December 03, 2006
Fear and Loathing In The Dollar Store Checkout Line 
After sending a fax at Staples, I went next door to catch up with my wife, who had stopped inside the local dollar store to check out the bargains. I looked up and down the aisles, and there was the usual assortment of Chinese prison labor hand tools and knick knacks, and poorly concieved food products like aerosol salad sprays and nacho cheese flavored bubble gum.

Then it happened.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye. A rail thin man, weather-worn, wearing jeans and a plaid shirt, the obligatory Buick hubcap sized belt buckle, and capped off on either end with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. An even more weathered woman was next to him, and at first glance I took her to be 'Mom'.

They were talking in hushed tones, and looking in my direction:

"Ask him, he looks like he might know."

"I can't do that!"

I assumed (hoped) that there was a store attendant behind me. I kept walking and headed up another aisle, and in a few moments I had joined my wife at the checkout line. And there was The Cowboy. He looked very uncomfortable.

"Excuse me, but do you have a tattoo?" he asked, looking straight at me.

"Umm . . . .yes?" I replied. Good lord -- what is this going to be about? Why do they always come to me?

"I just got myself a tattoo a few weeks ago in Houston, and it's itchin somethin' fierce!"

OK, so he surmised that I was the 'type' to have ink. I've got the shaved head, the goatee, the earring (when did I become a walking stereotype?) so maybe it wasn't a huge leap of faith on their part. It's probably more difficult in this day and age to find someone without tats.

Still, why me?

I conjectured that this guy is probably feeling very uncomfortable. He's so uncomfortable, he's going to approach a complete stranger and share information about his physical discomfort.

And then it got worse.

"Let me show you."

Please Lord, no.

At this point, I gave my wife a look of desperation, hoping for a rescue. She's got the medical background, after all. God bless her, she stepped into the mix.

"It sounds like maybe you have an infection" she said.

No, no, no . . . he's still rolling up his sleeve! I don't want to see this!

"Well, that's what I thought. But I'm itchin' all over! Everywhere! Even my butt!"

His mother nudged him with a well-placed elbow and a stern "Hush!"

I held my breath as he drew up the curtain on his right bicep, in all of its scabby goodness.

Well, it wasn't the gruesome train wreck I had feared. I've seen worse. Momentarily relieved, what concerned me more at this point was how long this conversation would go on, and where it might go before it reached its conclusion.

"Maybe you're having a reaction to the ink," I said, trying to be helpful.

"Do you have a latex allergy?" my wife asked. "It could have been the latex gloves."

"I've been itching like this for two weeks now!"

"You should take some Benadryl," my wife suggested.

"What's that?" he asked.

He's never heard of Benadryl?

The conversation went back and forth like this for several minutes, and out of survival mode, I think I blacked out the worst parts. I guess I'm a coward for doing this, but I let my wife (medical degree, remember?) take the lead on this one.

As the conversation continued, she walked down another aisle and pointed out the topical analgesics and allergy medications.

The woman is a saint.

Moments later, still twitchy, but with a look of cautious optimism, The Cowboy and his mother thanked us profusely.

Before heading down another checkout line, he grabbed my hand and gave it a firm Southwest handshake.

I washed my hands when I got home.

I scrubbed hard.

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December 03, 2006
Fear and Loathing In The Dollar Store Checkout Line by James



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