Thursday, October 22, 2009

Am I Trapped in a Pac-Man Game, or a Bald Convention?

When I married Mr. Lucky twenty-two years ago, he had a full head of thick chestnut hair that started disappearing at about the same moment I tossed the bridal bouquet over my shoulder and into the hands of my already wedded brother-in-law.

Call it hereditary male pattern baldness or an unfortunate side effect of living with me and putting up with all my nonsense, but the fact remains he is quite bald today, even to shaving off what little he has left. In fact, I’m not even sure what he’d have left if he just left everything alone.

Baldness seems to be all the rage these days, and that caused a problem for me earlier this week.

After putting Baby Bear on the school bus, Mr. Lucky and I drove out to MacDill Air Force Base to shop at the exchange store. We hadn’t been out there in probably six months, and were dismayed the find it undergoing heavy renovations. The store was very much open for business as usual, but everything had been switched around and packed close together to make room for the renovation work, leaving aisles half as wide (or should I say narrow) as they were originally.

It was almost impossible to move in that place, especially with a shopping cart. Everyone had to travel in the same direction through any given aisle, or be trapped. It was like being inside a Pac-Man game: We’d turn into one aisle, only to run into a group of spooks coming in the opposite direction. We could either stand our ground and get chewed up, or we could try and back out, only to run into a rogue spook sneaking up behind us and then it’s Game Over.

Before we even had the chance to put a single item in the cart, we made the mistake of leaving it parked at the end of an aisle to make it easier to search and recover what we wanted off the shelves. Mr. Lucky was about to come out with several bags of Halloween candy and place them in the cart when a little old lady swiftly dropped her purse into the baby seat and seized control of it.

Though his arms were full, Mr. Lucky wasn’t about to say, “Excuse me, lady, but that’s my cart you just appropriated.” Old-fashioned gentleman that he is, he let her go (not that she was going to get very far in that crowded rat maze), and I returned to the front of the store to fetch another cart.

But then I couldn’t find my husband. No matter which aisle I went down, everyone else was moving in the opposite direction. At intersections I collided several times with the very same people. Finally I spotted a bald head over in the electronics department. But of course—where else would he be?

I zigged up one aisle and zagged down another to get to him; there was no other way to catch up to him. I finally pushed the cart alongside him and—“You’re not my husband.”

Well, from the back that bald head looked just like him. Mr. Lucky did say he wanted to look at shoes, so I burrowed my way to the shoe department.

Then I heard what sounded like a harmonica. Mr. Lucky enjoys playing his harmonica, but I didn’t know he’d brought it with him. Could he be trying to summon me, without yelling my name? (Only he usually whistles or makes a cricket noise.) Indeed, the sound came from the back of a bald head several aisles over. I pushed the cart that way and—“You’re not playing the harmonica.”

Nor was he my husband. It was yet another bald guy turning a tie rack that creaked with a sound very much like a harmonica.

I felt like I was in a scene eerily similar to one in the Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest, where the cops ran all over the train station grabbing and spinning around dozens of red capped porters in hopes of busting the one most closely resembling Cary Grant; or Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Indy toppling one basket after another in a frantic, futile search for the kidnapped Marion.

Me, I was slithering up to every bald guy I glimpsed as if I were planning to hit on him. I swear every man in the store was as smoothly bald as the aforementioned Pac-Man. The base exchange is always throwing “appreciation days” for the Military, or the Military Spouse, or the Military Family, or the Military Retiree. Did we happen to come here on Military Bald Guy Appreciation Day?

It didn’t help I couldn’t remember what color shirt my husband was wearing. In the end, he found me, as I stuck out more—something to do with being five foot eleven topped with long dark hair.

It could’ve been worse. We could’ve been chasing Baby Bear through this labyrinth—though he might have been easier to pin down. Just follow the thuds, crashes, and shattering of glass right before the alarms start shrieking and the sprinklers commence spraying.

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