What started as a routine trip to the grocery store for cheese, crackers and fudge sticks Tuesday evening quickly turned into the stuff of legend for my friend Elizabeth and myself.
Preparing for a visit to an friend’s apartment, we decided to drop in on our local grocery store to try and scrounge up some culinary compliments to Wood Chuck Cider and other such libations.
What we found instead was a combination of a cute old man with a charming sense of humor and the overly-enthusiastic suave of a young cad stuck in the body of a 70-year-old.
The start of our visit was as normal as anything. The entrance doors opened automatically, as usual, the store was air conditioned as usual, and the fruit and vegetables were on the left-hand side, as usual. Passing the check-out aisles,we made our way towards the snack aisle, eyeing some Triscuits.
Along the way, I spotted some Keebler Peanut Butter Fudge Sticks. I had promised our friend the food assortment would be “interesting,” so throwing in fudge sticks with cheese and crackers seemed to fit the bill.
Once we got our hands on some Triscuits, Elizabeth was suddenly struck with a cheese revelation.
“Have you ever had ‘Laughing Cow Cheese’?” she asked excitedly.
No, I replied, which sent us heading in the direction of the dairy.
Standing between us and the dairy section, however, was the baked goods area...and Mr. Smooth the Senior.
As we passed by cakes, muffins and pies, a tower of cupcakes caught my eye.
“Look!” I said to Elizabeth. “They’re teacher cupcakes! I should get you one!”
Elizabeth, who happens to be one of the greatest educators in the greater Midwest, chuckled and declined.
“You should buy the whole tower!” came an unfamiliar voice from behind. We turned to find an elderly gentleman, probably in his 70’s, grinning from ear to ear and pushing his cart towards us. He was wearing khaki pants, a plaid, button-down shirt and a completely unassuming old man face.
Expecting to pass by, smile back, maybe laugh a little and go about our business, we pressed on towards the bright lights of the dairy wall.
“Are you two in school?” he asked.
The encounter was far from over.
“No,” Elizabeth replied, “I’m a teacher.”
“Oh, a teacher!” he replied enthusiastically. “What do you teach?”
We stopped to face him, as Elizabeth proceeded to tell the man where she taught and what grades, mentioning the school was in Inwood.
This location triggered a bizarre story about an anonymous financial contributor, a pastor and hogs. Or something like that.
He then asked me if I was a teacher, as well.
“Nope,” I said. “I work for a newspaper.”
Ah, the Argus Leader, he beamed.
“Nope, a paper in Canton,” I replied, hoping he might think that there's more than one.
“Oh, Canton. Well that’s wonderful!”
So far, nothing terribly disconcerting. Small talk from an old man shopping solo, trying to charm two young girls. Happens all the time. The direction the conversation took from there, however, was hardly commonplace.
“You girls should come around here more often. I don’t get to see beautiful women very often, and when I do, my head starts spinning and I’m just full of jokes.”
Elizabeth told him he was very charming. Still innocent enough, I suppose. But he wasn’t done.
“Y’know, if I was 45 years younger...”
We giggled, amused.
“...I’d take you both out for dinner tonight. And then I’d wine and dine you until you’d say yes to everything I did.”
Yes, he said that. Our reaction was a mixture of complete horror and uncontrollable laughter.
He was not finished.
“And then, the next morning, I’d marry one of you. And if I was really lucky, I’d marry both of ya.”
Speechless, we began mentally preparing our exit route and trying to process in our heads what in the world had just happened. And we were still laughing.
His mind and tongue may have be as youthful as ever, but that was about it. His weathered skin blanketed a facial structure that probably could’ve picked up two cute girls in a super market in his glory days (though I certainly hope that was all talk). But today was not his lucky day.
When we finally managed to calm our laughter down to stifled chuckles, and the situation seemed to be closing in on itself, the silver-haired fox began pushing his cart ever so slowly in the opposite direction, keeping eye contact with us as he said how nice it was to meet us, yada yada yada, but I think his last line was my favorite:
“Now you girls remember to go to church on Sunday!”