I’ve always been a night person. No matter that the alarm usually buzzes between 5 and 5:30 each weekday morning. A lifelong night owl’s wings are rarely clipped for good.
So, arriving at the store at 11:45 p.m. is not a new experience for me. In fact, with few exceptions, I prefer it. There aren’t the crowds of the evening rush, no screaming children, and no jam-packed aisles to navigate. Or so I thought.
One of the things I don’t like about night-time shopping: stockers. I know they have a job to do, and a rather narrow window of time in which to complete the task. But for the wee hour grocery-gatherer, they represent an obstacle equivalent to road construction on an otherwise open freeway.
Their boxes block the aisles. Their over-burdened carts seem to lurk around every corner. They seem to stand or kneel just far enough into the center of the aisle to make the shaky-wheeled cart (how do I manage to get this one from the hundreds at the front of the store?) so difficult to maneuver around that it adds drama that I don’t need.
There were more cars in the lot than I expected. (No doubt I wasn’t alone in my turkey strategizing.) Still, a relatively light turn-out. As I began filling the better-odds-of-hitting-the-lottery- cart, I looked up to see a pair of big brown eyes watching my every move.
They belonged to a boy who appeared barely old enough to walk. Clad in a Spongebob sleeper, one hand tugged at a coat draped over the cart, while the other maintained a death grip on a bottle. All the while, he continued to stare. As I placed apples and then a stalk of celery into my cart, he began to babble and laugh. I said hello to him as I passed, gave him a mini wave and he responded with a blubbery grin. I saw a flash of teeth as he suddenly flopped forward and drilled them into the cart handle. Uh, mom, do you really want his mouth on that?
As I made my way through the store and around the stockers, I would occasionally hear a ruckus erupt in the distance. I was focused on my list and didn’t pay that much attention. Until I got to the paper aisle. Apparently, the boy’s mother had left the cart next to a stack of boxes piled high with rolls of paper towels. The baby was now avidly launching the towels – a roll at a time – into the aisle. One of the stockers noticed and began picking up the towels but the baby had too much of a head start.
Two aisles later, the mother did a bad parking job once again, this time sidling up to a case of canned goods. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except the box top had already been shorn off by a stocker. You wouldn’t think those stubby little hands could do it, but by the time I got there, the aisle was littered with cans thrown by destruction in a diaper.
Again, his mother was nowhere to be seen. (I was beginning to think this kid was wheeling himself through the store using mindpower or something.) And again, a stocker began picking up the contents of the now empty box. Or so we thought.
I turned around in just enough time to watch the tyke of terror heft one final can into the aisle – and right onto the back of the stocker who had bent down to retrieve the prior casualties. As the poor guy fell face forward, the miniature maelstrom began bouncing and giggling. (Could this be Damien? I wondered. I half expected Wagner to start pouring through the speakers.)
Are you OK?! I shouted to the stocker, who was now attempting to get up. He was visibly half-grinning, half annoyed as he got to his feet. “Yeah, I think so. That little bugger’s got quite an arm. How old is he?” Huh?
I quickly shot a look behind me. Surely he didn’t think … apparently that’s exactly what he thought. I explained that the catalyst of chaos was not mine. Just as I stopped talking, another stocker turned the corner. He grimaced as he glimpsed the imp. “Look out,” he said to his colleague. “He’s lethal.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at that one.
Apparently, he had pulled that stocker’s cap off and proceeded to pull his hair on a previous visit. So where is this kid’s mother? “I think I saw her a few aisles over,” the stocker said. “She always seems to be forgetting something.”
Yeah. Like maybe that she has a kid?