Doug was in line to the cosmetic counter behind four other customers. There were just two women running the counter, and they looked 5-o’clock frazzled. The canned music recycled “Blue Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Joy to the World,” and the rest of the seasonal irony of joy and good will. Doug was in line because it was two days before Christmas and he had not yet bought Karen her annual supply of Much Adoo Oil and Perfume. He would have preferred to be almost anywhere rather than in a shopping crowd queue waiting to buy perfume. But here he was.
The woman ahead of Doug in line was a skinny, raggedy haired blonde with two kids dragging on her slacks and one squalling and fussing on her shoulder. The two kids dragging on her slacks were not squalling. They were whining and jerking on the pockets of the woman’s slacks. The boy was about three, and the girl was maybe a short four years old. Every once in a while the woman had to shift the kid on her shoulder, and hitch her pants back up. She looked about as frazzled as the two cosmetic counter clerks. But it did not take much of Doug’s limited imagination to see that she had the aura of someone would never see the end-of-shift release.
“Mooooooooooom,” the boy dragging on the pocket of the woman’s slacks. “Mooooooom,” He had a foghorn voice that dragged attention toward him. Doug was not alone in finding it irritating. Of this he was very sure. The girl was also saying “Mooooom,” but her whine was less foghorn than scratchy vinyl record with a foot stamp for emphasis.
“No, Petey, you can’t have another popcorn tart.”
There were a teenage girl and two men in the line ahead of the raggedy haired blond. So there were five irritated adults in line, and four of them were becoming secondly irritated by whiny kids. The teen handled it by being lost in the cloud, thumbing away at her phone.
Although, the old fellow waiting in front of the teenager did seem oblivious, Doug had seen him wiggle his walrus brush mustache and put his hand to his ear to turn his hearing aid down. Doug didn’t have that luxury. His hearing was concert sharp. He wore bottle bottom glasses and was bald as a baby’s bottom. But hearing was only a problem when he was in Joy-To-The-World Christmas shopping line behind squealing kids with foghorn voices.
The young guy at the front of the line looked like a first timer at the cosmetic counter; he had a phone too, and he kept taking it out of his inside jacket pocket and frowning down at it. The frown was very similar to the frown that people in a hurry used to have when they flipped a look at their wrist watch. A frown which suggested that the expectation that time had stood still and waited for the frowner was not being met. He looked up from it at the woman with the kids with a “Lady-Please-stifle-those-kids” scowl on his face. But the woman had enough to put up with already and pretended she had not seen his scowl and that if she had seen it she had no idea what he was scowling about.
Doug wanted to tell the young guy to get used to it. If he was coming to a cosmetic counter he was already well along the road to trying to manage squalling kids of his own. In Doug’s seventy years of experience, the cosmetic counter came after the jewelry store, diamond ring counter. Usually it came after the Mendelssohn’s pomp and “I Do” too. Perfume was the go-to gift for maintaining relationships. If you knew brand and model your lover preferred, perfume was a slam dunk gift. Most women could always use a replenishment of supply. Perfume was the easiest gift Doug shopped for Karen.
The girl ahead of the woman and her kids, pulled a couple of buds out of her pocket, plugged into her phone, squinched a bud in each ear and went on thumbing away. Doug didn’t have buds and so didn’t have that luxury either. The first timer hunched to pull his buzzing phone from his inside jacket pocket again. He thumbed it, rolled his eyes and sighed.
Then things crashed into complicated.
A tall skinny legged woman in forest green fleece jacket and blue and orange paisley yoga pants dashed past Doug, past the woman and kids, past the teenage earbudder, past Old Hearing Unaided, and past First Timer and his exasperation. The yoga pants, believe it or not, sagged and wrinkled in all the wrong places. The woman leaned over the counter and yelled. The fleece jacket hiked up past the yoga pants sags under her bottom.
“Hey,” she yelled. She stood on her toes and leaned over the counter. “Hey, You. Malva. You got one of them Ashura Dream Sets. It’s for Mom. Issac told me I could get some here.” Isaac Hardricksen, an acquaintance of Doug’s, owned Hardricksen’s Department Store where this drama was unfolding.
One of the clerks who happened to be trying to encourage a sale did a drop jaw pause in the middle of her explanation. She looked at her potential sale, and even from where Doug was across the entire cosmetic island, he could see the eye roll.
