Last Friday morning, I took my father to Costco to get hearing aids. Pulling into the crowded parking lot, I said to him, “I bet there won’t be any handicapped spots.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“Because there never are at Costco.”
Whenever I take my mom and dad anywhere, I use their handicapped placard to snag parking spots close to the entrance of whatever place we’re visiting. Oddly enough, whenever I go to the mall or the supermarket by myself there’s always plenty of legally designated spaces available but, when I’m transporting my parents, I can never seem to find one – making me think the universe is conspiring against me.
“Yep,” I said, looking at the blue lined spots filled with cars, “Not a single one.”
“Why not?” Dad, said.
“I guess Jesus hasn’t been healing any cripples lately.”
“That’s not nice.”
“Goddammit,” I muttered.
After parking as far removed from the entrance as you can get, I hauled my father’s wheelchair out of the trunk, unfolded it, and then carefully watched as he slowly climbed out of the passenger’s seat, ready to catch him if he fell.
“Ready to start hearing again?” I said, after Dad was safely in his chair.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
After setting up my father with the audio tech, I said, “Annie gave me a list of things to get. I’ll get you when I’m done.”
Turning to the tech I said, “Here’s my cellphone number. Call me if there’s a problem.” Then I plunged into retail hell.
I don’t know what happened, but it seemed like the entire Tri-State area had decided to descend on this particular Costco. Staring in disbelief, I saw that all the aisles leading to the registers were lined with people waiting to checkout almost to the back of the store – meaning you had to run several gauntlets of carts to go from one side of the warehouse to the other. And every single shopper looked miserable.
I suffer from a mild form of self-diagnosed of agoraphobia. I wasn’t always this way but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed crowds tend to make me irritable – although I’ll admit my distress is purely situational. Crowded concert or parade? No sweat. But if throngs of people frustrate my ability to accomplish something, I start praying for a nice little nuclear war to thin out the herd. Taking a deep breath, I told myself to stay calm and dove into the madding crowd.
After half an hour of getting my cart clipped by impatient shoppers, I stopped to check the shopping list my wife had texted to my phone. As I was ticking off the items on my screen, an aggravated voice behind me said. “Pal, you just can’t block everybody. Move.” Trying to be considerate, I had pulled off to the side of the coffee aisle but, with everyone jockeying their carts for advantageous position, there was nowhere to stay still. Glancing towards my six, I found a middle aged man glaring at me and couldn’t help but notice that his nose was webbed with busted capillaries from drinking, high blood pressure or both.
“Do you hear me?’ the man said. “Get out of the way.” As anger detonated in my chest, I thought about telling the guy off but said, “Sorry” instead.
“Jerk, “the man said, hustling past me.
As frustrated tears stung my eyes, I realized the source of my agoraphobia wasn’t getting delayed, but how the toxic energy of people competing for resources brings out the worst in me. I try being a laid back dude but, when encountering such impolite, grasping behavior, my inner Lebowski sometimes wants to drop the peace and love shit and cut loose with a flamethower. Maybe I’m more of a Walter Sobchak kind of guy.
Finally done filling my wife’s orders, I made my way to the checkout line but, to my surprise, the crowds were gone. “What happened?” I asked the shellshocked cashier. “This place was mobbed a few minutes ago.”
“Happens,” she said, efficiently ringing up my purchases. “We never know when this place will fill up.”
After checking on my dad, I went into the parking lot to put my purchases in the car. Like the store, the lot was now almost empty; but there was a glut of cars angrily congealed by the exit to the highway, honking their horns as they fought to get one car length ahead of the other guy.
“Nuts,” I said, watching the vehicular massa damnata as it malignantly pulsed toward the highway. “Fucking nuts.”
“You got that right,” the employee who collects the carts said, as he pushed his load past me.
“Tough morning?” I asked.
“These people will run you right over. They don’t give a shit.”
“Whatcha gonna do?”
Shrugging, the cart guy said, “I’ve seen worse.”
Collecting my father, I took him to lunch and then drove him back to the nursing home. Since he was happy that he could hear better, I didn’t want to spoil his good mood by bitching about my Costco experience. Then I ran a few errands, picked up my daughter at camp, and then fought the evening rush hour to my wife’s office where my in-law’s were waiting to take possession of Natalie for a sleepover. Finally, some quality time with my wife. “We have to go to Costco,” my wife said, as she grabbed her purse. ‘I forgot to ask you for a few things.”
“Again?” I said. “I’ve had enough of that place.”
“We’ll go to the one near here.”
“Doesn’t matter, it’ll be the same nightmare. Can I stay in the car?” The answer to that question, of course, was no and, as Annie and I drove to yet another Costco, I remembered – and not for the first time – that flamethrowers are perfectly legal in New Jersey.
“Take a deep breath,” Annie said, as we walked into the store.
“Did you notice there were tons of open handicapped spots? Never when I need them though.”
My wife is familiar with my “fear of the marketplace” but pays it no heed. That’s because Annie loves Costco. Left to her druthers, she’d spend the whole day there. Once, when we were California, she forced me to go see the very first Costco in San Diego. Judging from the fervent gleam in her eyes we might as well have been on the Hajj to Mecca. While Annie shopped, I stood off to the side of the cart, trying to medicate my aggravation by playing word games on my phone. Then a pleasant voice said, “Excuse me, sir. May I get by?” Looking up, I found a lovely young woman smiling at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, stepping aside.
“No worries. It’s crowded.”
As the woman pushed passed me, I looked at the young daughter sitting in her cart. About two years old, curly blond hair framed her angelic face like a halo of burning gold. Remembering when my daughter was that sweet and innocent age, I waved at her, causing her to break into a giggly smile. When that happened, something in my heart melted and all thoughts of incinerating inconsiderate Costco shoppers faded away. Annie and I crossed paths with that little girl several times as we shopped and, every time I saw her, I repeated my merry wave. Each time I was rewarded with an expression of luminous delight.
Feeling much better, I paid up, helped Annie load our stuff into the car, and then drove towards the exit. As we waited by the traffic light guarding the entrance to the highway, I spied a young couple awkwardly standing next to each other by the bus stop and hesitantly gazing into each other’s eyes. The pull between them was electric and, somehow, I realized I was watching something fragile and important – the beginning of something new. Then the boy reached out with his hand and stroked the girl’s cheek, causing her eyes to close and her lips part with desire.
“Go for it, kid,” I said.
Awkwardness falling away, the boy took the girl into his arms and kissed her. Watching their passionate embrace backlit by the last sliver of the setting sun, I felt like I was witnessing the moment of creation. This time, as tears of a kinder, gentler nature stung my eyes, I knew I was catching a glimpse of “The Love which moves the Sun and the other stars.”
“Want to go to the Japanese place for sushi?” my wife asked.
“Sushi? It’s just us tonight.”
“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
Driving away from that beautiful spark, I remembered life’s goodness often unveils itself in the most unlikely of places – even at Costco. Smiling, I pushed my car towards home, watching the twilit clouds billowing in the Western sky as they blazed with golden fire.
Maybe the Dude really does abide.