Saturday, April 30, 2011

Go to the Dogs

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Do you remember the days when dogs ran free, and we weren’t afraid of them? I do. Back in Minnesota in the 70’s and 80’s, when I was a kid, dogs ran after cars and from yard to yard, sniffing and playing and just being themselves. Dogs ran up to me and I wasn’t afraid of them. They might have been places they weren’t supposed to be—like in my family’s yard instead of their owners’ yard, or escaped and hightailing it down the street—but even so, dogs were always friendly interlopers in my days of playing outside.

Then I grew up and moved to Phoenix, where for the first time ever I saw people walking their dogs on leashes and picking up their poop with plastic bags. I was totally repulsed and didn’t understand the situation: Why walk the dog if all he’s going to do is poop and then you have to pick it up!? And carry it with you? Gross. Leash laws and dog parks were also new to me, but after living in Phoenix for awhile, I understood the reasoning behind all of these restrictions: you can’t really have dogs running all over the place, in and out of traffic, in and out of gunplay. I’ve come to admire the owners who diligently walk their dogs and pick up their poop; these are good people, the ones who don’t keep their dogs caged up or restricted to a five by five foot patio, people who kindly let their dogs exercise and explore the neighborhood.

But after living in Phoenix for twenty years and in a country where we hear about dog maulings every day—people losing their faces or even their lives after being attacked—I’ve developed a fear of loose dogs. I walk a lot, and if a dog happens to come barreling towards me from across a park or street, my heart leaps into my throat. Oh my God, today is the day I’m going to die or end up scarred for life. And I’m not talking about dogs who just amble up for a sniff or a pat; I’m talking about dogs of any size who come running straight at me—even with their owners shouting, “Mimi! Come back here!”

With all of this in the back of my mind, I went for my usual walk last night. Not surprisingly, at one point an older couple came towards me on the sidewalk, the woman with two smaller dogs, the man with a larger dog, all on leashes. I had no concerns and even stepped off the sidewalk onto the grass so that this little entourage could easily get by. After we’d passed each other, I stepped back onto the sidewalk and soon noticed a trail of poop. It was small poop, and it was diarrhea poop—very mushy pieces with fluid seeping out. As I kept walking I saw even more plops of poop. They were obviously from one of the smaller dogs that had just passed by.

And I thought to myself, How ballsy of that couple to take a sick dog out for a walk. Even if they didn’t know when they left the house that one of the dogs had diarrhea, you would think that when they noticed the first mushy pile, they would have scraped it into a bag and turned back. They could have taken all three dogs home and the woman could have stayed with the sick one, and the man could have gone back out with the other two. But no: they continued to march down the sidewalk while one of their dogs squirted poop every ten feet, and they didn’t even clean it up. I wanted to turn around and give them a shout: “Hey! Your little dog has diarrhea! You gotta come back here and clean this up!” But I didn’t, because that too is something you don’t do in the city: confront strangers. You just go about your business.

As I continue my daily walks through the neighborhood, I can look forward to watching this diarrhea poop disintegrate in the heat. It will mark the passage of my days and weeks, hardening and cracking and flattening out. In time the diarrhea poop will turn to dust and fly into our city air, where the wind will pick it up, like the owners should have. When I eventually read that Phoenix has regained its status as having the worst air quality in the nation—a title we recently lost to Bakersfield, California—I won’t be surprised. The pollution that floats over our city is called the Brown Cloud, and now I know why: because there’s dog poop in it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Prices We Pay

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My dishwasher has been broken for a week, which I only figured out a couple days ago after running it four times in a row because…excuse me…the dishes weren’t getting clean. Each time I ran it and opened it, more powdered detergent would be caked on the door, the dishes a little more grungy. I became irritated that the green “clean” button kept blinking at me too, instead of giving me a steady green gaze. My dishwasher had a secret, but she wasn’t telling me.

Today I finally called my brother, a general contractor in Maine. After we exchanged our usual pleasantries and accounts of chronic pain, I said, “Say, my dishwasher is broken.”

