I was in the grocery store yesterday in the frozen food section when I saw a guy who looked familiar. I couldn’t place his face, but my eye caught his just for a second before he averted his gaze toward some product.
Before I could smile with a nod of recognition, a conversation started out of his mouth. I then figured he was probably on one of those handless bluetooth phones, although I didn’t see anything sticking in his ear. So I pretended to look at some of those miniaturized frozen TV dinners that I’m never buying anymore, as I waited for him to finish his phone call so I could catch his eye again and say hello.
Then I realized he wasn’t talking on a phone, he was talking to me. Well, it must have been me because I was the only other person in that aisle. The next thing to shoot through my brain was that he was a complete stranger asking another complete stranger, me, about some grocery-related product, like one incompetent bachelor to another, like “how do you fix this stuff?” or maybe he was farsighted and forgot his glasses and was asking me what the label said. He was talking as he held onto a frozen dinner, looking at it, so I naturally assumed the conversation was about the food in hand, because I wasn’t really paying attention to what he had said earlier, not realizing he was addressing me at that time. So I reach out to take a look at the product he was holding out toward me, because I thought he wanted me to look at it. Then he quickly pulls it back and says something like “do you have her address so I can write her?”
Whoah, um, okay. At this point I don’t know what I’m dealing with. But I think maybe my hearing, again, has gotten the better of me. Thanks, Dad’s genetics! Thanks young farmboy rural lifestyle target shooting! Thanks drums! Thanks rock and roll! Thanks earbuds! I thought maybe the “her” he was asking about was Shar, since I’d been thinking about her a lot lately with what she’s going through, but why would someone in my town be asking about Shar? Shar never lived here and rarely made an appearance with me when we were in town.
I say “Pardon?” So cornball. Pardon? So polite. It was my first reaction. I sometimes hate being a gentleman when it calls for a Travis Bickle: “You talkin’ to me?” I really wish DeNiro’s infamous character would’ve butted his way in front of my polite tongue.
He looked at me for an instant, then he asked, “I heard she was in Boulder now, do you have her mailing address so I can write?” Then he looked away and at my shirt, which probably had stray soil that I hadn’t brushed off thoroughly before I came here.
I really wish I could’ve watched the whole thing. I would’ve loved to have seen my baffled expression.
I look at him as he’s looking at my dirty shirt, my grocery cart, my shoes, everywhere except at my face.
“Boulder?” I ask slowly.
“Are you in town visiting or do you live here now?” he asked me. I guess he asked that of me, no one else there to ask, but he didn’t look at me. I guess I wasn’t worth acknowledging. Not even worth the courtesy of a look. So maybe I’m not worth looking at, maybe I’m repulsive. Maybe you don’t want to be caught talking to a ponytailed farmer who stinks of pumpkin soil and might be a lib-rul. Hey, I’m not exactly presentable for public consumption as I stand here in the evening at the Food Market in the frozen food section, but lemme tell you something. Neither are you, buddy.
At this point I’m a little unnerved. I start to back away and say “Sorry, I—” and then I realized Boulder is where Melanie works, although she doesn’t live IN Boulder. “You mean my sister Melanie?”
He laughed and said something like, “Of course I mean Melanie, who else would I mean?” making me feel stupid. Of course, he must mean Melanie. I was so preoccupied with my thoughts about Shar that any other “her” that was not specifically addressed by name, registered as “Shar” to me. Although I couldn’t place a name to this guy, he was familiar. He must have been a friend of Melanie’s from a long time ago. But he obviously knew me, knew I was Mel’s brother, even though he couldn’t place a name to me either. But that’s a strange way to approach someone you haven’t seen for a long time, just start asking them for their sister’s address. Not a “How’s Melanie doing,” just a “Do you have her address?” Maybe he didn’t care how Melanie is doing. But if that was the case, why would he want her address. So strange.
I was starting to get a really weird feeling about this. Why would I give out my sister’s address to a strange guy, stranger to me at least, even though my hunch that he was a friend is probably correct. And why would I want to give her address to someone who doesn’t care or ask how she is first before asking for her address?
