The Karma Train Stops Here
I want to tell you about Publix Bob, who used to be Winn Dixie Bob. This is a rather convoluted story, as the accounts of my life usually are.
First, here’s a little background regarding my spiteful nature, which will come into play as the tale progresses: Every once in a while, I use the occasion of a poem to take a jab or get revenge, a little--mostly impotent--power play to even the score. The for-instance that applies here is in my poem “Panama City Beach, Florida,” in these lines:
And now, the years turned inside out
like an air-brushed t-shirt, it’s me in Panama City
because suddenly I can’t stand my kids or the boyfriend
who felt fit to announce after eight months,
I’m not in love with you. But it might change.
What have you done with him—Tad the Frat Boy,
twenty-three year-old I picked up at the Barefoot Bar
just to prove, at thirty-three, I could?
What’s happened to him, turned hostile at no,
since he put me out in the street—trashed
and stumbling down the strip as well as ever
staggered any tattooed girl named Tammy?
See, when Biggy and I reconciled after that dreadful break-up, I was still very much smarting from the I’m-not-in-love-with-you statement, regardless of the fact he’d come begging back singing a whole-nother tune. I needed retribution. And the line itself, the Biggy-quote, wasn’t enough, though I knew he would hate it. So I used the name of his ex-girlfriend for the staggering-tattooed-girl line, a name I’ve always hated, associating it with those girls from Austell or Mableton, not the uptown Pams and Angies of my own Powder Springs. That was good—a swing at him and the ex. One poem, two birds. Ah, much better.
Fast forward to Publix Bob, whom I’ve known now for over ten years. My neighborhood is sandwiched between two strip malls, one that used to be anchored by the now-vacant Winn Dixie, and one anchored by a newer, thriving Publix. I met Bob when he worked as a bag boy at WD, back when my kids were little, when I’d keep them close at my side, away from the weird man of indeterminate age who sounds like Howard Cosell, spouting baseball scores and the weather, and who claims to be best friends with 11 Alive’s meteorologist, Paul Ossman.
I’ve long since learned that Bob is autistic, and he has, in the time it’s taken my kids to outgrow both of us, worked his way up to the Publix bakery. So I still see him several times a week, mostly because my husband drinks a gallon of milk a day.
And for some reason, Bob LOVES me, can spot me heading towards the supermarket as I leave the Bank of America parking lot half a mile away. He can't wait to shout me down as I sneak through the bread aisle or duck behind a pyramid of Bud Light. He gives me the sports, the extended forecast, his days off, his holiday plans, the latest news at his church, and all the details of his imagined conversations with Paul.
Yes, we’re tight, me and Bob—Bob who, about six years ago, for some mysterious reason, began calling me 'Tammy’ at the top of his lungs--in front of the other customers, in front of my children (who are old enough and smart enough to appreciate the irony), and sometimes even in front of Biggy--every time we meet.