He immediately brightened. “Oh! I can help you with that!” After he had me check the float, he said, “It’s probably something electrical. Just run out to the breaker box and flip the switch for the dishwasher.” My breaker box is outside the house; thus commenced several tense trips back and forth from the dishwasher to the box, where I could not find the right switch. My brother remained patient; I did not, as all of my other kitchen and living room appliances went dead, as well as the house phone on which I was speaking. I called him back on my cell.

“I can’t find the right switch,” I mumbled. “The labels aren’t clear.”

“That’s okay!” my brother chirped, munching on his comfort food from McDonald’s. “Just flip the main switch!”

“I don’t want to flip the main switch,” I said, frowning.

“Why not!?” he asked.

“Because I don’t want everything in my house to shut down. I don’t want my computer to blow up.”

I could see him rolling his eyes and shaking his head, feel him thinking, She’s such a baby.

“Well then, Plan B,” he said. “You'll notice that there's a panel on the inside of the dishwasher door; it has screws in it. You can remove that panel and that’s where the guts of your dishwasher are. Something’s probably stuck in there. Go get your screwdriver. You might get electrocuted a tiny bit, but only enough to make you know you’re alive. I’ll walk you through it.”

I stood by my dishwasher, which had now been open with the door down for fifteen minutes, gaping at me like a dead whale with crusty white foam all around its mouth. The inside panel was indeed attached with screws: five million of them.

“I don’t want to take the panel off,” I said. My brother is eight years older than me; I felt like it was 1974 and he was telling me to kiss his big toe again. Memories of his yelling, I’m falling off the couch and I’ll die if you don’t help me! also came to mind. He always did that right in the middle of Sesame Street.

“Why not!?” he asked.

“I’m not desirous of it,” I said. “I’m a teacher, not an electrician. I’ll never get that panel back on. I’m calling a repairman.” Not wanting to sound unappreciative of my brother’s help, I added, “It’ll cost a lot, but that’s the price I pay for being a single woman living alone.”

“I understand,” he said, crumpling his McDonald's bag. I heard his truck door slam and the engine start up. “But I gotta go now. My lunch break is over. We need to talk soon and have a proper conversation.”

We spent the next minute exchanging I love you’s, goodbyes and good lucks, making sure we were hearing each other and being heard ourselves as our cell phones cut in and out. I imagined my brother driving away, and wished he was driving towards me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

All the Lonely People

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This morning at breakfast I was given a gift that I did not appreciate, and it caught me off guard. In the first place, I didn’t see the gift-giving situation forming; I wasn’t expecting any sort of surprise or special occasion. To make matters worse, I was not prepared for the gift itself, not the way a hobo might readily accept a dollar, or a teacher might receive an apple. It simply was not the kind of gift that I would deem appropriate for myself. It would have never turned up on my Christmas list, I would never have hinted at it to a lover, and I would have walked right by it in a store. This gift was a jillion degrees between me and Kevin Bacon, at least it was to me in my mind.

It was a how-to-write book.

In the gift-giver’s opinion, however, I’m sure this seemed like a very appropriate gift, or probably even a necessity, like when the very first bystander at the Crucifixion noticed that Jesus’ loincloth was slipping, and pinned it back into place: it was a gift to Jesus, to everyone else standing around, and to millions upon millions of people who came after who would always gaze upon the image of Jesus dying on the cross in his loincloth, rather than out of it. To the person who gave me my gift today, maybe it seemed that important, both for me and posterity.

But just like Jesus probably wasn’t hanging there thinking, uh-oh, my loincloth is slipping, I was not hanging around thinking, gee, I hope somebody gives me a book of writing instructions, so when I got it, and it was in my hands, and then on the table before me where I just looked at it, I didn’t know what to do. I know I said “thank you”, but after that I ignored it, like Frank Lloyd Wright getting an Erector Set, or Phil Collins getting a drum pad. I simply thought that I was beyond it.

