I’m in Costco. Saturday afternoon. Worst time to be there. Hundreds of people loading up their monster-sized carts with tubs of this and vats of that. ‘280 ounces of Fruity Pebbles? I’VE GOTTA HAVE IT!’
Friggin’ Neil Gaines. My next door neighbor. He sees me.
“Neil!” I try to ward him off with phony enthusiasm.
It drives me nuts when he calls me Gomes. Only my close friends call me Gomes. My given name is Montgomery. It wasn’t easy as a kid. My mother hoped I would look like Montgomery Clift when I grew up. Even though both my parents are blond with abundantly Nordic features. My mother’s never been shy when it comes to trying to coax reality to her liking.
“What are you up to Gomes?”
I’ll give you one guess, genius. “Just picking up a few things. You? What are you up to? Neil.”
“Oh, just picking up a few things, too.”
“Sounds good, sounds good.”
“Where’s Meg?” said Neil.
“She’s not feeling so hot today. We went out with some of her friends from work last night and she tried following the pace car, me, and she got banged up a bit. Know what I mean?”
“Oh, sure.” he said.
“And where is your lovely wife today?” Calling Neil’s wife, Amy, lovely was truly an understatement. Gorgeous face and a killer athletic body. How on God’s green earth he bagged her is anyone’s guess.
“She’s home as well, but not ‘banged up’ as you put it. She’s taking her Oboe lesson.”
“Oboe lesson? For real? Is she gonna try out for the Philharmonic?” I pictured her up on stage totally naked playing some Burt Bacharach tune.
“No, no,” said Neil, with a chuckle. Then his mind seemed to wander. “At least I don’t think so. She said she wanted to add something artistic to her life.”
I had enough. “Well it’s been fantastic catching up, Neil, but I gotta get a move on.”
I started to push my cart away when Neil called out to me. “Hey, Gomes?” He just looked at me or over my shoulder into the distance, I couldn’t tell.
“Well? For fuck’s sake.” I muttered, probably a bit too loud.
“You wanna come over later?”
Come over later? What the hell? How did this happen? Will Amy be there? Naked? Oboe optional…
“Yeah, I really can’t today. I have to…change my oil. Every 3,000 miles, you know. It’s no joke.”
“Oh yes, I agree. Okay, bye.”
Whenever I’m in Costco I like to look for the odd items they have occasionally. They’re usually outdoor seasonal things. I head over to that area of the store. Bingo! A six foot long, four foot wide Killer Whale made out of some cool rubbery stuff with the consistency of a breast implant. You hook up your garden hose to its underbelly and then water sprays out its mouth. It’s also got a reservoir on either side of its dorsal fin where you can put ice and drinks. It’s originally $149, but marked down to $99 since it’s the end of season. I must have this! Shit! This thing is essentially 24 square feet of semi-solid rubber. I’ll never get it in or on top of the car. Why is there always a friggin’ problem when something too good to be true comes along?
“Excuse me, miss, do you work here?” I ask a fairly rotund woman, probably in her late 40’s.
“Yes. I’m Jean. May I help you?”
I was still a bit giddy, but trying to play it cool. “I gotta have this whale!”
“Well, I can see why. It is kind of nifty, isn’t it?”
“You see the problem though, right?” I said.
“Sure do. The profanity on the other side.”
“What profanity? I didn’t even look at the other side.” I walked around to took a look. “Oh, Christ!” In big fluorescent marker it read ‘WHALE FUCKERS UNITE!’ “What does that even mean?”
Jean spoke into her chest where her store walkie-talkie was located. “Carl, we’ve got a code G in Seasonal, Aisle 15.”
“Code G?” I asked.
“There are more codes than you can imagine. Code A: Open alcohol. Code V: Violence. Code IV – ”
“Wait! Let me guess. A jumbo needs an IV because they need to replenish their fluids from ten minutes of walking around and sucking down all the salty snack samples given away here?”
“What’s a ‘jumbo?’” said Jean.
“You know,” I said, spreading my hands apart. “An overweight-”
She gave me a disapproving look. “IV means Impending Violence.”
“Then there’s Code-”
“Jean! Let’s stick to the matter at hand, shall we? There are a lot of codes. I getcha. Now, please tell me you have another of these beauties in the back. And if you do, can I get it delivered?”
“I’ll check, but we have a flat $50 delivery fee for all items.”
“$50? The whole whale only costs $99!”
“I’m sorry. Did you see the deer we have? Those are nice, too.”
“Jean. Please. Don’t compare a deer to a Killer Whale. It’s pointless…”
“I have to take my break now.”
“I gotta go, too. Bye, Jean.”
