"You see some strange things these days

NOTE: Steve Hammer is on vacation this week. The following column was originally published Sept. 22, 2004.

I’m arriving at the doctor’s office at 7:45 a.m. to get some blood drawn. The receptionist had advised me to be there early, even though the office doesn’t open until 8. Otherwise, she said, I’d be waiting a few hours. When I reach the door, there are two people already there.

“Is this the line for Springsteen tickets?” I joke, hoping to kill the time with some conversation. The guy looks at me with a blank expression on his face.

“No,” he says, “this is the line for the doctor’s office.”

“Oh,” I say. I wait silently for the doors to open.

I’m waiting in line at my neighborhood pharmacy to get a prescription filled. There are three people ahead of me: a man approximately 25 years old with an infant child in a car seat and this kind of weathered woman in her 40s. She asked the man the baby’s name and age. The man said the baby’s name is Rowan and that she’s 8 months old.

The woman responded, “That’s an ugly name but it fits perfectly with an ugly baby.” She wasn’t smiling. She might have been joking, but the child’s father didn’t laugh, nor did I.

The woman was getting a heavy dose of antibiotics, huge horse pills in a giant bottle. When she paid for her prescription, she also purchased two other items: a can of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs and a 1-gallon jug of Mr. and Mrs. T’s Bloody Mary Mix.

I thought to myself, “That’s the most random assortment of items I’ve ever seen.” It could have been file folders and a dog’s flea collar, or a package of Corn Nuts and a Hallmark figurine. Strange.

The woman joked to the pharmacy worker, “I’m going to drink bloody marys and take my drugs.”

The baby, who was absolutely adorable, wasn’t really paying attention to anyone but her dad and so was not disturbed by this strange woman. But I was freaked out by her, as was the dad. You see a lot of strange things these days.

After a brutally difficult day at work, I find myself standing in line again, this time at the Kroger service desk. I need to buy money orders for rent, since the bastards at the banks won’t let me have an account anymore. It’s Friday, I’m tired, I’m hot, I’m grumpy. There are six people in line ahead of me.

All of a sudden, this elderly woman literally elbows her way to the front of the line, a store manager closely behind her. The woman has to be at least 85 years old. She looks like Bob Hope’s mom. She’s also screaming at the top of her lungs.

“YOU BASTARDS SHORTCHANGED ME, GODDAM IT!” she yells. “You better fuckin’ give me my goddamn money back, you bastards.” Her volume and tone would have offended Bobby Knight. Also, it’s really strange to hear a senior citizen use any variation of the word “fuck.”

The store manager tries to explain to the woman that she hadn’t scanned her Kroger card, which is why an item rang up at a higher price than it should have.

“Bullshit!” the old woman says. “I don’t want any excuses, I just want my fuckin’ stuff to ring up at the right goddamn price.” By this time, there’s a small crowd watching her yell and scream. They end up giving her the item for free, just to get rid of her. The woman behind the desk looks like she wants to scream back at the old woman but restrains herself.

When I get to the front of the line, I ask the clerk, “Having a good day at work?”

She looks at me like she wants to kill me, sees my smile and then starts laughing.

I’m sitting at home, enjoying a tumbler of Hennessy and talking to a young colleague. I’m watching a documentary on the John F. Kennedy assassination. The film is showing JFK and his wife traveling happily through the Dallas streets, unaware of an impending tragedy.

When JFK’s limo pulls onto Elm Street and passes the Texas School Book Depository, I start talking to the television. “Sir,” I say, “I would strongly advise you to duck. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to hit the deck right about now.”

I hear a thud. My colleague had thrown himself to the floor of my apartment, unaware that I was addressing Mr. Kennedy and not him. When he realizes his mistake, he laughs and admonishes me not to tell anyone.

“I won’t,” I say. “Your secret is safe with me.”




Recommended for you