“Hey, Malva,” Yoga Pants yelled again.
Malva said “I’ll be with you in a sec, hon.” She said it with a great deal more cheer than Doug could see on her face.
“Hey, Well, hurry it up, will ya. I ain’t got all day, here. Isaac said you had some.”
“Excuse me,” First Timer said. “The line begins back there.”
Yoga Pants turned, looked at First Timer, top to bottom. “Hmfph,” she said and turned back around and leaned over the counter again.
“Hey, Malva,” she called, “What’s it take to just grab a Ashura Dream Set. I ain’t got all day.”
“Hey,” First Timer said. “Hey. The line begins back there.”
Malva said over her shoulder. “I’ll be right with you.”
Slack Yoga Pants ignored both of them. She drummed her fingers on the counter over the display of The Scent Of Peace Eau De Parfum. Earbud teenager lifted her phone and cameraed in on the Slack Yoga Pants. She scanned between her, Malva and her customer, and First Timer.
“Jesus,” Yoga Pants said, “What’s it take to get service around here? Issac is gonna hear about this.”
“You could wait in line like everybody else,” First Timer said.
Slack Yoga Pants turned, looked him up and down again, sniffed, and said, “I happen to be in a hurry, OK.” She did not say “OK” as a question.
“What made your hurry any specialler than anybody else’s,” First Timer said.
Hot Yoga Pants sniffed and turned back to drum on the counter as if she could not be bothered by ungrammatical expressions. There was definitely no Scent Of Peace Eau De Parfum in the air. There were many whiffs on the air, but all mingled with the sour grape smell of pre-murder anger, frustration, and ire. The raggedy haired blonde kept hitching her pants, her kids kept dragging on them and foghorning and foot stamping “moooooooom.”
Finally Malva finished with her customer, rang her up, smiled and said, “Thank you.”
She came over to the line. “Hello, sir,” she said to First Timer, “How may I help you.”
First Timer said, “My Fiance likes Easy Does Ambience,” he said.
Hot Yoga Pants said, “Hey, Malva, I ain’t got all day. Just grab me some of that Ashura stuff, will ya.”
Malva turned to her. She turned with level eyes that did not have the same smile as her lips expressed. She said, “This gentleman has been waiting for at least ten minutes, so please just go to the end of the queue. We’ll be with you as soon as we can.”
“Jesus. All I need is a Ashura for my Mom. I ain’t got all day. What kind of place is Isaac running here. A decent person can’t get no service.” She did not say it as a question, but as a name-drop bomb.
Malva did not blink an eyelash at another mention of her boss’s first name, a man she knew exclusively as Mr. Hardricksen. “We’ll get to you in due time,” Malva said.
“You know what?” First Timer said, “This mom here,” he waved his hand at the woman hitching her pants that the kids kept dragging down, “She’s really in a hurry. Maybe we can let her go first.”
He turned to the woman trying to cope with three kids. “Maam, would you care to trade places in the queue?” he said.
“Oh, Oh,” she said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You are a real decent human being.” She said “bee-in” for “being.”
Slack Yoga Pants’s face first went green as the forest green of her fleece jacket, then flamed orange as the wrinkle-slack paisleys on her pants. Most of what she said after that should not appear in polite print. So we will summarize. Basically she noted that Isaac would be fully and completely informed about the incompetence of his underlings especially a young tart with “Malva” printed on her name tag. She sputtered, stuttered, squalled, and yelled this throughout her long retreat out of the store. Which she would be “damned if I ever shop here again.”
“That was a decent thing to do,” Doug said to the young First Timer.
He shrugged. “We all been kids standing with our mothers in a Christmas shopping line.”
“Guess I’ll have to talk to ole Issac about how good Malva is doing,” Doug said.
First Timer continued as if Doug had not said anything. “Besides, I’ve never liked name drop bomb bullies.” He took out his buzzing phone, looked at the screen, thumbed it and said “damn.” Then he put the device to his ear and said, “Stan? Yeah. Say, I’m running late. You guys start, I’ll be there in a jiff. Unavoidable.” He put the phone back in his jacket. “Damn,” he said.
Posting a day late because what I had late yesterday was worse than this. This at least I feel is finished. Hope all enjoy.