Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Aug 28, 2012

A Man Named Isaac @ the Door

There's a deja vu-dripping party cranking up in the boot tip of Louisiana.

"Hey there, Buras LA. My name is Isaac. Katrina told me all about you. She's not coming back. But the mischievous girl has sent me to play. Game on!"

(Buras LA is grimly known as the location where, on August 29, 2005, the eye of the Hurricane named Katrina made first landfall in Louisiana. The loss of surrounding marsh lands to erosion and subsidence allowed Hurricane Katrina's storm surge to undermine the New Orleans area levee system and the overall area was devastated.)

Wonder if Mr. Isaac will prove to be a kinder, less ravaging, and more polite guest than her Russian highness, Katrina, was. He's knocking at the door now!

Katrina Crashed into Buras LA in the Dark on August 29, 2005

Storm Tracking for Hurricane Isaac on Tuesday, August 28 (2012)

Back in December 2010, while I was working for a few days in New Orleans, I wrote an early Monster Blog entry. It was titled "New Orleans Journal: Lessons Learned in the Third World."

Today, I have updated it here (weblink below). I would like it very much if you took a few minutes with it, then let me know what you think.  May everyone in the stormy upswing of Isaac be held safe.


Aug 24, 2012

On Criticism -- Well, Thanks for the Feedback?

"If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is really thinking"

     As I stepped off the stage of my most recent performance (I just killed it, to be honest but not very modest), I felt pretty good. Among a variety of new wrinkles, I had experimented with an old story with a new cadence to my words, with a much slower delivery than usual, and a couple of different inflection points. And I worked in a pair of new facial expressions when I delivered the snappers. Bazinga, as Sheldon Cooper often says. Not that all my material is that aged and creaky. But I have  been working this one bit for a long, long time. As with any good story, particularly a really funny one, it has staying and human interest power and it is a rich mine that begs to be dug deeper.

     Visions of a big payday pirouetted in my mind. I was smiling. But my de facto stage manager gave me the "Duh" face. Which is always an occasion for serious concern. Well, 'sup bro? I thought that went pretty well, pretty funny, I ventured hesitantly, But okay what's the deal, what went wrong?

     I suddenly remembered the officious music composer Tony Salieri's strongly negative and dour response at the German court to a brilliant live performance (in the film Amadeus) just played by Mozart. But what could be the problem?, the genius asks the poser. Salieri hems, haws, then says: 'Umm, let's see. Ahhh, too many notes!' 

Such was the off-key feedback.

Antonio Salieri

     What I was succinctly told was that while I came off pretty good overall my delivery had been too slow. With this person I usually choose not to get into a battle of wits because, all things considered, I typically come off like an unarmed competitor. Just to underscore my point though let me say that I disagreed with the feed loop and said so. But not with much conviction and energy. After a couple of hours, I concurred with the criticism even more. Of course, I had consciously planned to experiment with a slowed-down delivery during certain elements of my laugh a minute snapperfest. But no doubt I could step it up and likely will do that the next time around. If there is a next time, as the old saying goes. 

     Just to make my salient point more obvious, I admit that when it comes to giving and receiving constructive critical feedback, I am way, way better at giving than getting -- at no charge, naturally, mostly when nobody is asking for anything from me. Geez, since it's confession time, I'll say that I'm am chock full of opinions. I am tempted to say it's because everybody's a critic. But that's probably not true. Nevertheless, as some say about critics and others, I only play one on TV.

     I suppose the main emphasis I want to get across is that I have come to believe that in a lot of cases, when others gripe, or complain, or come off like critics from left field, or get plain old snarky, I may have hit on something good. (Well, alright, it could be that the critics have a good insight now and then.) Workplace situations have taught me a few things over and over. Most groups of people, like co-workers on a staff, tend to go along to get along. Not rock the boat. Birds of a feather, they flock together. In the sharp words of someone far wiser than I'll ever be, this can be summed: so, if everybody is thinking alike, then nobody's really thinking. 

     What I need to do is take life more as it comes I suppose. That would involve backing off a little in my innermost thoughts (which never turn off) and moderating certain knee-jerk reactions -- such as thinking more deeply and appreciatively about what certain people have to say, or about how they do it, or what their contributions add up to. Despite the fact that I have never subscribed to this theory, this would entail clamming up more, listening a whole lot better, and seeking first to understand before trying to be understood, as Stephen Covey said.

     That's it. I need a whole new viewpoint on giving and getting feedback. My presence and interactions should become more effacing. So, for now, since I cannot easily tell that zinger-packed, old story from earlier today, let me try to sign out on a different note -- using some newly pilfered material from the late, great Phyllis Diller. ('Cause she won't complain.)

     "I am a bad driver. I am such a bad driver!" 

