Not really. Almost.
There I was at the grocery store, renting a steam cleaner to clean the (free) butter-colored suede armchair one of my girlfriends gave me (because she felt sorry for me and my faux leather chair that was shedding strips of plastic all over my living room floor?). Charlotte had said, not unkindly, “MOV, do you know anyone who might want this old Restoration Hardware chair that we simply don’t have room for? I hate to donate it or put it on Craig’s List because it cost, like, a thousand gazillion infinity dollars when it was new a few years ago.” I practically jumped thorough the phone lines when she mentioned this chair. Internally, I told myself, “Stay calm, stay cool, don’t let on how much you want that amazing chair.” Out loud I said, “I’ll be there wtih my husband's truck in 10 minutes!”
But I digress.
I was now at the grocery store at the “Help” counter where you go to rent steam cleaners or ask which aisle has Mint Milano cookies (Aisle 17, just so you know), when this 18-year-old boy scout walks up to the counter.
“Pack of Marlboro Lites,” he said.
“No problem,” responded the clerk politely.
“Are you kidding me?” I said loudly and not so politely.
“Excuse me?” said freckle face.
“What, are you like, 12? Are you kidding me? Smoking?”
I need to mention here that I had not just the American Express card with me in order to pay for the steam cleaner rental, I also had my lovely sons, Tall and Short with me to witness Random Acts of Mommy Craziness.
“Excuse me, madam?” said freckly face, again (yeah—he called me “Madam.” Might as well have called me “Granma” and asked for my AARP card).
“Well, my mother has Stage 4 lung cancer and is slowly dying,” I said, not really sure who’s vocal chords were making these words, “You should quit smoking now while you still can.”
His face turned white, like the shell of an egg. Then his exterior cracked like one, too.
“I’m sorry she’s dying,” he said, as he slipped the green bill with Alexander Hamilton’s face on it to the clerk (who was minding her own business and not mentioning any cancer-stricken relatives to hapless strangers at this moment in time), “that must be very hard for you.”
“Hard for me?” I asked, my face hardening like freshly-poured cement in summer heat, “How about hard for her?”
He looked at me.
I looked at him.
Tall looked at both of us and wished that everyone involved would just disappear, like smoke.
“She’s smoked for more than 40 years. She has tumors in her lungs. It’s hard for her to breathe.” Here I did not mention the successful lung surgery that had bought her another year or so of breathing without a ventilator, “I am the Voice of Your Future.”
Now Tall was really wishing he could slink away, far, far away from his crazy mother.
“Stop,” he hissed at me, “You don’t even know this gentleman!”
I immediately cursed myself for teaching my children to call strangers “gentleman.”
“You. Must. Quit. Smoking.” I stared him down, willing him to fight with me.
What would happen next? Would the clerk summon the police and have the bizarro trouble-maker (me) unceremoniously carted off, like a shoplifter on a spree? Would freckles hurl a litany of profanities in my direction? Would I respond in kind? (I was guessing I might.)
“Thank you, ma’am, you’re right.” He peered into my eyes, his crystal blue eyes fresh like afternoon sky. Then he turned to Tall and said, “Your mom is very smart.” He walked away, cigarettes in hand.
What just happened here?
(“Marlboros Or VirginiaSlims?”)