Sunday, February 13, 2005

Shopping for more than I bargained for

A bit of fiction wrapped in reality with a dose of truth mixed in. A narrative about the limits of love. A tale that confirms all men are losers and hopeless when left to their own devices. Shows that all men need mothers, that's why they marry them. (1243)

15 years ago or so, I went Christmas shopping with a friend of mine. It was a mutual aid trip to shop for our signifigant others. A one shot deal. We were not going to return empty handed. My friend had a list his dear wife had given him 2 months earlier. Prioritized, with certain items underlined and where they might be scored. Me, I had nothing, not even a clue.

The largest congregation of retail stores was an hour away in Newington, NH. He picked me up at 7:30 AM. I had offered to drive, but ever since I put us in a ditch that one time, my friend liked to use his car. Cool, his fuel, not mine.

Hitting the Fox Run Mall parking lot just shy of 8:30 AM, we were shocked by the mob already in place and impatiently waiting for the doors to open. We had to park 1/4 mile away. After the hike in, I wished I had packed some water and a snack. Just as we got to the doors, a poor security guard unlocked the doors. Like drug crazed rock concert fans, old ladies, old men, little kids and teen aged girls surged through the door like water finding a break in the dam.

My friend and I were a tad suprised and concerned. We had never encountered rabid shoppers in such overwhelming numbers before. And we knew this scene was being repeated at all 40 hundred doors that encircled this shopper's heaven. All of a sudden I had visions of fighting ole ladies for some trinket. Or being tackled by a distraught aunt who saw me take the last of that one thing she just had to get for her favorite niece, Josie. I looked at my friend and I am sure we were on the same page. "Let's go get some breakfast and let the whackos have at it. We'll come back", he suggested. Not needing my arm twisted, I did an about face and we headed back to the car.

Breakfast at IHOP was a joke. Apparently there are thousands of folks like us who are waiting for the rush to settle before shopping. And every single one of them were at IHOP for breakfast. We waited 20 minutes for a table and both orders of eggs and appropriate sides got screwed up. The coffee was bad, the juice tasted like a tin can, and the waitress was rude. Gotta love IHOP.

The only positive note struck during breakfast was my ability to convince my buddy to forgo shopping the malls and instead head down into Portsmouth. Downtown, small shops, spread out, and watering holes liberally sprinkled through out. Any concern over finding anything on his wife's wish list was forgotten at the mention of liqour and the free flow there of. He had a weakness for the demon rum, especially when free of that spousal evil eye. I was okay with booze. At mid 30, I had been through the wringer and survived. I could take it or leave it.

What a great day it turned out to be. My friend found that special something from a kitchen store and I scored some spiffy earrings locally made . All before noon. It was decided that because breakfast had been solid, lunch should be mostly liquid. We had walked quite a bit. We were feeling dehydrated and besides, we were done shopping. Time to kick back and relax. Hmm, that flaw in logic would have some payback.

About 3:30 PM, I remember looking over at my friend. Between us lined up in formation was a double file of empty shot glasses and a pile of mangled lime slices next to them. I remember his pasty face and the way his head kinda hung down. I remember he looked like I felt. Ah tequila. It had been a few years. But like riding a bike, you never forget. Salt, shot, slice. Repeat as needed.

I voiced some concern about getting home at some point. My friend got up, staggered crablike to the bar and returned crablike with 4 more shots and a fresh bowl of lime slices. I guess that answered my question. He wanted to chew on the idea for awhile longer. We toasted something and drank the first 2 shots. And as my friend raised his slice to bite, he missed his mouth and his head went clomp face down on the table. "Oh Great," I thought. "Now I'll have to drive home".

Feeling just a little perturbed and taken advantage of, I sucked down the remaining 2 shots one right after the other. In my haze and fixated drunk, I was bothered that there were some unbitten limes in the bowl. Wanting to make everything come out even, I counted 3 left. That meant 3 more shots. I somehow found my feet and the strength to use them. I fell towards the bar, my legs hurrying to catch up. Had I been able to focus both eyes on the same thing at the same time, I might just have made it too. But the bar I reached for was just out of reach. Down on to the bar room floor.

I was done. It was all over. As I laid there looking up at the pressed steel ceiling, I pondered about the last time I felt like this. Just as I passed out, I remembered. It was 8 years previous on the second night of my marriage. My wife and I had gotten gloriously drunk on tequila in much the same way. And I was the last man barely standin that time too.

The barkeep was not impressed. Barely 4 in the afternoon on a Sunday and he already had 2 falling down drunks to deal with. "Damn Mainers. Ain't a one kin hold their likker." He gets some customers to help scrape us up and deposit us in the back to hopefully sleep it off. He rifled our pockets. Took our keys and wallets.

Somewhere in the vicinity of 9:00 PM I come around. Waking up in a dusty store room filled with beer boxes, liquor boxes, mops, and brooms. Right next to me, my friend blissfully snoring, curled up in fetal position and all angelic. If not for the drool coming out of his mouth, he might just have passed as one. I stumble out to the bar, retrieve our wallets and keys, say thanks and throw a twenty on the counter. I ask for a phone. The bar keep says go ahead dial direct and he smiles.

Making that phone call after being gone for over 14 hours on a trip we assured would only take 4 was everything I expected and worse. After explaining how we had decided to stop for a drink after a succesful shopping trip, the silence on the other end assured me a cold shoulder when I got home. No hysterics. No recriminations. Just silence and then, "See you in the morning. Don't wake me up." Click. Whew, home may be where the heart was, but tonight it was a cold, cold heart waiting for me.

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