I was finishing up some holiday shopping last month and stopped by the local liquor store to see if they had any interesting bottles for my husband. I found a few small cases of canned craft beer and carried them to the counter.
I don’t really like liquor stores all that much. They trigger me to recall my parents’ drinking which involved seeking out the seediest of cheap ass liquor stores. There’s a smell they all have. I can’t put my finger on it, like spilled swill and dense cardboard and desperation.
This one is no different. I reach the counter with my purchases and notice a small white dog near the cashier. The animal sat gazing up amiably wearing a neon pink lei. Only then did I realize the huge cloud of awkwardness I’d just walked into.
Behind me stood a short older man with white hair and a yellowing Santa beard. From the cashiers body posture, I could tell this guy came by often, probably working the entire shopping center as a way to get attention. The dog was his prop, dressed in her little outfit, sitting perfectly still, mugging it up for the attention. I made the mistake of acknowledging the dog, quickly realizing the opening I’d given her overly eager owner. People like this go fishing for rubes and I just fell right into his trap.
Normally, the old me would have gotten caught up in this guy’s histrionic bullshit, unable to extricate myself from the uncomfortable social expectation for further discourse, but these days I’ve got no patience for it. I focused my attention solely on the transaction at hand. I shifted my body to face away from him, avoiding eye contact and checking my phone for messages. The man prattled on to the other clerk behind me. It was only after the clerk left to grab me a box for my purchases did the man dare to address me.
“I’d be honored if you’d accept this picture of Vicki.” He said, yellowed fingernails clutched a home printed wallet photo of the dog, dressed in a pitiful nurse costume, mugging hopelessly at a camera. On the back, a blue paw print was stamped and the name Vicki written above it.
I hesitated to take it, but decided this might placate him enough to let me pass. I accepted it, saying I’d give it to my son and left without another word.
But knowing how things like this usually go down, the guy was likely to follow me to my car, I made a hasty departure. Sure enough the guy does follow, but Vicki was slowing him down. Fortunately I parked strategically so that all I had to do was load the beer in the trunk and drive off. I was opening the trunk when I heard a voice behind me say, “where do you think you’re going?”
Of all the predictable, lifetime movie cliché lines to never say to a woman in a liquor store parking lot, this might be one of them. My body stiffened trying to determine who this fucker thinks he is talking to me like that. I do not respond or acknowledge. I close the trunk, turning slightly to see where this guy is and he’s engaged in conversation with someone outside the store.
Whether his comment was directed at me or not, remains to be seen. However I’ve never felt more creeped out by this random weirdo. A few days later I stumbled on the picture of Vicki in my wallet.