     From the audience members:  How bad are you?

     "I had a terrr-ible, horrr-able accident driving the other day. I had to make a quick call to 911. Fortunately my car was jammed into a phone booth at the time."

     And: "My bad driving has led to important information. Like never and I mean nev-ver run into the lead car of a funeral procession. Man, I have never ever seen a group of people in such a BAD bad mood . . .  (pause for the laugh) . . . And, then, when that stiff rolled out of the hearse . . "

     Can't you just see her grasping her standard cigarette-holder prop (she never smoked in fact) and hear her laugh now? She'd throw her head back and go ah-ha-ha-ha-Hah! The thing is once she got rolling on stage in Vegas, then TV and movies, all kinds of people told PD over and over what would work, what wouldn't, what she needed to do better, and that stand up comedy was a male's game but not for middle-aged females. But Lady Diller stuck to her instincts. Like, the more contemporary Lady Gaga, PD laughed all the way to the bank.

Phyllis Diller

     But seriously folks, that reminds me. People seem to love it when I get to the drunk ol' me jokes. Thank goodness for the gift of sobriety. My de facto's  unbidden and current feedback is to cool it on these drinker's gag lines. Nope. Not ready yet. One yuk that I shamelessly swiped from Phyllis herself is this. (Well, okay, on second thought, maybe I'll cool some of it some day, bro.):

     You know, I was a bad drunk. A really bad bad drunk.

     Cue the audience: How bad were you?

     Well I was prit-teee dang bad. But I only got drunk once. Unfortunately for me it was from October of 1987 . . . until September of 1999. (Pause for the slight pops of laughter.) Now for the big snapper: 'I was soooo bad a drunk that one day I cut my neck while shaving . . . and my eyes cleared up! Then my son's dog killed a bird and dragged its carcass into his house. My son sent me a picture on his phone. He said the bird looked better than I did! . . . A friend the other day started calling me Sasquatch. When I asked why, she pointed to my drink and then said 'Cause you're big, your brown and your hairy and nobody ever sees you anymore! . . . But seriously, friends, after drinking all day I once stumbled into a Pet Smart store by accident. The people in there tried to rescue me!

     Now that's humor, no matter what your opinion tells you. Build a premise, then slowly unfold some zingers that relate to it. Cap the process off. -- Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Bam. Be sure to get the comic pacing right. Take your time, deliver the lines with proper rhythms. Some people are gonna eat it up, while some -- like Salieri -- aren't gonna like it much. Check the nonverbals out there. They'll probably get their feeback and sour reactions over to you in some quick way. Reminder: don't forget to collect your $$ check as you leave. You have probably earned it all and more.

     But now it's your turn. Surely you have something to say back to me. As Shakespeare once noted, all the world's a stage and we are simply players. Play on. Ball's in your lap.

Thanks for being here, folks. You've been a great, great
audience! Tell your friends I'll be here all week. Don't forget
to tip your waiters. Now drive home safely. Goodnight!


Aug 17, 2012

It's Seniors' Day -- Let's Go Krogering!

A box of Slim Jims
A cellophane bag of fresh salad mix
Some kind of ready-to-eat corn stuff in a plastic cook bag and
An old school squeeze can, bright red and yellow, of Red Devil lighter fluid

Instantly I knew this was a girl that I really had to meet.’


A box of Slim Jim,
          A cellophane bag of fresh salad mix
          Some kind of corn stuff in a plastic cook bag and
          A squeeze can of Red Devil lighter fluid

          Instantly I thought ‘This is a girl that I really need to meet.’


                  “It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in
                  the giving, but like morning light it scattered
                  the night and made that day worth living.” 

                                                -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

      I sit here attempting to relax and to catch my breath for a while. I should be getting back to my 'thrill a minute' weekend straight away by paying attention to my (thankfully shrinking) to-do list. But first let's conduct a concise review of this day's accomplishments and modest adventures. For instance, it's just past 12 noon on Saturday, and already my frig and my larder (now there's a fine but largely forgotten term) are well-stocked. You see, I just went Kroger-ing -- as the peppy TV commercials say. In New Orleans the locals all call it "making groceries." My crispy, fresh dry-cleaned clothes for the coming work week have been collected too. They properly hang put away on wire hangers under plastic overwraps that remind me of translucent plastic ghosts in my quirky 'man room' closet. Each time I stick my nose in there, especially on those dark and early-mornings of workdays, standing there vulnerably in my underwear and socks, I expect to hear some disembodied, practical joking voice of the Incubus manically shout 'Boo.' Most importantly, I now have at hand the requisite daylong supply of large plastic cups holding iced green tea from Starbucks -- treinte size for me, a he-man's 30 ounce beverage, none of that awful poisonous dextrose syrup please, but with four Equals in each cup. Si vous plais! This comforting supply of icy green tea functions, I suppose, like another author's cigars, Mark Twain's let's say, that smoke up the room zestfully and function as a habitual writer's metaphoric Muse to prod one into the creative imagineering process.

