Overheard at The Store today:

Girl: “Do you love me?”

Guy: “Of course I love you.”

Girl: “Great! Let’s go look at tampons!”

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I was off work the other day, so of course I had to go into The Store. It is, in fact, my goal to spend every single day of my existence at that place, no matter how much I loathe it. I’m talking with my wife on the phone. She’s giving me a list of things to buy: eggs, bread, cheese. That sort of thing. And then the following exchange took place.

Wife: “…oh, and get a gallon of milk.”

Me: “Okay… is that all?”

Wife: “Make sure you buy the latest date.”

Me: “What?”

Wife: “Umm… make sure you check the dates on the milk and find one that –”

Me: “I know how to buy milk!”

Wife (laughing): “I know…”

Me: “We work in a grocery store!

Seriously. For a dozen years, I’ve worked in the grocery business, and I’m quite familiar with the concept of putting the freshest milk in the back of the case. They stock it from the back. Not that everyone doesn’t know this, already. You always see people digging through the milk looking for that one gallon that has an expiration date that lies 2 or 3 months into the future, when the rest of the surrounding vile plebeians will have to contend with their milk going out of date a mere 24 hours after they buy it.

You’ll notice I didn’t say, “go bad”. I believe milk is already bad when you first buy it. It was never that great of a drink to begin with. And even though I don’t agree with this particular liquid being used as anything more than an ingredient, I do know, for the love of God, how to buy the freshest milk.

I’ve spent the last 6 years struggling to convince my wife that I do, after all, know how things work.

So, I’ve got my items, and I’m proceeding towards the self-checkout machines. I get in line behind a large man and his wife who start checking out their order. When he is finished and ready to pay, he starts rummaging around in his pocket with a frown on his face. He turns to me.

“Hey man… you got seven cents I can borrow?”

Borrow? You are a complete stranger. Should I also give you a self-addressed stamped envelope so you can mail my seven cents back to me? I don’t like to carry change, but I instinctively put my hand into my pocket anyway, just to make it seem like I would give him seven cents if it weren’t for the fact that, sadly, I had no change at all —

Just then, to my shock and horror, coins rattled in my pocket. I was stuck now, and so retrieved the change from my jeans. Two quarters. Saved!

“Sorry, man. All I’ve got is a couple of quarters.” I said, the conversation being ended in my mind.

“Lemme see that quarter,” the man said, stretching out his hand toward my quarters. Then he added, “I don’t want to break a twenty.”

Confused, I closed my hand over the two coins. Break a twenty? This man had given me the impression that he was seven cents short on paying his bill, when this entire time he had a twenty dollar bill just waiting to be spent? I wanted to shout into this man’s face, “I have FIFTY CENTS! You have TWENTY DOLLARS!”

Instead, I did the honorable thing: I lied.

“Sorry man, I’ve got to… buy a soda.”

He grunted, broke his precious twenty, and left. I checked out my few items, and walked out the door. Then I saw them in the parking lot, still getting groceries packed into their car. They looked at me. Sighing to myself and rolling my eyes, I made a clumsy 90 degree turn and used my two quarters to purchase a Coke out of the machine.

I wasn’t even thirsty.

So maybe you noticed it the previous evening, but you didn’t really know what it was. You didn’t think to do anything about it because, after all, it’s just your vision. Who needs to worry about that? Eleven years after your last eye doctor appointment, and you find yourself on the waning days of your invincible twenties, and staring at the ceiling, because that’s when you notice it more.

Not that you know what it is, exactly. It’s a bubble. A distortion, really. It starts in the bottom left hand side of your peripheral vision of your right eye. Just a distortion. Like wearing sunglasses and having a drop of rain on the edge of them. Only you’re not wearing sunglasses, and you’ve taken your contacts out hours ago.

Maybe you went to bed last night, expecting it to get better. Wake up and shake off the bad trip. Consider going back to get another eye exam. So then maybe you find yourself standing in work at 6:00 AM because you couldn’t really sleep, and the little sleep you did get didn’t seem to heal whatever it is inside your eye causing you to see this bubble. Good days never start out this way.

Then your boss would come in to work, and hour or so later. Maybe they would ask you why you were wearing your glasses. A bubble is the only word you can think of to describe it. It causes concern in your boss, but a lot of things do. Don’t let it upset you. You resolve to call the optometrist who works in your shopping center. They open in two hours. You have tags to put up. Keep your mind off of it. Don’t think about it. It’s probably nothing. A bubble. A bubble is harmless. Child’s play.

Maybe around 8:30, you call them. They don’t open until 9:00, but you can see people milling around inside. Not that you are worried, mind you. It just needs to get taken care of. You go up to the manager’s office to make the call.

“Hi, I work next door. I need to make an appointment,” you’ll say to the receptionist.

“Okay, I have an opening on Tuesday at 1:30,” the lady will respond.

“You don’t have anything earlier?” you’ll ask.

“I’m sorry, hon. That’s the next available.”

Fear will take hold. And completely against your nature, you will refuse to take “no” for an answer.

You’ll tell the receptionist about your visual distortion. After all, you want someone to confirm that you are Just Being Silly. If she could work you in, it would mean a great deal to you. After all, I’m only yards away. She will put you on hold. A bead of sweat will appear on your brow, even though the air conditioner is on full blast.