While the whole episode seemed mild and upbeat, friendly enough in all ways, it slowly took the wind from my sails. Disappointment from knowing that this person considered me a promising beginner quickly gave way to knowing he was right. Tears came on the drive home, for thinking I was ready when maybe I’m not, and for how easily my confidence is shaken.

Easter prayer: God, it’s me, Kate Mohler. I’m still waiting for the grace. The way I say it in my prayers, you probably think I’ve been asking for grapes; I am often tired at night, and we both know about my speech impediment. For the grapes, I thank you. Maybe grace isn’t in season yet, not in my part of the world. I’ll keep an eye out though.

P.S. Please don’t let me get in trouble with the Pope like John Lennon did.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hot Baby in a Crib

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Having accidentally aspirated a tiny piece of cauliflower yesterday at lunch--which has led to nearly twenty four hours of sharp pain under the ribs on my left--I am not in the best of moods today, especially with the gloomy forecast I’ve created for my health beginning with the cauliflower taking root in my lungs and flourishing until I’m killed by a flowering vegetable.

This is not an unheard of event, as I well know, having been told The Story of the Boy Who Inhaled a Flower Seed and Died by my mother several times over the years, a story that includes a different mother who became so depressed after her boy’s death that she gained a massive amount of weight but then went on to lose it, appearing as a local celebrity on the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune after her successful membership with TOPS.

My mother shared a hospital room with this woman in 1958 when they were both having babies, and remained friendly with her for some years afterward. When my mom called to check on me last night, she fleshed out the story with details about a few visits she and my dad made with their own new little family to this woman and her husband’s farm, where there were so many flies that they crawled all over my sister Ann in a crib (“They were all over her,” my mother said. “She was covered. I felt so bad, but it was this woman’s crib—handmade! I didn’t know what to do!”) and so many stray dogs that one stole my brother’s chicken right off his portable high chair, causing the corners of his little mouth to turn down. “They would keep big, huge buckets of raw chicken outside for barbecues,” my mother added, “and the raw chicken would be covered with flies, and the live chickens would come to peck at it all.”

My ear grew hot with this story as I listened, one hand under my shirt pressing on my rib cage in search of the cauliflower sprig. “But!” my mother added, “I’ve told you that story before, and now I’ve told you again. Promise me you’ll let us know if you go to the ER tomorrow.”

I promised! I didn’t want to end up like The Boy Who Inhaled a Flower Seed and Died. Who would? I just wonder how long it took for that overprotective, clean-freak of a TOPS woman to realize that there was a plant growing in her son. Were there vines coming out of his nose? Tulips blossoming from his ears?

I know one thing: my mother would never have let it go that far. My mother would have gently taken the five of us kids aside and asked, “Now, which one of you inhaled my flower seed? I had two hundred and forty six, and one is missing.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Five Pound Aftermath

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I’ve gained five pounds in the last month. These aren’t just transient pounds that are simply making their way through my system: the beef roast dinner I had the other night, the bean burritos I heated up for lunch yesterday. No. These five pounds of fat started latching onto me in the aftermath of my flight from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi five weeks ago, when I was served possibly the most revolting platter of food I have ever encountered.

The main course was chicken tagine, a Moroccan delight that—to my Western nose—smelled like stinky feet. I could sense ginger in it, which I like, but everything else together (cinnamon, tomatoes, saffron?) held me at bay. The chicken looked lifeless. And were those…prunes? I could not stand for the lid to be off this tub of food any longer than a minute before my face and neck started forming a mucous membrane against it.

While my seatmates—people from around the world, all heading to Abu Dhabi—tucked into this dish, I wished for an oxygen mask. My world closed in a little more when all of the chicken tagine on that plane was consumed and then expelled through pores and various other escape routes.