Okay, everybody, let's go Krogering!
     Having just sucked up a big sip of tea through my two green straws, I feel I now have something to rehash. About today's Krogering foray, that is. As surely as a faithful, dedicated Jesuit under vows would undertake a rigorous and religious examen of his misgivings, his misdeeds, plus his good thoughts actions of the day, as night shadows creep about, I will do this. Relax, I tell myself. This should not take very long and should not cost much. And the punchline as it were at the end of my grocery shopping adventure in my opinion will possess a worthy lesson for you and me about getting it together to live virtuously in our hungry America.

      Selection of the Kroger shopping cart to begin one's in-grocery adventure may seem mundane to its core. But I prefer to treat it as a crucial step in a successful food and drink acquisition process. I do not ever walk into a grocery store, if I can help it, empty-handed. I clutch a Starbucks iced tea or a grande cup of bold, smoky hot coffee in one hand. With the other hand I push a cart I've just wrangled from a lingering metal herd, like an out of shape cowpoke just arrived from the great American prairies, way out there in the store's danger-ridden parking lot. The Kroger people (as well as some of the Publix, Safeway, and Ralph's managers across the country) stock two basic models of shopping carts -- one is a standard, high sided and deep-bodied item on wheels (with no drink-cup holder, very bad!) and the other which is a truncated little contraption. It possesses a smallish holding basket for groceries, etc., on the top -- with a hole in the push bar convenient to insert your walkaround beverage, most excellent! -- and below is a flat rack that will also accommodate some miscellaneous items intended for purchase like a humongous bag of nutritious Science Diet dog food for aging Fido or a family sized gigantic tray of sale-priced, slightly graying beef steaks that will surely take to clogging up someone's heart arteries at supper in just a few hours or so.

Yes, this bad mommy was recently charged with 
slipping NyQuil into her kids' juice boxes on Aisle 3

Who says the bigger one is always better?

      To me the essential steps of shopping cart selection and procurement are critical. It's the smaller model of basket for me just about every time. I just prefer the way this compact machine 'helps' me shop judiciously, not frivolously. Frankly, it won't accommodate that many food and paper goods overall. It does accommodate well the large gallon-sized bleach, water jugs, and detergent containers on the lower rack. Those whopper big old grocery carts at Kroger and other megastores tempt the unpracticed poor food shopper, and the weak-willed but cagey veteran adventurers (like me), to overdo it every time ('You really don't need that double pack of Coke Jolt on sale and that 20 pound sack of frozen catfish nuggets, do you, dear?'). The compact roller carts make drinking my tea or coffee beverage easier to accomplish as well, while watching heated and disastrous cart collisions and mad dashes down irrelevant aisles mark the progress of the weekend's Krogering Games. Humbly I thank the Creator for them, and the Kroger's management of course. The whole world will be watching, as the movie "Hunger Games" tag line would say.

      What's the big deal? Well, someone is bound to ask the meaning of this question. Surely, as it's posed, a lonely mocking jay sounds its hollow call, decrying the materialistic and hungry horizon we all seek, just above the big DAIRY sign high up on the Kroger back wall.

**********   **********    **********

      So I'll make an effort to engage you with another question. Is 11:00 A.M. an unreasonable time to begin a cart walk, like a low skilled weekend golfer with his golf bag, through a local Kroger's superstore on Saturday? Well, it helps one to beat to the punch the frenetic thrum of the customer tsunami that will later thrash into the front doors of the K-Store like a smothering wave of churning water rolling in from watery serfdoms unseen. This assault is usually filled with chunky gamers with mullets who sport over-stuffed tight tee shirts, women with ridiculous shorts and sandals sets, young boys with hip-hop jeans dangling precariously on their butts, dazed and aisle-clogging little 'family' aggregations doing this grocery trip together (for some indiscernible reason), a few actually (usually pushing alone) attractive shoppers with handbaskets or push carts filling nicely, screaming children who want now their cereal Trix (which are for kids not silly rabbits), the occasional growling service animal with some older man ticking the floor with a cane, obese or emphysemic riders who can't breathe or walk unaided puffing away slowly on NASCAR-like, cantankerous little scooters that the Kroger folks supply, an out of place couple dressed to kill just stopping by rushed to get a bottle of overpriced wine and a cheese tray for some glittery Saturday reception, and of course other samples of food-dependent detritus that wash ashore in the Kroger zone just before Saturday supper.

