So there we are at the Dallas Cowboys outlet store, wherein my sister Roni is doing some very serious shopping. Of course, because of the stroke, Roni’s actual participation in the physical aspects of shopping is somewhat limited. Instead, she functions mainly as the brains of the operation, while the rest of us are mere minions in her servitude, gamboling about and snatching up things at her insistent direction.
Now, there is definitely an art in attending to Roni’s whims and desires. In addition to her limited mobility, her vocal skills are not very cooperative, thus requiring that she communicate via interesting noises and dramatic flourishing of her good arm. (Sometimes it’s VERY dramatic flourishing. Do NOT park Roni near crystal figurines when she has something to share. Or when the Cowboys aren’t winning.)
So we must carefully review what Roni is expressing, lest there be an unsavory misinterpretation on our part leading to dissatisfaction and civil unrest. As with many languages, Roni-ese is full of subtle variations. For instance, a low growl combined with a nod of the head and two flicked fingers can mean “I must immediately pee,” whereas a low growl combined with a nod of the head and THREE flicked fingers can mean “I’d like a cheeseburger, hold the pickle, a diet soda, onion rings with that nice Persian ketchup that we found that one time at the international market in Tucson, and the TV channel needs to be changed to a station currently playing a ‘MacGyver’ rerun.”
(To be fair, Mom is much better at the role of interpreter than I am. Mom can just glance at Roni and then immediately scurry off to begin remodeling the house in the exact manner that has just been suggested. I can stare at Roni for a full five minutes and then come to the simple but brilliant conclusion of “I think she needs something”. We all have our ceilings.)
Anyway, back to the Dallas Cowboys outlet. Mom is busily wheeling Roni about, with the two of them conversing in the special language, resulting in a growing pile of Cowboys couture and accessories in Roni’s lap. As they are thusly occupied, I wander off into another section of the store, one where they have racks of ladies apparel that supports both the Cowboys AND breast cancer awareness, meaning most of the items are imbued with a lovely pink shade. And, surprisingly, these things are really cute.
My sister Dawn is a fan of pink and cute, so I give her a call. “We’re at the Cowboys outlet and-”
That’s all Dawn needs to know. “I don’t want anything.”
I sigh. “But they have some really cute pink shirts that I KNOW you’ll like.”
“I don’t like the Cowboys.”
“Why don’t you call us when you’re leaving the store and we’ll decide what to do next. Gotta jet.” Just before she fully disconnects the phone, I believe I hear niece Tristany squeal something triumphant and then hurl a watermelon through a plate-glass window. I’m not certain of this, of course, but I’m sure I’ll get all the details later, probably over a glass or two of strong vodka.
I shove my phone back in my pocket and rejoin Roni and the personal shopper who also happened to give birth to her. (36 hours of labor, if I recall. We knew right then she was going to be a handful.) It appeared that everything in the store had been properly fingered and considered, and the two of them were ready for the part where financial assets were redistributed as we did our part to revive the economy.
There was enough Cowboys attire on the checkout counter that one could easily build a sizeable tent city. A place I might have to go live once I paid for all this mess. Shirts and hoodies, fresh duplicates of the little stuffed bear that started this whole thing, even a Cowboys nutcracker for Christmas. I gulped, awaiting the possibly life-changing moment when a final total was announced.
Three minutes later we were headed out the door, with me having paid a mere fifty bucks. That’s it. The same price you could easily pay for ONE jersey in the regular Cowboys stores. Everyone was justly pleased and celebrations were planned. (Moral of the story: If you, or someone you wish to bestow gifts upon, love you some Cowboys, do NOT pay full retail for memorabilia. Get your butt to Irving and find that outlet. Sure, it might be last year’s stuff, but really, how many ways can you display a silver star on a blue background?)
But the joyous mood quickly dampened.
We pile in the car, and Mom has this to express: “Little parched, here. Let’s stop and grab something to drink..”
Okay, sounds innocent enough, can’t be too much pain involved with that. So we make our way out of the oddly-unpopulated business park where the Cowboys outlet is located, and within mere minutes I spy a convenience store. I pull into a parking spot and Mom hops out. She’s just going to dash in there and snatch up some beverages real quick, no need for all of us to go through the Big-Ass Wheelchair Production Number with the cast of thousands that it normally takes to get Roni in full-transport mode.
It turns out that Mom and I have a different definition for the word “dash”.
I should have known that we were in trouble before she even walked away from the vehicle. When she softly queried what I might desire to moisten my vocal cords, I simply replied “Gatorade. Any flavor.” This proved to be a badly-flawed decision on my part.
See, here’s my reasoning. Every convenience store carries Gatorade in some form. It’s just a thing that happens, possibly the result of an underhanded, cruel monopoly of some kind, but that’s unimportant to this story. And I like every flavor of this substance basically the same. Because they taste the same, relatively speaking. It doesn’t matter if the flavor is Mountain Breeze or Dewberry Deluge or Super Yak Extreme. In the end, it’s all just chemically-treated water that hydrates me. And that’s all I want.
So when I decree “any flavor,” I mean just that. March your butt up to the cooler and grab the first thing that says Gatorade. No need for analysis, no need for research, no need to elicit constructive commentary from strangers standing nearby and waiting for their bucket of fake nachos with the plastic cheese and the resultant intestinal discomfort. Just grab and go.
Mom sauntered into the store. Roni and I sat in the car and waited.
And we waited some more. Two years later, there’s still no sign of her.
I sighed, leaned forward to get a better angle, and began to peruse what I could of the activities within the store. This was probably going to prove a fruitless effort, because Mom is so short. Seriously short. Like two foot three, or something like that. Tiny. Mom climbing into an SUV is like other people scaling Mt. Everest. She has to run and jump a lot just to get places, like the next step in a staircase.
So I’m scanning the interior, watching people waltz about in that slightly manic, unfocused way that folks have in unfamiliar convenience stores. Nobody knows where anything is, nobody is sure what they really want, there’s the whole contemplation of whether or not you should use the facilities, just in case, and everything is topped off with the apparent convenience-store regulation that there be at least one incredibly smelly person wandering around that you need to avoid, causing you to abruptly veer off course and start you whole decision-making process all over again.
And did I mention that Mom’s short? And that she can scamper like a gazelle when the mood strikes her? Trying to find Mom in a crowd of people is like looking for a cotton ball in a forest of Redwoods. I couldn’t tell where the hell she was. Except for the checkout counter. I could see that area clearly, and there were no cotton balls in line.
I sighed and looked at Roni. She sighed and looked at me. Then she made a small, abrupt noise and shoved four fingers into the air. This translates as: “I am tired of waiting on this woman. Here’s the plan. I want you to put the car in gear, floor it, and crash through the front of the store. While you drive up and down the aisles, I’ll hang out the window over here, and I’ll grab her if I see her. If we don’t find her in thirty seconds, then screw it. We’ll leave her ass here and go get something to eat.”
We both thought that was really funny, and chuckled accordingly. Then we both almost screamed when somebody threw open one of the passenger doors. It was Mom, crinkly plastic bag in hand, apologizing for taking so long but there were just so MANY different kinds of Gatorade that she wasn’t sure what to do. Then she spent another five minutes trying to get enough clearance to actually get into the car.
Roni caught my eye again. Then she made a small, abrupt noise and shoved three fingers into the air. This meant: “Same plan that we just discussed. Crash into the store, yadda yadda. Only this time I throw her out the window along with important papers she might need, including a signed document that we have no idea who she is. And then we drive off. Got it?”
I gunned the engine…
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