I found solace in the couscous salad—I speak a little couscous—but then passengers turned to their desserts: apricot mango mousse. Vaugh-rah-mit. I was avoiding that too. While the mousse appeared harmless enough, sitting there all orangey plump in its own plastic container, it only created a syllogism in my mind: I hate apricots and I hate mangoes, therefore apricots and mangoes do not belong in my mousse, especially with unidentifiable droplets on top that look like rabbit turds. Was that chocolate? Was Jesus going to save me? I had been so good for so long.

Having only consumed a small portion of couscous salad between Amsterdam and my final destination (Muscat, Oman), I started out hungry, and then for days tried to fill the hole that the chicken tagine’s pungency had carved out of me. And here I must offer an apology to my hosts: I’m sorry I ate all of the children’s brownies and oatmeal-raisin bars, all of their hotdogs and lunchmeat, every banana and kiwi you had in the house, all of your peanut butter and jelly, all of the leftover pizza. All of the Poptarts.

So I started gaining a little weight, and have yet to shake my Omani pounds…and their American counterparts. I’ve gotten a bit too friendly with my chocolate Jell-O pudding at night, scooping it down my throat, thanking it for not being apricot mousse. Icky. The kid in me is evidently sticking around so I bought more hotdogs. I confess to eating chips and salsa every night at midnight for a week after I arrived back in Phoenix, followed by more reassuring pudding.

And chicken? I’ve been dressing my chicken in cheese and corduroy ever since coming home.

These extra five Omani-American pounds show up in the usual ways on somebody like me: The sharpness of my jaw is now a little soft. I’m less Kate Moss and more Kate Winslet. I’m not drying my cottons all the way—I’m letting them air-dry, to make more room for me.

And I’m not really complaining. Nobody at my gym is either, especially not the firemen. They’re instructed not to fraternize with the public while they’re working out to stay in shape to save our lives, but they still have eyes, and I have noticed a few gazes at my new curves, even as I try to run them off.

Life is good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Glossolalia

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Like everyone else, I get busy, and sometimes I run out of food. Unable to keep pretending that raisins count as fresh fruit and olives are vegetables, this morning I finally went shopping at the local health food store.

As I happily placed my favorites into the cart—apples, blueberries, pears…broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes—a huge black man with a big fuzzy beard approached me, pushing his own cart full of packaged chicken. “You look like you work out,” he said. I cooed and preened on the inside. My eyelashes batted themselves. “I want to lose weight,” this 500-pound man told me. “What should I eat?”

“I’ve pretty much cut out pasta,” I replied. “No bread, no rice, no cereal either—not much anyway.”

“I already cut out the whites!” he boomed.

I’m glad he said that and not me, man.

“Do you eat organic?” he yelled.

“No,” I said. Instantly, every shopper standing within a ten foot radius stopped and stared at me. Heathen. Of course the guy asked me why not.

“I just wash everything,” I lied. I wasn’t going to tell him I enjoy the wax on apples, or that I feel germs and pesticides build up my immune system.

Thankfully another lady then approached me to get me off this hook. “There is a woman around the corner husking corn!” she whispered. I leaned in closer to listen. “I think she has Alzheimer’s! She doesn’t understand that it makes the corn unusable for other people!”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that—did she want me to conduct a citizen’s arrest on the Alzheimer’s patient? Did I look like that type? Before I could say anything, the lady limped off towards the corn display—a tiny lady with a hunchback, like me—and started husking. She was the one with Alzheimer’s! Those crafty devils.

Finally I headed over to the bulk bins to get my steel cut oats—which I tell myself is not really a white, but more like a biracial. I raised the bin lid and lost my grip on it immediately; it fell onto my spindly and malfunctioning hands, which have not yet recovered from the rain we had a few days ago. “Dang-ay!” I said, from the pain. “Godday….” Apparently the twin-speak that Jodi Foster spout forth with in Nell has burrowed into my brain a little deeper than I realized. Not that I swear a lot anyway.

A worker guy heard my gibberish and stepped over to help, cleverly propping the lid open with a scoop. “I’ve worked here for a year, so at least I know somethin’,” he said.