      Today I went walking the aisles of my store. I had picked up many more items than I had originally planned to squirrel away in my oversize cart. I was stuck with one of those bigger models because unbelievably all of the smaller models were somehow missing from the store and not lurking unused in the crowded parking lot.

      Grudgingly, "It happens I suppose," I mumbled to myself as I rolled into the fresh greens and produce section of the store.  "Harshes my Saturday cool but not every day can be a total plus."

       I picked up and bagged a few once-living lumps like onions, basil leaves, and some bunches of dark lettuce and bok choy, then I made my way further through the maze of long aisles. I grabbed some actually needed (Ragu pasta sauce and a box of whole-wheat penne) and some impulse items (a big bag of the Keebler elves' finest gourmet cookies) until I got to around Aisle number 7 -- the row for Soft Drinks, Candy, Gum, Waters, Beers, Wine Coolers, Ice. It was there that I initially noticed a nice looking blonde girl dressed in soft and casual Nike sportswear with blindingly bright neon green New Balance shoes, which I wouldn't exactly call a clever fashion ensemble.

      She was pushing her big basket toward me. Actually, and oddly, this girl resembled closely the young actress, Jennifer something, who played the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, in the big hit film "The Hunger Games." I nonchalantly pegged her to be about 27 or 28 years old, an aspiring attorney laboring long but billable hours very low-profile at a so-so greedy law firm somewhere in the vicinity. No, she did not carry a bow and arrows. I like to bedevil some folks by seeking eye contact with them when I can in situations like the grocery store -- if my mood is good and if I am feeling up to it. Their reactions often delight my heart -- from little smiles to shunning lookaways to clipped How-are-ya's to other assorted responses and non-responses. Fun. Well, practice random acts of kindness the poster on the wall says. Another one counsels sagely Keep them guessing about what you are really up to!

     What had caught my eye about this blonde girl, besides her glowing Katniss in sportswear thing, was the fact that she was diligently piling items -- just like me -- into the little section of her grocery cart in which theoretical kidlets are supposed to squeeze like little prisoners of war planted in a steel-bar island while mom or dad buy the food stuffs that the tiny captives, um children, generally detest. I noticed that Katniss looked away when I sought a mild bit of eye contact and a hint of a smile. No problem.  I was already poised to move on. She pretended quickly to get very busy tapping a text message -- Save me from this geezer -- on a handsome black, silver, and shiny Epic Smartphone. I shrugged and pushed on.

    By the time of my walk up Aisle 11, I was flagging badly and needed a rest. Surrounded by freezer cases, I hunted for a frosty cake to take home. Then she appeared again up the aisle. I rounded into Aisle 12 -- Ice Cream, Novelties and other sugary stuff in a freezer with a row of glass doors. On the other side of the floor were Cheeses, Yogurt, Biscuits, and a few random categories laid out in a way that ran to the back wall, which was labeled high over head in huge letters DAIRY. Okay, I said to myself. 'Gotta get busy and get outta this place.'

     I barely noticed as the blonde attorney came ambling  slowly up Aisle 12. She seemed at the moment to be thinking over what choice to make next. I did not register that she parked near the shredded cheese displays then wandered off. I had left my cart near the cheeses bin too. I busily waked  (I'd now say rushed) about while grabbing some on-sale ice cream (Cherry Cordial No Sugar Added), some Hershey chocolate syrup in a squeeze bottle, a box of frozen Welch's fruit bars, slices of Kraft's sharp white cheddar in a sealed bag, and a big slab of reduced fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese but no cake. Soon my hands were crammed. I rounded back to my cart, dumped the delectable selections into it while not eyeing anything much but the nearby Bakeryland, which would be my path toward a hopefully quick escape from this Krogering business for the day. I got the heavy cart's wheels rolling again.

     But not very far.

     "Excuse me, sir. Sir?," some female said behind me as I was fumbling to adjust my earbuds so I could listen to iPod tunes. "Sir, I think . . ."

     I turned and saw that it was Katniss herself. She had stolen up near me like a silent stalker. "What's it? Oh," I spoke a little strangely.

     "I think you've, you've got my shopping cart there," she said with puzzlement.

     I looked closely. Geez, I did have her cart, her collection of groceries, my most recent acquisitions placed in it. It was all intermingled now. I felt confused by this upsetting observation. "Wow. I, I, I -- I've never pulled anything like this before. Really. Believe me." Momentarily, because she was a lawyer, I seriously wondered what the legal penalties might be for purloining someone's basket while shopping.

     "Well, no problem," Katniss smiled shyly. I smiled sheepishly.

    "Mine -- my cart -- was here too," I explained. Looking around, I scanned down the aisle and surmised that it was no longer in sight. "But . . . . now . . . it's gone. Who would take my cart? My stuff. I'm not that interesting. Really."

