Monday, March 25, 2013

COLUMN: Old Lady Fight

I don't know about you, but I had a pretty decent holiday season. After a relaxing Christmas with the family and a joyous New Year spent among friends, I faced 2013 with renewed optimism. With so many warm fuzzies in my heart, I wondered how long it would take for the idiocy of life to crush my soul and bring me back down to cynical reality.

I now have my answer: 13 days. That's how long it took in 2013 for a little old lady to try and beat me up.

Have you guys ever heard of the new age notion of spiritual vortices? Some people believe that the earth is covered in ley lines that zip spiritual energy from hither to thither. Occasionally these ley lines converge in random spots across the globe, and this supposedly causes a spiritual hot spot where you can recharge your creative chakras or whatever. Of course, these are the same folks that sleep with crystals over their beds and somehow find the music of Yanni appealing.

I dunno if I buy into spiritual vortices, but I'm a firm believer in the notion of comical vortices: random places on Earth where funny weird stuff is just bound to happen. I've spoken at length in older columns about one such vortex: the Taco Bell drive-thru lane. In that tiny slice of real estate, I've had strangers sing to me, witnessed people strip naked, debated politics with restaurant workers, you name it. And now I can add another such vortex to my life: the interior of pretty much any Walgreens.

This is not a slight against either business. I'm a fan of both. If you ever wanted to meet me in real life, you stand a better chance by loitering at Walgreens than you would the front door of the Dispatch office. Anything you need in life can be found at Walgreens, and if you CAN'T find it at Walgreens, you don't need it. The fact that it's a breeding ground for comedy is just a bonus, really. Walgreens can't deny its inherent comical value -- this is, after all, a place that unabashedly sold a stuffed duck in a Santa hat that, for no good reason whatsoever, sings "Freebird" when you push its foot.

I shop at Walgreens so often that I'm even starting to understand the employee codes that get announced over the intercom. Have you ever been inside a Walgreens and heard "I.C.3"? This, apparantly, is Walgreens code to open a second checkout register. I believe it literally translates to "I see 3"-people-waiting-in-line. And it was in one of those lines that our story begins.

I had dashed into my local Walgreens to grab a bag of cat food. With precious little time to get to a meeting, I hustled down the aisle, grabbed the Cat Chow with grace and precision, spun towards the registers, rounded the corner, and... let's just say someone should have called an "I.C. 8."

The line was epic, all due to a woman with a shopping cart full of after-season Christmas-themed stuffed critters. They were half-off and she was clearly stocking up for one heck of a "Freebird" jam session. Worse yet, none of the things were ringing up right, and I could see the poor cashier on the verge of a nervous collapse when she finally grabbed the mic and yelled, "I.C. 3!"

Within a flash, the second register was open and we were moving. The single-file line remained single-file until you got to the registers, where folks were splitting off to whichever cashier was open.After a nearly interminable wait, I was next in line when I suddenly felt a hard jab at my side as a scowling, hunch-backed, grey-haired little old lady shoved me out of the way and guided her cart up to the second register.

"Excuse me," I said incredulously. That's when she spun.

"WHAT did you say to me, BOY?" she barked.

"Umm," I said to a few chuckles behind me. "I said 'Excuse me.' I may have accidentally bumped you while you were cutting past all of us in line just now." That's when she started screaming.


But I didn't care about her words as much as her HAND, which she held up and cocked back as if she was seconds away from slapping me.

"No, ma'am," I said, "I'm NOT disrespecting you, but you'd better put that hand down."

I expected some backup from the folks behind me in line. Instead, I only heard ONE thing from behind me: a single hushed voice going, "Ooooh." The kind of "ooooh" I don't think I'd heard since junior high. The kind of "ooooh" that's usually only followed by ONE word: "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

Now, as best I can recall, I've only been in a situation like this TWICE in my life, and neither time was my adversary collecting Social Security. In grade school, little Robbie McElroy pushed me into the dirt afterschool. I had no response to that, because my mom saw the whole thing and was out of the car yelling at poor Robbie before I even knew what had happened. Another time, in college, my roommate got fed up by my procrastination in dishwashing duties and chucked a bottle of Palmolive at my head. I had no response to that, either, mostly because I deserved it.

And that right there is my entire lifetime history at hand-to-hand combat. Nowhere in there was any experience, training, or advice on how to properly conduct a slap-fight with an 80-year-old woman. You know how they say there's no such thing as bad press? In THIS case, I would beg to differ. "BELOVED LOCAL COLUMNIST ARRESTED FOR ELDERLY ABUSE" is not what I meant by wanting to advance my profile in the newspaper.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that. A fast-thinking Walgreens clerk stepped in and guided the old lady away before I had a chance to properly knock her dentures out. As if I would. Or, heck, even could. Between my physical prowess and years of training, I've got the agility of Ed Asner and the machismo of Richard Simmons, so an 80-year-old lady might have been a fair fight. Even I had to laugh at myself for cautiously checking out the parking lot in fear that she'd be lying in wait for a street-rules grudge match.

I just hope she was having a REALLY bad day, because I'd hate to think this poor sweet-looking old lady goes through life a hair-trigger away from slapping strangers. Still, it infuriated me to think that someone could be SO rude as to blatantly shove through a line of people and THEN become indignant when someone calls her out.

So I'll admit it -- at that moment, a tiny part of my brain spent a tiny amount of time being a tiny part entertained by the fantasy of decking a little old lady flat on her little old hunched back. And that, my friends, is the precise moment when you realize you've just run out of warm fuzzies, renewed optimism, and holiday spirit. December can't get here fast enough.

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