I pull into the parking lot of my local grocery store with great trepidation. It’s dark out, it’s very cold, and it’s raining. I have a mental list of what I need to purchase and I’m calculating in my head roughly how much time it would require to do so. My three youngest children are sleeping like cherubs in the back of my van. My freakishly intelligent pre-adolescent is riding shotgun. She’s telling me all about everything she’s learning in school and in her after-school program. I absolutely adore this because I’m painfully aware of the fact that she’s only a year or two away from only speaking to me when she needs something. The problem is that she is conveying this information to me at the approximate rate of an antiques auctioneer on crystal meth. I’m also coming to the harsh realization that I don’t require a Jeff Foxworthy program to convince me that I am NOT smarter than a fifth grader.
As I pull into my parking space I have a myriad of thoughts running through my head. As usual, some of which are making me question my own sanity. I briefly entertained the thought of leaving the kids in the car while I run into the store for my supplies. After all, three of them were asleep, and my 11-year-old is very mature for her age. And at this point in the day, I hadn’t done a whole lot to toss my hat in the ring as a father of the year nominee. I quickly thought better of this for several reasons, not the least of which is that it wouldn’t be a fair position to put my oldest daughter in.
I also remembered at that moment that in the previous 36-hours I had been pulled over by three, count them three, different local police agencies to inform me that I had a headlight out (and one of them was in the middle of the afternoon). Keeping in mind the rigorous duties of beach resort area law enforcement officials in the dead of winter, coupled with my almost comical perpetual string of bad luck, I thought better of it. It stood to reason that one may be patrolling the parking lot.
So I woke three very cranky children and the five of us made our way through the rain and into the store. My quick in and out trip now had the viable potential of escalating into an ordeal. I made my way through the store as quickly as my spawn would allow. In an effort to keep the peace, and what remains of my sanity, as well as to pacify my young companions, I found myself forced to make some previously unsanctioned purchases. Normally I don’t give in quite so easily, but if you’ve been following along through the first 5 episodes of this story, than you are aware that I’m not exactly having a good day.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably in fact only about 12 minutes, we made our way toward the checkout lines. Given the quantity of items in my cart, I was within the acceptable guidelines of using the express lane, but considering the head count and current emotional state of my posse, I opted to use a standard checkout line as a courtesy to my fellow shoppers…a concept that unfortunately was not employed by the lady in front of me in line.
She was adorned in a weathered and badly stained pair of grey sweatpants..the elastic waistband of which was struggling like a full grown water buffalo in quicksand. The bottom portion of this garment came short of covering her cankles by about 5 or 6 inches. The top half of her ill advised ensemble was equally ill fitting. The outfit in its entirety left more undesirably exposed flesh than a nude beach on a senior citizen group retreat to Hedonism. She tipped the scales at a shade under 4 bills. Any other day I might have gagged, but today it was perfectly according to script. The edible contents of her overflowing cart looked as if they were the purchases of a pair of stoned teenage boys. And ironically enough there was not a single hygiene product amongst her purchases. Payment for her gluttonous grocery list entailed a thick stack of coupons (many of which would prove to be expired) and two different payment methods including a check, and none of which were retrieved from her abysmal purse until after the cashier had rung everything up. A portion of this nutritional nightmare was paid for with a credit card so haggard that the swipe strip no longer worked and had to be entered manually. The remainder was paid for by the obsolete method of a check, which required her reading glasses and photo I.D., both of which were nestled deep within the vortex of her pony express like satchel. She rooted around in it for about 2 minutes like a child desperately trying to find one last treat intertwined in the artificial grass of an Easter basket.
Finally it was my turn. The inordinately patient cashier politely rung up all of my purchases as I bagged them and put them back into my cart, all the while keeping a close eye on my children. I suddenly had that uneasy feeling you get when you sense that not only is someone in your space bubble, but that they are also staring at you intently. I slowly turned about 45 degrees and promptly confirmed my suspicions.
If you are a native of the Ocean City metropolitan area, a transplanted local, or have spent any significant vacation time here over the past 50 years, then you are no doubt aware of a lovable, local, legendary icon. This is the man we’ve all grown to know as Boardwalk Elvis. Back in the mid 60’s, a guy started trolling the Ocean City Boardwalk dressed in sequin jump suits like the king of rock and roll. He would play his kazoo and croon tunes by the former Graceland resident for anyone who would listen. He became such a local celebrity that he would ultimately find his way onto postcards and coffee cups.
He’s now unofficially retired from serenading tourists and spends his days riding his bicycle up and down route 589 near Ocean Pines. He bikes everywhere regardless of the weather and wanders in and out of local businesses. He’s a harmless and likable character who is recognized by most. I see him nearly every day of my life in some capacity be it peddling along Racetrack Road as I take my kids to school, or in various local establishments as I perform my daily tasks. I like to believe that he recognizes me if only by face and repetition. Whenever I see him, I smile and say hello. He usually just nods in return, sometimes speaking to me, sometimes going on his way.
I now find myself standing next to a grocery cart with four children in tow. I’m exhausted both physically and emotionally from the day I’ve had that is now about 13 hours old and I find that Elvis is standing less than two feet from me glaring at me as if he had just caught me trying to steal his beloved bicycle.
Despite my current frazzled psychological state, the excruciating pain in my left shoulder, the uncomfortably close proximity, and the seemingly hateful manner in which he was staring at me, I still managed to smile at him and say; “hey buddy, how ya doin?” Without any provocation, he scowled at me, looked me directly in the eyes, pointed at me, and exclaimed for all to hear; “yer a lunatic!”
It was uncharacteristically aggressive behavior for him, and no less than 30 people immediately looked in my direction. He stared at me for a few seconds, then turned and walked away. I had such a veritable cavalcade of thoughts and emotions that I couldn’t even react. I just stood there in stunned silence. I really had no idea what had just happened. I didn’t know if I had just experienced the worst moment of my life, or the best. Had we just bonded? Was I just initiated into an elite club? Was he referring to my being crazy enough to shop with four young kids? Did he see the age of my children, compare it with my age and confirm what I already suspected? Had I just been properly diagnosed by the most qualified person around?I had so many questions!
There’s really no way to be cool after that happens, especially in front of your kids and a few dozen strangers. My oldest daughter tried to repress muffled laughter the whole way home. I just wrote it off as the perfect end to the perfect day.
And that my friends, despite requiring 6 installments, is the story of a single and painfully typical day in my life. I hope you all enjoyed a chuckle at my expense.
Thanks for playing along. Until next time, Syd Nichols
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