The phone line will crackle back to life. “Are you at the grocery store?”

“Yes.”

“Can you come over now?”

Your pulse will increase a bit. You get over to the optometrist’s office. They unlock the door for you, because they aren’t open for another 20 minutes. You will be dilated while you fill out paperwork. They will take you back quickly and sit you down in the chair. The optometrist will ask you about what you are seeing. You’ll explain it the only way you know how; a bubble.

“That’s a pretty good description, actually.” The optometrist will stare in your eye. It will seem odd at first, but it appears she is somewhat giddy. You will begin to squirm.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight,” you’ll respond. “What’s there? What do you see?”

She sits back in her chair, and looks you directly in the dilated eye. You will shift your weight again. Your face will feel hot. That bead of sweat will return.

“You have a retinal detachment,” she’ll start out. “You have a tear in your retina, and your vitreous gel is leaking into the space between your retina and the back of your eyeball.”

Your heart will sink.

“This is considered an ocular emergency,” she will continue. You will watch her lips move in slow motion with your good eye. “You need to go to the emergency room right now. You’ll meet one of our ophthalmologists there.”

Walking out of the optometrists, you will feel sick to your stomach. You’ll call your girlfriend. In tears. You can’t help it. You just let go. All of your fears – all of your dreaded thoughts you’ve been having over the last few hours will crash through your stoic facade and force their release into your cell phone’s mouthpiece. You try to explain to her what the optometrist told you, but all you can muster is “emergency room” and “retina broken”.

And it will be during that long walk back to the store that you will feel more alone… more afraid… than you have felt in a very long time.

For the last few years, I’ve been slowly getting over my fear of farting in public. I feel like a new man, confident in my ability to release the pressure inside we all feel.

I suppose it all started back at Summer Camp. I was young – prepubescent, dorky, and self-conscious to begin with. I won this trip because of an exhilarating and important speech I gave entitled “My Summer Vacation”. I remember winning this prize and being vaguely happy at the time. I didn’t really know what “summer camp” was, and for that matter had never really been away from home. I had no desire to spend 8 days with a bunch of strangers when it was typically strangers whom I had spent the largest part of my existence up until this point trying to avoid.

My Father however, had different ideas about me going to Summer Camp. He spun incredible stories of art projects, campfire stories, playing sports, swimming, bug collecting and generally awesome superhappyfun things that went on at Summer Camp. Plus, he said, it was paid for – so his Mind Was Made Up.

During the Camp Orientation, we were told about when and where we could eat, when and where activities would go on, the fact that the Forbidden Forest was off-limits to anyone who did not wish to die a most painful death, and that each day this week, they were going to celebrate a different holiday. The next day we would celebrate Saint Patrick’s day. I finished up the rest of the day and signed up for activities against my will; entomology, archery, and CO2 Rockets.

My cabin mates and I made our way back to our home for the next week – Boy’s Cabin D. It smelled bad, and you had to sleep in close proximity to others. There was no bathroom within the walls of Boy’s Cabin D – that was a quarter mile away, near the girls’ cabins. I unpacked my sleeping bag and looked around at the other boys. They were more developed than me. And also the spawn of satan. They spoke about girls in ways that I was not allowed to listen to on television, and joked about the pranks they had pulled on each other in previous years. I zipped myself completely into my sleeping bag, knowing that the only way I could make it through the night is if they thought this bunk was empty. I closed my eyes. Eventually.

The next morning, Boy’s Cabins A-D and the Girls made their way to the Big Mess Hall for breakfast. It was the first day in our Week of Random Holidays. Apparently, the way this camp was celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day was to add copious amounts of green food coloring to everything on the menu that day. I had green pancakes, green eggs, green bacon, and even green milk. And here is where my troubles began.

That afternoon, in archery, my stomach began to rumble. In that way. The bathroom was probably very close, but when you are young and have to poop, that toilet may as well have been in Canada. I ran – or waddled – all the way there and locked myself in the far stall. For nothing, as it turned out. A few farts. More rumbling. A few more farts.

I left the bathroom and ran into our Cabin Counselor. He wanted to know if I was okay. I said I just didn’t feel too good. We began to walk back to archery, because the first thing you want to do when you have stomach trouble away from home is go to a big field and shoot arrows at targets.

We were almost back to archery range when I felt another fart coming. So I did what I had done for the past decade or more; I let it fly.

And shit my pants. At Summer Camp. Right near the archery range.

“It just came out,” I remember saying out loud, mostly to myself.

What?” said the counselor.

But his question was answered quickly by the stream of feces making its way down my leg. I took off running back to the bathroom. Past the pool. Past the Girl’s Dorm. With green-tinted poop running down my leg. And crying. “Why the hell not?” I figured. I had already shit myself, after all. On Day One, no less.

My 8 day bowel evacuation didn’t get any better. And now, two decades and several therapy sessions later, I think I’ve finally gotten over my fear of public flatulence. Now when people stand in the air freshener aisle and spray Glade all over the place, I walk past them and fart.

Only slightly worried that I’ll poop myself.

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