    Katniss and few other listeners smiled lightly. She shook her head yes.

    "Well. Thanks, so. I gotta go look for it" I said summarily. I wanted to just walk away and hide somewhere near the SEAFOOD counter. I was going to hunt down my shopping cart and the idle-minded thief or thieves who had stolen it. I figured the darn thing was big enough that I surely should spot it swiftly.

    "You know people just up and go 'n walk off with stuff -- just like that," a helpful citizen with a family sized box of Velveeta in her hands chimed in. "They'll probably go 'n figure out what they done 'n just leave it be it somewheres around here."

    "Yeah, guess so," I said. I began again to push and walk once more.

    "Sir! Sir?,"

    "Yes? What is it?," I asked absentmindedly.

    "My cart. My cart. I need it. You've still got it. That's my cart you have there." Katniss pointed as if I were incapable of grasping her plain English.

    "Oh yeah," I sighed dumbly. My hands rose briskly off her push bar. I worried that I was much more discombobulated deep down than I believed myself to be.

    She grabbed at her cart. Her movement displayed that she was anxious to regain control of it. As she did, I admired some of Katniss' sensible but run of the mill purchases. Lots of raw and nutritious kinds of food. Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice brand boxes. Nothing dangerous or whimsical in that basket. Clearly, she was not, this budding young lawyer, a spendthrift, nor a big drinker, nor some Food Channel gourmet kitchen pretender. Iron Chef himself would be enthralled, I thought. Then I wondered out of the blue what Katniss would say about alcohol and marijuana use.

     "Thank you. Yeah, well, I'm sure that this happens a lot. They all, the shopping baskets, kind of seem alike here if you don't look real hard," she added genially.

    "Not if you get one of those great little carts they have here with the square top basket and the bottom rack for stuff like Science Diet dog food," I blurted with a little too much energy. This sounded really weird, off-kilter, maniacal.

    Katniss held out her left arm as she said, "Hmmm. Well. I guess that's right." In her hand she loosely held the shiny black Smartphone.

    "Well, thanks for the heads-up. I gotta go run mine down. So, are you trying to offer me your way cool Smartphone too?," I joked.

    She laughed at that. Several other shoppers were watching. They looked mystified by the entire incident. I said, "Well, bye. Sorry."

     "Sir? Sir? These would be yours. Don't you want your items? Here," She pointed down to the cheese slices, juice bars, and other things that I had dumped into her cart's child-ready little bin.

     I know I turned red at that point. "Sure," I whispered. "Good idea." Thank you, Katniss -- and I'm outta here is what I thought to myself. Various onlookers rolled on to take care of their grocery chores.

      ********    *******     ********
Hand over my shopping cart, mister, or I'm going to have to hurt you!
      After five minutes of edgy searching I was discouraged. The poor burdened basket which I had scooted through the store for over an hour remained invisible. As far as I knew it was a steel fugitive with wheels on the run. Wildly, I pictured my cart rolling all by itself out of the Kroger's door nervously, fearing that it might set off an alarm bell and be yanked back inside Kroger's for a tough examination by the police. I began to resent the rented security guards and the store manager types who seemed to be just standing around stupidly while an emergency cartnapping was played out right in front of them. These carts should be given customer name plates!, I considered wildly for a moment. Then I began to blame angrily a nameless, faceless octogenarian couple doddering along, you know, "krogering" away somewhere on the Spices, Sugar, Sweeteners Syrup aisle oblivious to the fact that they had nabbed successfully my big basket. I do not want to repeat this whole go-round, I moaned.
      Once I had inspected Aisles 11, 10, and 9 closely all the way back to the DAIRY area I had discovered only several stray shoppers moving languidly and more of those store managers with other low-rung employees chatting aimlessly while avoiding the public. Okay, that was it. I started to book my way rapidly across the store up by the check-out lanes. My sensible but leaky box of ice cream, drippy juice bars, and other Aisle 12 selections were still in my grasp. Clearly I was frustrated and more than ready to engage in a heated altercation any second.

      A big, floor to ceiling steel pole stood in the middle of the old Kroger building. Near it was the wide entryway to grocery's stupid Self-Checkout computers. Maybe my cart is there, I thought. But it was not of course.

     I spied two women leaning against the mighty metal pole. One was clearly an African-American. Her nametag identified her as Melda Crumb. The other appeared to be a Latina christened Lupe Loew. Each was wearing a bright red vest denoting that they were Kroger floor overseers poised to assist whoever needed Krogering assistance.

     Melda squinted at me skeptically over her reading glasses. She looked to be strong enough to mix it up with anybody, even handle a heavy boxer's punch. In me, I guessed, she was now beholding a long stretch of bad road, Mr. Troubletime, wedging into her space. Lupe just stared my way impassively.