“You look familiar, but I’m sorry, I can’t—” I start to say.
“Chase. You don’t remember me?” I thought he said Chase. Maybe it was Jason. Or Jace? Who knows. Then he tells me his last name. Oh, right, I think I had his sister in my class. Very unmemorable.
“Yeah, um–” I hesitated. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for my sister having to deal with a stalker, but I also didn’t want to hear “why didn’t you give him my address, you idiot?” from Mel either, in case she really did want to get in touch with “Chase.” What’s a brother to do? Then I realized, yes, what an idiot I was. Of course, I could give him Mel’s EMAIL address, not postal address. Sheesh—who asks for a mailing address to write a letter anyway? Well, obviously Chase does, I guess. But an email address wouldn’t hurt, right? I mean if Mel started getting unwanted emails, she could just ignore them, and if she was ever back here at the old Food Market and ran into Chase, and Chase asked her why she never wrote back, Mel can always say “huh? what emails?” because her idiot brother didn’t get the spelling right or something.
But I was getting such a bad feeling about this guy, that it hit me as I was looking around for a scrap piece of paper in my wallet, maybe I should give him MY email address. This guy had the social graces of a treestump, so who knows. Maybe he’s been in prison. Maybe he’s dangerous. I sure wouldn’t want something to happen to Mel because of me carelessly giving out her information. There’s nothing really that specific in my email address that could directly be related to me, just my initials, not my whole name. He’d never suspect it’s my address.
So I scrawl out my email on an old receipt I had in my wallet and hand it to him. Was that wrong? Am I being an overprotective brother? Should I have lied and just told him no? What if he’s simply a big old doofus with a good heart and by not allowing him contact with my sister would be denying her getting back together with an old friend? This way, if he is benign, she could always give him her real address later.
He looks at the receipt with the email address. “What is this?”
“Oh, it’s just an old gas receipt—” I started to say, but then he interrupted:
“No, what is THIS?!” He points to the email address.
No, it couldn’t be. Please, no, it can’t be someone who’s never seen an email address before. Now Chase was already freaking me out with his psychokiller grocery cart-side manner, but he couldn’t actually be one of those people who have never used teh internets, could he be? Maybe he really has been in prison for the past 25 years. Well, at this point I was prepared for anything. Maybe it’s something less serious, like being isolated and living in a cave or a cult. I looked around at his person to see if there was any telltale signs of being an Amish that shuns technology, you know, long beard with no moustache, funny hat—anything. But nothing. Very average looking in blue jeans and a Monster Truck t-shirt. No Amish worth his salt would be seen dead at a Monster Truck show, right? OK, he doesn’t have the fundie excuse then. He must be out of prison.
“It’s an email address,” I say cautiously, waiting for the snap-back, and it came:
“I know it’s an email address! I asked for her mailing address!” He heaved a sigh and said something like, “well, it’ll do.”
“So—” I start to say, and I don’t remember what I was going to ask, really, “so you and Mel were friends?” “so you live in town?” “so you just got out of jail?” It doesn’t matter, because Chase says, “Well, I don’t have time to talk, I have to get back to shopping.” Not a “good to talk to you” or “give Mel my best.” Nothing. He headed down the frozen food aisle and turned the corner. Yeah. Because that frozen dinner will get all mushy on you if you say a few more words to me.
I didn’t even have a chance to ask for HIS email address.
That got me weirded out.
I finish my shopping, trying not to think about what had just happened.
I got in the car and drove home. Gotta call Mel and ask her about this and tell about this.
Looking back on it, I don’t think it was my sub-par hearing that never heard him say, “Howdy, Leon,” or “Hey, are you Melanie’s brother?” or even “I’m sorry, I forgot your name, but I think we met a long time ago, I was friends with your sister.” I don’t think he ever said those thing. I think he just started talking to me, so naturally I assumed first of all that he was on a bluetooth and talking to someone else, so I didn’t try to listen to him. And he didn’t look at me. I mean if you don’t look at someone, why would they think you’re talking to them? I mean really!