Well, there’s always the 99 cent pretzel on the way out. It’s pretty good, too. As I get close to the food area, I can see it’s cordoned off for renovation, repairs, demolition? Shit, I don’t know. I just want a goddamn pretzel! No whale! No pretzel! No Peace! Where did I hear that slogan…?
I went out to the parking lot. I like to park in out of the way spots so my car doesn’t get all dinged up. I’m parked against the wall of the neighboring store. Next to my car is a minivan. I head to the back of my car to put my 87 rolls of toilet paper in the trunk. I see someone’s legs sticking out the side of the minivan. It’s Jean. “Jean, how do? On your break?”
“Oh, hi. I never got your name.”
“That’s an unusual name.”
I see Jean is drinking something out of a red Solo cup.
“You want some?”
“What is it?”
“Helena IPA.” She pulls a towel off the beer ball she has covered. “I’m working till closing so having a beer on my break is fine. I won’t be driving for another five hours.”
“Unfortunately, I’m driving now. And by now I mean after I have a Helena IPA with you.”
Jean pours me a cup full. “You always have beer in your car?”
“No. This was left over from a ladies night at my place last night” she said, then laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Ladies night. It usually refers to a bunch of women spending time away from their boyfriends or husbands. None of the women there last night, including yours truly, has a boyfriend or a husband.” She let out another little laugh then finished the IPA left in her cup.
“You’re probably better off” I said. “Relationships are friggin’ rough business. Someone’s happy, someone’s not. Neither are happy at the same time. I tell ya, the planets really gotta align for a simpatico situation. And they don’t usually align for very long when they do.”
“Well, no need to feel sorry for me. I was in a real lousy relationship and now I’m free. Couldn’t be happier right now. “ Then her phone beeped. “Looks like I have time for another one. My hours got extended till closing.” She poured herself another one then looked my way. “Another for you, Monty?”
“Sure thing. Thanks.”
“After this one I gotta get busy.” She threw her thumb back over her shoulder.
I looked inside her minivan. It was a shrine to Johnny Cash. Memorabilia everywhere. “He’s my guy,” said Jean, opening her vest to show me a T-shirt with Johnny Cash on a Cross in some desert setting. It read “JC is my JC.”
Pretty hardcore, Jean.
“Very nice” I said. “What is it that you gotta get busy with?”
“I’m writing a book. I usually get a few pages done on my breaks. When it’s nice out, that is.”
“Let me guess. Fiction. You’re a mercenary travelling the globe righting wrongs, with violence if necessary, while also educating the good guys you meet about the man/myth/legend that was Johnny Cash. It’s an expensive gig due to the hi-tech weapons you are always acquiring to stay on top of your game and also because you’re constantly handing out JC paraphernalia. Working title: Strapped For Cash! Nailed it! Right?”
“Maybe you should be the writer. It’s actually about Swedish Harpsichordist Elsa Svatsen. Have you heard of her?”
“Of course. Elza Svadser. She…I never heard of her.”
“In 1942, while she was playing in the Swedish Hammes Orchestra, she was secretly working as a spy for the British government. She was outraged her native Sweden continued to export iron, among other raw materials, to Nazi Germany during the war. Winston Churchill aimed to stop the shipments. Elsa was an amazing woman. I’ve been researching her for over two years. I spent two weeks in Sweden this past summer interviewing her last living sister, Hildie, and her two sons, Bjorn and Giles. Lovely people.”
“Wow. Very impressive” I said. “My wife and I went to Little Poland over in Hoopersville for the Polska Kielbasa festival. Doesn’t really compare to Sweden and spy stuff…”
“Are you swedish?” asked Jean.
“About a quarter, yes. Never been there though.”
My phone rang. “Yep, I’ll be home in a little bit. Gotta run, Jean. My wife is waiting on some Advil. It was really nice to meet you. I’ve learned alot and thanks much for the suds.”
“My pleasure,” said Jean.
I started to walk away then turned back. “Hey, Jean, I don’t mean to be an elitist asshole and it’s probably none of my business but why do you work here? You got the book thing going and you seem pretty smart.”
“Elitist asshole remarks aside,” said Jean, “I just thought my life was somehow going to unfold in some divine fashion. You ever see how some jewelers when they are transporting diamonds they keep them wrapped up inside a piece of paper that’s been folded like a dozen times to make a little pouch?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen that.”
“That’s how I thought my life was going to be. But it took me a very long time to figure out that my diamond wasn’t going to appear unless I unfolded the package myself.”
“I understand.” My phone started ringing again. “I really gotta go.”
“Take care, Monty.”
“Call me Gomes.” I said. “Or use my new code: “EA.”