The Freak Show that Follows Me
Call it a blessing, or call it a curse; no matter where in the world I am, chances are good that a stranger will come up to me and spill their guts. Ask Biggy. All I have to do is tell some woman at the next table at Wild Wings that her baby is cute, and suddenly she has turned her chair around and is telling us in great tearful detail the tale of the miracle conception of that infant--everything from the amount and consistency of the sperm her husband produced at the fertility clinic to her vision of the Virgin Mary in her pancakes the day her prayers were answered.
So I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened at the Publix pharmacy on Sunday. And yet.
Here's what happened:
I'm standing there with the pleasant little tech, discussing generic vs. brand name antibiotics, when an elderly woman wearing a loose leopard-print blouse and black pants, using her buggy as a walker, approaches. She doesn't seem to be actually headed to the pharmacy counter but, rather, toward the Old People's aisle of Milk of Magnesia, Epson salts, and Doan's Pills. Out of the corner of her eye, though, she spots me and is pulled off course.
Before I know it, she is practically screaming, "It sure is cold in here! I never wear a bra, but when I'm in here I feel like everyone can tell. The other day, I ran into Fred, who I used to work with at the power company, and he asked me, 'Hey, Barb, what happened to your breasts?! You used to have a nice rack.' So I told him, 'It's called breast cancer, you asshole. I had a double mastectomy,' and then he said, 'Well, why didn't you have them reconstructed? It looks weird.' Can you believe it!?"
By now, I've put my Mucinex and club soda on the counter because I can tell this ain't gonna be a short story. I'm noticing that in the crevices of her face are multiple piercings and black-inky tattoos. How I could have missed them before? She takes a breath and continues:
"I said, 'Now, Fred, I'm 75 years old, my two sons are 38 and 54, I'm retired, and I've been a widow for nine years. What the hell do I need boobs for?' and then he asked me if I still wear the necklace they gave me at my retirement party."
At this point, she reaches deep into her shirt and pulls out a wooden penis about the size of a Matchbox car, on a chain, and starts waving it around. By now, another customer has come to the pharmacy, and he, the tech, and the pharmacist are looking at me like 'Do something. Make it stop.' Honestly, like this is my fault! But Barb's not finished, and I'm powerless against her.
"'Not only do I still wear the necklace,' I said, 'I carry this, too. I can get a good ten inches with it.'" She pulls a bigger rubber penis keychain out of her pocket and squeezes it to make it grow.
That's it, I'm done. I know I must walk away in order for the other good citizens of Publix to be spared, so I wheel my own cart toward the toothpaste aisle as she yells after me, "See what you have to look forward to? When you get my age, you can say and do anything!"