     "Yes?" Melda with a skeptical, don't tread on me tone asked. She eyed suspiciously the cold perishables that I was embracing.

     "Well, huh-ha, I mean, ha ha, you may not generally hear this kind of thing. But . . . Or you may think that I've become unhinged. But look I can't find my cart with my stuff anywhere."

     "Did you look at where you left it?" Melda asked matter of factly. Lupe looked concerned.

     "Uh. Yeah I did. Aisle 12. It was gone. Up in smoke. Right by the cheeses and yogurt and stuff. You know?" I pleaded my case.

    "Did you look around any more? Did you see anybody with it?," Melba wanted to know. Lupe said yeah.

     "Yeah. I did all that. I looked hard in several places. Look, I don't want y'all to think I'm going crazy or anything but I don't quite know what to do."

     "Somebody just took it. They'll ditch it. Just ditch it. We find 'em all over here all the time," Melda said like the lead, investigative detective assigned to my case."

     "Really? Just like that?," I asked incredulously.

     "Look, don't be worried. You just go get you 'nother cart. Those things belong to you?," she nodded her head toward my full hands.

     "Yep. But they're fading on me."

     "I know it's a pain. But you go on and start over. Go on and get going. I'll look for your things. If you see your basket you find me right off. If I find it I'll find you once it shows up. Okay?," Melda assured me.

     "I'll be over here," I said unhelpfully as I pointed toward the distant FRESH FRUITS & VEGETABLES sign high on the wall.

    "Don't you worry none. Somebody'll look down, see what they done, and they'll figure it all out," Melda noted. Then she walked away.

*******    ********    ******
     In a matter of moments, I commandeered an empty cart (sadly, the larger model again)for my ridiculous re-shopping excursion.

     My first replacement acquisitions were a bag of jasmine rice, a box of basmati, and the Ragu sauce and supply of dry pasta that I had chosen earlier.  Then I walked, still rather mad, over to the fragrant valley of FRESH FRUITS.

     Once there I snapped with a little too much heat and vigor three plastic bags off the waist-high, circular bag dispenser near some wooden apple carts. Take it easy, I cautioned myself silently, the whole world will be watching. A big woman with a little black-haired girl assessed how much danger they might suddenly have fallen into -- me being all postal and worked up so close to them. I sensed the woman was also checking me up and down for concealed weaponry. These three bags would hold my replacement onions, a pair of green bell peppers, and one shined up red one. At that moment, my mind briefly replayed a childhood Krogering memory. I was about 11 or 12 years old. I had by special request fetched via a bike ride some less than stellar Granny Smith apples from our local store. My mom seemed disappointed in the condition of the fruit, not in me.

    'I know,' she perked up. 'We should forget about these. We should drive out to pick fresh apples, peaches, even some corn from the fields. How about it? We could stock up nicely.' In my short life I had never considered such treachery. I was not sure what to say first. In my budding moralist's book, stealing from the fields of diligent farmers was wrong. 'Why'd we do that? My teacher says the farmers have it bad,' I noted. 'Are we now poor or something?' Mom gave me her 'you are really a cluless piece of work' stare and sighed loudly.

     As I walked over to snag a second bunch of basil leaves, I noticed the deep green vegetables arrayed together on the open dripping shelves. The cilantro packs seemed particularly fragrant. I saw a woman about 40 or 45 checking out Napa cabbages with an apparently trained eye. Again, just to lift my mood with (hopefully) humorous nonsense, I motioned to her to extract her white earphones, which were decorated little round buds with silver skulls and crossbones (soooo ladylike!), out of her ears.

     "What's the problem, sir?," she inquired seriously.

     Wow, sir again, I huffed to myself. "I was just wondering . . . here," I pointed to the vegetables. "What do you think was green, could really sing the blues, and could dance up a storm?," I said with a straight face.

     "I dunno. Really. What?" She rolled her eyes ever so slightly.

     "Okay. Okay. Give up? Give up? -- Elvis Parsley," I said gleefully.

     "Oh," she said with a thin smile of exasperation. Then the lady shopper issued a slight groan then began to quickly stuff the buds with the crossbones in her ears.

     "Whatcha listening to?" I asked off-handedly. The light echo from the earphones hinted at a Whitney Houston or Christina Aguilera lineup of MP3 files.

     "Parsley's greatest, dude," the shopper retorted. Her eyes sparkled with a gamer's feistiness.

     "Ha. That's funny," I said. She fully inserted the earbuds. The gambit and games were over.

     Once that was done I stepped it up by doubling back to the Aisle 4 placard that said  LATIN AMERICAN, MEXICAN, ASIAN, INDIAN, INTERNATIONAL FOODS, SALSA. Ah, a crossroads for the peoples of the world I thought. But the aisle was deserted. I snagged a replacement General Wong's Spicy Sesame Stir-Fry elixir and a container of dark brown Mandarin Sauce that is produced by Panda Express.