Hanging around this place, I bet he knew a lot more than that.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Afflictions

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This morning as I listened to the pitter-patter of the rain and prettied myself to go out for the day, I heard over the airways of my quaint little am/fm radio an advertisement for sufferers of genital warts. It went something like: “If you’ve ever been diagnosed with genital warts or are now having an outbreak, you are invited to participate in a study conducted by medical researchers. If you think that you might have genital warts or if you currently have a cluster on your genitals, please contact us. All calls will be strictly confidential.”

Well, I thought, that seems like a good idea, studying genital warts in hopes of putting an end to what must certainly be a diabolically unsettling affliction. But what would it be like to walk into a room full of people who are there because they’re all having an outbreak of genital warts? What kinds of looks would be exchanged? Or wasn’t it like that? Maybe you were just scheduled for an appointment and the only people who would find out you had genital warts were the receptionist and a few nurses and some doctors who had previously all been strangers to you. They would never know that you played an instrument or had two children or were considered a leader in your professional field. All they would know about you is that you had genital warts.

Suddenly, what had first struck me as funny now struck me as sad and unfair. Why should one person get genital warts and another person not? The same goes for anything transmitted sexually—why does somebody’s brother have AIDS and my brother does not?

I think we should all have to sample life’s cruelties.

We should all be required to have our heads shaved every ten years. Everyone should have to sign up for a month-long bout of absolute heartbreak at least three times in their adult lives, and everyone should have to develop some kind of “hidden” disease…like diabetes or chronic pain or alcoholism…and made to live with it for six months, at least once—without complaining. Every single person should have to walk around with a wildly infected zit on their face once every five years; I bet that would cut down on the “Oh my God, did you see that’s?” And we should all have herpes so we could just get that over with, because herpes doesn’t kill you. The things that kill us? Nobody has to sample those. Yes, we’d like to try the head-on collision, and could you give us a little lung cancer on the side? The things that kill us will all come in time.

I had a friend once with a profound physical disability—a particularly unfair cruelty for a sensitive and beautiful woman—and she wouldn’t consider dating another person with the same type of affliction. She said, “I consider myself flawed, and I don’t want to be reminded of it every day.” At first I didn’t understand that: All she had to do was look in the mirror to see what was wrong with her. And isn’t it expected that two like types come together? You would think that she of all people would be accepting of physical deformity.

But later, when I scrubbed away the slime of my shallow ignorance, I knew what she meant: Why would we seek out friends and partners with our exact same flaws? Most of us want someone to balance us out, be healthy and whole when we cannot be…to have us and hold us no matter what.

I remembered two things today, after listening to that still-disturbing but ultimately educational genital warts radio commercial: One, it’s never really the end of the world (unless it really is). Two, not everyone is always going to like me. In fact, I could morph throughout the day in an attempt to smoothly fit into any given situation with an array of people, and still, there would be people who don’t like me. At the same time, there could be people who liked me yesterday, but today for some reason don’t like me anymore.

I’m just glad it’s raining, so that all the people still dripping in ignorant slime can go outside and scrub off. I'll be out there myself, freshening up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Real Boyfriends

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, I used to have a boyfriend. This was the real kind of boyfriend: not a guy who lived a thousand miles away, not the single guy who lives next door, not a hopeful who I e-mail with from Canada.

The real boyfriend actually showed up in my life on a regular basis. He ate meals I made for him without complaint and in fact gusto. We played dice games and card games—not mental games. I was happy to fluff bed pillows for him after a long work day, and he was happy to sink into them. Oftentimes, twining feet was how we talked at night, at least it was on the nights when “I got him”…as opposed to the nights when his kids got him.

I never liked the difference, but that’s how it is when you're single and childless, and your boyfriend has four children. Or you happen to be married and childless, and your husband has one very important boy. Or whenever a woman of a certain age is single with just cats or dogs, and she’s looking around at her whole world in which all the men have obligations, responsibilities, and deadlines…more than she would ever accept for herself.

