Years ago, I wrote about how I made an ass of myself while buying a new phone, and then later while buying a new laptop. Making an ass of myself when speaking to others in a retail environment is not a new experience for me. Having just returned to the U.S. after several years away, I found myself in a similar situation. And I knew I was back. I knew I was back.
Albert was my student for two years. He presented himself in 7th grade like a grown, scowling, near-mute version of the Cosby character with the same name, and only slightly slimmer. In the two years I was his teacher, I never saw Albert smile. And I'm not sure that I ever heard anything but a disgruntled grunt from him. To Albert's credit, I think he was not exactly an angry kid- I think he was just given a particular demeanor which I projected into his future as having difficulty helping him get a girlfriend, obtain a job, or otherwise interact with other human beings in a functioning society.
"Holy shit. Albert got a job," was my first thought when I saw him, these many years later, behind the register of the Walgreen's in which I was making a quick preemptive stop to pick up some tampons and pantyliners. "Holy shit, Albert's going to have to scan my tampons and pantyliners," was my second thought, and suddenly panic set in. I hid behind an early Valentine's display of large stuffed bears and made a distress call to my teacher friend. "I can't do it!" I whisper-yelled. "I...there are tampons...and....ALBERT!....ALBERT!" You can imagine my friend's alarm. And confusion.
|Not actually Albert. Thank you, random photo stock guy.|
|What I had to bring to the counter.|
|What I imagined Albert would imagine and why I had to hide.|
I mumbled something incoherent into the phone, hung up without warning, and ran to the checkout with such speed that I left a WWI trenches scene reenacted by plush bears in my wake; bodies everywhere. Some still moving. I am sorry, bears. Momma's got to strike while the non-Albert tampon buying iron is hot.
Out of breath, I tossed my purchases upon the counter. Albert's replacement, Larry, we'll call him, because his name tag said "Larry," greeted me. "Did you find everything alright, ma'am?" It wasn't exactly a warm greeting. I'd put it closer to indifferent, but eye-contact was made and an attempt at a smile. I pictured Albert setting his grumpy gaze on customers while scanning their purchases. I picture Albert making an irritable exhale followed by an incoherent mumble, and I wondered if he'd ever be up for employee of the month. You know. Like if everybody HAD to have a turn at it. Oh, Albert.
|Not actually Larry. Thank you, Google Images.|
"Hi, Larry," I said. And that's where I should have stopped. Because that's where most people do, save the occasional back-and-forth chat about the weather. But I have an affliction. And if you've spent any amount of time with me, especially in public, around other people, you will have come to this same conclusion already.
"I used to be Albert's teacher. In middle school." This garnered no response from Larry, which was no deterrent for my already babbling mouth-talking machine. "Yeah. I taught Albert," I continued. "Tell him I said hi, will you? Ms. Maret. He'll know me. I'm Ms. Maret. His teacher. I mean, not now. But I used to be." Larry scanned my box of tampons and placed them in a plastic bag.
"Yeah. Tell him hi. Except don't tell him that I was buying tampons." Larry looked up at me briefly, and smiled uncomfortably. "I mean," I shrugged theatrically and started doing this weird kind of nervous dance, "it's not like they're for ME or anything." I leaned back and did this floppy back and forth arm shake like Dan Akroyd and Steve Martin characterizing two wild and crazy Czech brothers.
"Hey...hey...they're not for me. I'm just...they're for a friend." I stopped the shoulder shaking and arm flopping, but the words continued spilling out. "The tampons. Not for me. So, you don't have to tell Albert...you know...because I don't..." and then I made a triangle with my hands and placed them around and about where my lady-parts are. "Because teachers don't...you know...we're like Barbie dolls down there. Teachers. We don't have. You know. So no need to draw Albert's attention there."
"It's ok," Larry said. He scanned my box of pantyliners, nervously.
"Or those. Nope. Also not mine. For a friend. The same friend even! No pantyliners for me, sir! So. You know."
Larry placed them in the same plastic bag as the box of tampons. I'm sure Larry was really wanting to go home at this point. He appeared to go to his happy place in his head. A place where a lady was not wildly gesticulating about feminine products in front of his cash register counter. "I used to be Albert's teacher," I said again, as if I could put back on track this derailed social encounter.
Larry had two items to go: a pack of gum and some shampoo. I always have some decoy purchases to take the focus off of the things I'm buying to keep the cashier from thinking about the fact that I'm buying something to keep me from BLEEDING THROUGH MY PANTS FROM MY VAGINA BECAUSE SERIOUSLY GROSS HOW CAN WE EVEN LOOK EACH OTHER IN THE EYE AT THE CHECKOUT LANE! and Albert. Man, was I glad Albert wasn't behind the register. Man, was Larry hoping he was.
And here I'd like to give Larry an award for speediest cashier of the year. Of all-time, perhaps. Because I've never seen someone scan, bag, grab money, and distribute change in record-time the way Larry did. "So, you know," I said, "just tell Albert I said-"
"Did you find everything alright, sir?" Larry said to the guy behind me in line. I detected a "please save me" desperation to his greeting, and I know an exit cue when I see one. I backed towards the door and bowed two or three times, an unfortunate left-over from 3.5 years living in South Korea. I'm sure this did nothing to bolster Larry's level of comfort in that very moment, but there it was.
In the parking lot now, I had that elation of having evaded the life experience that involves Albert and my tampons. And then slowly, as it always does, the realization of my filter-less and socially awkward exchange became clear. I called my friend back. "Aimee," I said. "I have to tell you what just happened."
"Whaaaaaaaat...." she said. "Whaaaaat did you say?" She already knew the story. She was just being filled in on the particulars of this recent episode. I remind her that I just spent years living in a country where my verbal oversharing of thoughts and feelings and observations were largely not understood by the greater population.
But now I'm back. In English-speaking and English-comprehending United States of America. I. am. back.