     Then my life changed forever.

     On the overhead announcement system I heard loudly "Good afternoon. Will the customer who was missing his shopping cart please come over to the Bakeryland department? We have found what you were looking for."

      With a hint of embarrassment I looked around furtively. Thankfully I was alone in Aisle 4. I listened for derisive laughter to echo about the crowded store.

      Then louder, more forcefully and clearly, I heard "Attention. Atten-tion. I repeat, Kroger shoppers, will the Kroger valued customer who lost his shopping cart please come to the Bakeryland area? We have a special surprise for you. We have located your runaway."

      "Geez, announce it to the whole wide world why don't you," I was cowed.

      Once again I tried to rush across the front of the store with my wiggly basket wheels incognito. I worried that everyone now got it that I was The Loser who had lost his shopping basket. I picked up speed just south of the formidable Saturday checkout lines. True progress though proved to be difficult. Individuals with overflowing carts slowed me down by veering left or right suddenly. Two little kids in a kiddie cart hooked onto the front of their dad's big basket came at me from the left like an Indy car. I stopped hard as if at a Stop sign out on the mean streets of the city. One little child was chewing gum and stared at me. The other, looking dosed by a heavy hit of Ritalin, raised his left hand to flip me off. Beautiful, charming, I murmured. I looked at the dad. I noticed that he suffered from bigger problems than an irreverent child or two. At that, an old woman with clipped white hair who was leaning over like a dangling corpse into her wide basket creeped in front of me. I imagined her recently steering out of her rural doublewide at the Trailer compound in a rusty Ford pick-up. At Kroger's door she abandoned the truck unlocked in the red No Parking zone. The back of the woman's faded tee shirt held a picture of a fragile human fetus. Below it was the caption "Pretend that I'm a tree. Protect my life. God bless the unborn!" Granny inched forward like an aged snail with a Valium issue.

     Like a road raged driver, I began to consider ways to slice around the old white hair. I had begun to panic. If I did not rush over to Bakeryville, or BakeryTown, or Baskerville, or whatever it was called, my shopping cart might be ruled ineligible then emptied by leering minimum wage clerks. I would have to play the game all over. I was feeling exhausted. I would not slink back to FRESH FRUITS to get another loathesome grocery trip moving.

     My aide de camp with the red vest, Kroger logo, and khaki trousers, that skeptical and streetwise African-American named Melda, waved to me. She seemed genuinely pleased to be scooting my original cart, thank God, with the two tall Starbucks straws sticking up from the kiddie lockdown section, on a path that endangered all who ventured into her path. Clearly she had been this way before. Her smile exposed her front teeth. The lyric once was lost but now am found from "Amazing Grace" played in my head with a church organ in the background.

     "Your lucky day. It's done showed up, senor. Muy bueno. Como no?," said Lupe Loew the other Kroger lady from the big metal pole.

Lupe, let me recommend Melda and you for a big raise

      "Must be," I conceded.

      Melda Crumb rolled up to me. The raised eyebrows and don't tread on me attitude had apparently evaporated.

"I don't know how to thank you, ma'am. I really don't. Thank you. I really, really did not want to do all this over again. I was so upset. Melda you're great."

     Melda seemed much more talkative and outgoing, like we had magically become some secret society. "Oh sure. You know what gave it away? I saw them straws here clear 'cross the floor. Two green straws. Yessir. If you hadn't a said somethin' about 'em and your cold cup from Starbucks I'd probably still be looking."

     She handed the drippy cup to me. "Here. You look like you could use a stiff drink. This's been some kinda mess, I tell ya."

      "Wow, I was like really worried when I first came up to you ladies. I thought that you'd think I was unhinged, mental. Another "problem" customer. When I first told you what happened it sounded kinda weird even to me," I smiled. "It's kinda harshed my day for Krogering. That's for sure."

      "Look at all the stuff," Melda told me. "Does all this look like yours? Anything's not?"

      It all looked good to me. No mystery items in my basket. I snapped up the Aisle 12 acquisitions then transferred them to my recovered collection. I decided I planned to trade the melting ice cream and the drippy grape juice bars for colder, firmer replacements as my first order of business.

     "So where did you find it anyway?" I wondered.

     Melda answered, "Way back there near DAIRY. Just sitting there by the milk cases. Dumped. Ditched and left. All by it's lonesome."

      "Well, you are a lifesaver to me. Thanks for going the extra mile. I guess you were pretty surprised when I walked up to you with what my issue was."

     Matter of factly, Melda said, "No sir. Not at all. I will take your second basket. Put this doubled up stuff away."