It’s hard to chisel a boyfriend out of all that.

So I just live on memories of what past boyfriends have said to me over time, observations and bits of advice that are as important now as they were back in the day:

1. “You eat rotten fruit! You’re just like my parents—they love rotten fruit. You can only get the best rotten fruit in Scotland ya know.”

2. “Do you even know how to hug? Did anybody ever show you how to hug? You’re a stiff board—loosen up.”

3. “What the hell is that smell? Is that dinner? What did you make…that crockpot stuff again? It makes the whole house stink.”

4. “We could have lived together! You don’t trust me! Here, let me slam your face into the cushions of my couch—it’s your fault.”

Ah, what memories. It’s funny what sticks in your mind.

At 42, I’m picky and choosy and still hugging my bed pillows, quietly appreciating the male models in magazines delivered to my house: they smell nice. I still have a house, which is really lucky for me—as some boyfriends end up as thieving husbands.

But I still like the one who told me I like rotten fruit, because in fact, I do. I like a nice bruised banana, a cantaloupe begging to be let out of its rind…a crabby old pear. I make friends with fruits like these, the weird kids on the block.

I think we take at least one good thing from each relationship, though the relationship itself might fail. For instance, I learned how to cut up a ripe avocado, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and serve it with toothpicks. Hold on! That was from my dad! He still counts. Hi SuperDad. Everybody loves that recipe.

I learned how to put cilantro into my lettuce salads to spice them up.

I learned that even though you might accidentally shrink cotton in the dryer, it can be rewashed and reshaped.

I learned that if you put yogurt and grapes and chopped nuts into a wine glass, it can serve as a stand-in for the vacation you're not taking to Key West.

I learned that I can hug and cuddle and twine my feet, gently twist in the love that a man is giving me at the time, and not have to worry about his bankruptcy or the future of his children or whether he’s going to cheat on me again.

I mean, I can worry if I want—but I don’t have to.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blueberry Hill

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My mom—one of the lesser known saints from the Midwest—does not like the clinking of liquor bottles in a cabinet, the sound glass makes as somebody pushes one bottle out of the way for another to find the right one to make a drink. This particular type of clatter reminds her of a bar, and as everybody knows, homes are not bars. Homes are places where coffee cups clink in the morning, and glasses of milk clink at night. My mom is fine with the noise that juice jars and iced tea make in the fridge as they get moved around. It’s liquor bottles in a cabinet that bother her. Demon rum.

She wouldn’t be pleased with the clatter that overtakes my neighborhood every Monday morning, when all of my neighbors haul boxes, bags and garbage cans full of empty beer bottles out of their homes and dump the bottles with a deafening roar into their recycle bins. I’m usually sitting at my computer with the front door open by 7 a.m.—coffee in hand, easy listening station on in the background, grading student homework—and one after another I hear the Smiths, the Andersons, the Willie Nelson impersonator open their garage door, take a few dusty steps across the driveway, and CRASH!!! Cascade, break, clatter, tinkle.

This has to happen at least three times before I know that the drinkers on my street are recovering from the weekend and in good shape for the recycle truck that comes later in the week.

Clinking doesn’t bother my dad as much; he is a country man and a forester, with a strong sense of property boundaries. My dad would happily live with ten acres of woods between his house and the next, his house and the road, his house and any other person but his wife. He wouldn’t be happy with my neighbors to the west whose weeds and rose bushes now fall over the rock barrier into my front yard. When he remembered that half their house burned down last Thanksgiving, he might give them some leeway...but even leeway has an expiration date.

He wouldn’t be happy with Steve, my neighbor to the east, whose cigarette butts and pop bottle caps—no roses bushes there—consistently find their way into my yard on that side. My dad doesn’t like noise, so he’d be particularly irritated with Steve’s dog Max—two years old now, a puppy since birth. No morning around here is complete without Steve taking Max out to the backyard…Max who should’ve been named after a Happy Days character.

