, the management turned off the gas so nothing else would blow up. Can I use your shower?
Tata: Of course, dahhhhlink. But…um…
Tata: It’s strictly BYO Rubber Duckie.
About forty-five minutes later, Sharkey opens the bathroom door as the kittens, parked at threshold and mad with curiosity, do a double-take. They see me on the couch, so who’s that guy? They’re not the only ones with questions.
Sharkey: Woman! What the hell’s going on in your shower? Do you use all those things?
Tata: Damn right, I do. I’m middle-aged. I schedule Daily Slathering Time, without which I’d look like Tut’s mother.
Tata: If they don’t turn the gas back on tomorrow, pick up my keys at the store and shower again.
Sharkey: Danke schon.
Thursday, I was helping a customer at the family store when Sharkey appeared, borrowed my keys and went off to ablut. He returned just before closing time, smelling better, though Sharkey always smells pretty good. We have this in common: smelling good is our hobby and we take every opportunity to practice it. It’s practically a public service.
Sharkey: I knocked over all the bottles when I scared the cats.
Tata: That mental image has too many verbs.
Sharkey: Consider setting up a Hydration Buffet in your living room.
Tata: Know how folks hollow out Bibles to hide guns? My Bibles hide firming lotion.
Friday, Siobhan, whose father has been in the local ICU since Tuesday and whose sister is getting married in three weeks, emailed plaintively.
Tata: What’s in it for me?
Siobhan: I need help with an errand.
Previously on Poor Impulse Control, Siobhan almost died in February and since then can only walk a little way before things get dicey. I checked the tags in my underwear and remembered Siobhan carried that person through years of depression.
Tata: Reporting for duty! Where are we going?
Siobhan: Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Tata: Awesome. I have coupons and need stuff from there!
Siobhan: I’ll pick you up at 7:30, you selfish bitch.
Tata: Can’t wait, sweetie!
We go the supersecret back way and Siobhan parks close to the store.
Tata: How big do you want these storage boxes?
Siobhan: Ten of the biggest they have.
Tata: Show me how big.
Siobhan looks at me through her eyebrows. Then holds her hands almost as far apart as they go.
Tata: What shape? Square?
Siobhan: Here’s a whole lot of cash. Get out of my truck.
Tata: If you leave without me I’m keeping the money.
I got a cart and marched merrily through the store’s narrow aisles to the back, where America stops to talk on its cell phone. Hyperventilating, I found a very young store employee and asked the $64,000 question: Got plastic stuff coffins? He led me to a display, where we found a number of giant plastic whatsises insufficient for Siobhan’s needs. Making do, we stacked two large thingamabobs in my cart, and he dragged eight flatter ones to – he said – Register 5. I thanked him and dashed off to find a Euro Style Shower Caddy with at least four more attractive descriptors. Then I doubled back for square glass canisters and found my youthful employee friend, who pointed me to a set that wouldn’t actually solve my problems but would be a good start on solving a few of them. I was quite happy and, after a few accident-enhanced attempts to navigate the tiny aisles, promised to injure myself less on the way out.
In fact, I was overjoyed. I despise shopping but love to leave a store with a project in mind, and it was at the peak of my I Know What To Do! Happiness that I discovered a man on a 12′ ladder and burst out laughing. The man on the ground directing him saw my face and immediately forgot about the man on the ladder. I hope nothing terrible happened to that fellow. The man formerly directing traffic 12′ up – or as Siobhan later read off his nametag “Paul” – directed me to Register 5 and led the way. My eight storage containers rested atop a 3′ x 4′ x 3′ laundry dolly and we dragged them to a register with a teenaged cashier. I liked this boy immediately. He was a little odd looking but cheerful. By now, everyone within the blast zone of my laughter and two-cart container parade was smiling.
Tata: This and these are for my girlfriend. She’s waiting in the car and cursing my ancestors. These and this are for me. I have coupons. Isn’t this exciting?
Harry: So…separate orders?
Tata: You’re adorable! Thank you so!
At this moment, I could swear “Paul” turned on his heel jealously, but said, “Don’t leave. I’ll be right back to help you take all this to your car.” I stared after him briefly but smiled at Harry and gave him my undivided attention. Perhaps I was the first person all day to look him in the eye and listen to every word, but absent-minded customers plainly missed out. With a wicked gleam in his eye, he grabbed his price gun and twisted himself over and under a counter and a display. I never took my eyes off him and don’t know how his bones didn’t shatter. I handed him Siobhan’s vast cash stores, and we moved on to my pile of problem-solving purchases. By now, even the other customers inconvenienced by the size of my stuff watched with amusement, especially when, not seeing “Paul”, I pushed two carts from Harry’s register without any of my own bags. As a traveling attractive nuisance, I could have waved debutante-style and thanked my director to amuse everyone within earshot. Harry chased me the ten feet, calling the name he’d read off my credit card. Several cashiers between us said, “I’ll help!” “Can I help with that?” before “Paul” reappeared and took the laundry cart behind me. By now, I was saying, “Just a person…just a person, leaving…” as I pushed the cart out the door and turned around to see “Paul” staring as he asked in slow motion, “Where’s your car?” I turned back to my cart, sailing off through mall traffic into the parking lot. I skipped off after it and caught it halfway to Siobhan’s truck. Somehow, the laughing and chasing didn’t catch her eye. Five feet from the rear bumper, I yodeled, “Siobhan, sweetie, would you please open the door?” The tone, an octive above my usual, alerted her to the presence of a stranger.
Tata: Thank you so much for helping us!
“Paul”: There’s no room in your truck for the containers.
Siobhan: I was taking a call and expected the shopping to take longer.
Tata: Stand back, “Paul”. We’re professionals.
Siobhan grabbed a messy pile of shipping boxes from the back of her truck and tossed it on the ground. She and “Paul” negotiated the stacking of empty plastic hoositses in the back while I stuffed my bags into the passenger seat legroom because I easily fold in thirds. “Paul” took the laundry cart and headed back to the store. We smiled and waved as he walked the forty feet to the sliding door. I grabbed the pile of cardboard off the ground and a knife and we resorted to the PeeWee Herman voices.
Tata: Hey, Boxy! What would you like to do today?
Siobhan: (Tearing tape and folding) I’d like to lie down!
This morning, I assembled the shower caddy in only one Jonathan Richman Album Time Unit and thought of Georg as I used all my wits and freakish upper body strength to install it. Georg can do absolutely anything. I’ve seen that, and the travails of the week may have been just a bit too much. So when I found myself stymied by the geometry of getting a lengthy pressure rod past a dangling disco ball and a bank of cat boxes, I asked “What would Georg do?”
I hope Georg might do this, though I’m sure she would have replaced that tile.