     At that, Katniss strolled into my sight from behind Melda. She was bound for checkout. She was talking again on her black phone. "So like was I sayin' -- you know," the imposter Katniss said with a sarcastic smile and a light toss of her hair. "He starts moving away so I say Sir, oh Sir?. . . " Then she looked at Melda and me. She tightened her lips. Then she nervously grinned. Putting down the compact phone, Katniss saluted Melda and me wordlessly with the iconic raised left arm with three extended fingers of The Hunger Games. Next she raised her Super Big Gulp cup with its cheery red 7/11 straw as a toast to Krogering while likewise paying attention.

     "God the amount of sugar in that sucker must be lulling her into a standing coma," I noted in awe.

     "What's her problem anyway," Melda snorted.  "What was that she just done?"

Now this is my drink for the day

     "Oh nothing much. A badass gesture. Admiration maybe. Like I said . . . . So . . . Wait!! You said no you weren't surprised to hear my tale of woe?"

     "It was pleasure to help you, sir," Melda says politely.  "Happens all the time. Don't you worry none. Carts get lost (she makes exaggerated air quotes with fingers on both hands as she mouths lost) in this store all the time. Ditched and dodged we call 'em. Thurbert the old vet of our staff says so."

     "I guess Saturdays being so busy make for more disappearances. There's people and baskets everywhere," I said.


      Melda returns to her skeptical, Black woman persona and tone. Now she is playing with me I realize. The don't give me no trouble stare returns. She places her hands on her hips. "Uh. Huh! It do be busy on days like today, mister man. But with all the old people who come shufflin' on in on Senior Days on Thursdays I tell ya, the God's honest truth, it's a living nightmare in here. An ever  livin' night-mare. We always be chasing down one ditched cart after ta other -- all morning till night on Senior Day. The drama's enough ta knock Mr. Shire-lock Homes himself for a loop Um-Hmm. There it is! Dat's the truth. Word!"

      She raised a wagging index finger. She smiled. I expected her to whisper, Testify!

      Lupe Loew nodded seriously without further comment.

      Another old red vest had joined us. His badge reported he was as Thurbert Bumpus. Apparently Thurbert was fixing to see what all the excitement by the steel girder was.

     "Caught yo' another runaway did you eh, Mel?" Thurbert notes.

      I turned toward a checkout lane. Lupe would be my bagger. Darius the Great as I call him would be my checkout guy. I noticed a few departure lines away the nosy, female kibitzer who had earlier chimed in  You know people just up and go walk'n off with stuff -- just like that. I looked for the big hunk of Velveeta cheese in a box that she had been carting around. It was not in sight.

     I thought for a moment. I grabbed my large Starbucks container and swallowed a huge amount of cold green tea. Drips of water fell onto my basket handle. I felt fortified and restored. Suddenly I decided to say something strange to Darius the Great, who happens to be young, African, an NFL fanatic, a hipster, and a hip-hop fan. He sports a diamond stud earring too. D was making his electronic scanner go boop! boop! as he recorded my purchases. "My man, Mister Valued Customer" he exclaimed as he fist-bumped with me and returned my Kroger discounts card. No, I decided, I would say it to everyone.

      I blurted loud enough for all to hear: Senior citizens and other members of Kroger Nation in this District, beware and unite. For the good of us all!  Tighten your bows and quiver your arrows as you forage about. So . . . stuff your baskets and your goods with care. Stock up on life's vitals and supplies. For we learned in The Hunger Games that stupid folks can be so very dangerous. And because. Because. The whole world will be watching. Go out now. And claw for survival. And may the odds be ever in your favor. You know?
     I raised my left hand with three fingers pointed upright in a hushed store, then bowed my head solemnly just like Katniss Everdeen would have wanted me to do. I was ready to get back to the great game of life.

     "Word, my serious white brother," Darius cheered.

     I looked over at the Velveeta Lady. Then at the stunned and speechless lawyer. A number of people (so it seemed) worried about when my semi-automatic pistol with the enormous clip of deadly bullets would commence the day's shootout.

     An announcement boomed around us. "Attention, Kroger valued customers, thank you for Krogering with us today." It sounded like Melda again. "We have a lost little child in the FRESH MEATS department, a handsome little boy. He is missing his family. He is lost. He says his name is Efraim. If this is your child lost or missing, please claim him at the Meats counter now."

      People stared suspiciously at me as I walked hastily with my big basket, my plastic bags inside, toward the store exit. I felt suddenly I had been walloped by a rude and unexpected smack from heaven. A few cell phones chirped like texting mocking jays throughout the hushed checkout zone. That Melda, I mused, such a cut up on that microphone. She aims for the forehead every time. And what are all these people looking at anyway? But frankly I didn't care to find out.