Max: Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa!
Steve (whispering): Max! Be quiet.
Max: Bow Wow Whoa Whoa Whoa!
Steve (whispering): Max! Shh! Be a good boy.
Max: I found my thrill…

Even though I’m missing springtime in Minnesota—the toothpick races, the first green buds on the trees, kids clopping around in their rainboots—I have to stay loyal to Arizona because I live here. Arizonans have their doors and windows open: we’re weeding and cleaning, chopping down plants that didn’t make it through the crazy winter, planting new. We're running full court presses, holding down jobs, paying bills, raising kids, fertilizing our yards during time-outs, throwing down a pre-season yard sale if we have a good friend or neighbor to help.

Trying to figure out who to vote for next.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Lucky Day

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As I walked into Walgreens this morning to pick up a prescription, I noticed what seemed to be an awful lot of exposed flesh on one woman coming out. I know it’s a hot day, but you’d think she’d want to cover that mound of white flesh. It was just then that I realized the skin didn’t belong to the woman: it was a baby! She had a tiny white-skinned baby in nothing more than a diaper slung under her arm like a football. The infant could not have been more than a couple weeks old; I doubt it was ready to be outside the womb let alone outside the house and now, outside Walgreens. I was so relieved to see the woman hoist her child into a car restraint, but how six pounds of tiny naked baby—mostly head—would stay propped up was beyond me. Hopefully its naked flesh would help it stick to the seat.

Having survived this vision, I went to stand in the long line of sick people waiting for their prescriptions. My attention quickly turned to the products on display in our aisle: Oh, people can test themselves for AIDS now. That’s good. People can take their own sobriety tests, that’s good—what a boon. Boone’s Farm, ha ha. Uh, people can buy a paternity test in the store? I guess that’s good. Hope I never have to buy one of those. The line was moving again so I looked ahead at the man in front of me: he was eating a candy bar. He shoved the last piece into his mouth and walked up to the guy behind the pharmacy counter. “I got hungry in line,” he said, placing the chocolate-smeared wrapper on the counter. “Charge me for it.”

My eyes reared back. Well I’m hungry too but I’m not going to start taking food off the shelves and eating it. What if everybody did that? Lunchtime at Walgreens! They carry deli selections now! Just grab a carton of milk and a hoagie and stand in the pharmacy line! Throw your wrappers on the counter and they’ll just charge you for it! What if I brought my family in here and we all combed the aisles for our favorite snack items, then stood in the pharmacy line and had a picnic? Would that be acceptable?

My turn finally came and I walked up to the counter to pick up a prescription that I had been there three other times to retrieve, except that my discount card and my insurance plan and the dates and the sun and the moon and the stars had not yet all aligned themselves in such a way as to make the prescription cost less than one million dollars. Today was the right day, I knew it—April First. I asked for the prescription with confidence, activated discount card in hand, knowing that my drugs were in the fifth bin from the right on the bottom shelf, where they had been all week.

I don’t know when I realized that two pharmacists and a pharmacy tech were searching for my lost prescription. Maybe it was when I saw myself in the security camera, slumped over and drooling. Maybe it was when my stomach growled and I remembered the groceries I’d left in my car, now baking in the Arizona heat, the hottest day of the year so far. Maybe it was when I thought about cranking up an Easy Bake Oven from the toy aisle and throwing the whole thing on the counter when I was done: Just charge me for it.

Finally, a pharmacist approached with my lost but now found bag of pills. “Sometimes the bins get too full and spill over into the wrong ones,” he apologized. Maybe that wouldn’t happen if you wouldn’t call people and sing “You’re prescription’s ready!” on the phone, when in reality their own personal galaxies haven’t lined up yet, and won’t line up until April First.

As an insured patient, I paid no more than $25 for my brand-name drugs—this time. I limped back through the store and out to my car without eating anything from the shelves. Good thing too, because my groceries had spontaneously combusted on the front seat. What started as a carton of eggs and turkey sausage was now a full-blown breakfast burrito with salsa on the side.

Another lucky day.