Thursday, February 16, 2006


I called Melody off sick today from her job. What a terrible week Melody is having. First her husband gets her nothing for Valentine’s Day, and then a virus invades her fair frame and convinces it to produce ridiculous amounts of histamine. I assure you that Melody would be at work today, performing her usual miracles, were she not talking like a frog. It would not do well, I told her, for her to answer the phone at the school and say, “Ribbit?

“I need Kleenexes,” Melody told me before I headed off to work. “And those vitamin C cough drop things. Ribbit!” Having gotten her nothing for Valentine’s Day, this trip to the grocery was the least I could do. I hopped to the task.

As I stood in line at the grocery store at 8:15 a.m., a strange thing happened. The woman at the cash register told the woman in line ahead of me: “I think I’m getting Alzheimer’s.” She said this on the heels of forgetting the customer’s regular brand of cigarettes. It was not Alzheimer’s, of course, but that her mind was overloaded with grocery facts. She is also the owner of the store, and there must be no end to the details she must remember: How much does a can of garbanzo beans cost—per thirty-can carton? When will I have to order more Ajax? Will our twelve-packs of Lincoln-shaped marshmallow heads get here before President’s Day? Why does mold grow on all of our grapes?

At this juncture, the woman in line ahead of me said, “You just need a vacation.”

The storeowner responded, “Well, I’m going to a food vendor’s convention next weekend. I’m going to be buying hams.”

I was so taken aback that I almost reached for an impulse item. The woman in front of me said, “Well, that’s no vacation. That’s work.” Amen, sister. Preach it for both of us. A grocer going to a food vendor’s convention would be like a bullfighter going to church: business as usual.

I should have let this intelligent customer make our mutual point, paid for my Kleenexes and vitamin C cough drops, and left to attend to my dischocolated wife. But it entered my head how to make the food convention fun. I saw mental pictures of how to accomplish it. I can’t help what I think of. I can usually help saying it, but I thought my comments would enlighten and edify this gathering. So I said, “The only thing that might make a food convention fun is if there was a food fight.”

I realized then that I should have slapped myself in the head with an impulse item. I stared at the black conveyer belt thing, waiting for someone to laugh. I stared at the ingredients of the cough drops, waiting for someone to laugh. I noticed that there were 200 Kleenexes inside the box I was preparing to purchase, waiting for someone to laugh. For a reason I will never understand, I gained courage from the silence. My vision of the food fight at the convention had budded, and I was not even at the flower shop. So I looked up into the owner’s eyes and said, “I mean, I would love to throw a ham. Wouldn’t you? Imagine that. Throwing a ham. Try to imagine actually heaving it at someone. I’d throw it thawed, of course. I wouldn’t want to throw a frozen ham. Can you imagine getting hit on the head by a frozen ham?”

It was so quiet after this that, for a moment, I thought I might be at the library. But I looked around and noticed that there were no books. There were only impulse items like little pencil sharpeners, packs of bubble gum, and issues of TV Guide. I knew it was the grocery store then, because patrons at the library are discouraged both from chewing gum and knowing ahead of time what will be on television.

Someone had come into line behind me—another woman. She had heard my ham soliloquy. I looked to her for comfort, but she was staring at a rack of beef jerky, pretending to read the ingredients.

To me, throwing hams is a healthy antidote to the rotish observance of Hallmark Holidays. My advice to everyone is: Do the unexpected. Be unpredictable, and good things will come to you.

You can always apologize to everyone later.

© 2006 by Martin Zender