SCRAMBLED my grocery cart—aptly named Enterprise, after the famed starship—to beat her to the eggs. With a galaxy of merchandising mayhem to navigate, a balance of velocity and stealth was the essence of this mission. Active reconnaissance and the element of surprise—that was the plan. Capture her attention and handle with care. Operation Egg Carton was in play.
“Vessel of interest, last seen approaching housewares.”
I attempted to open hailing frequencies once when our paths crossed near the water fountain in the church’s narthex. But a Klingon athlete crushed my hopes, my foot, and my knee in a dead run to bring her a folding chair.
I tapped my ear bud more out of habit than necessity, concentrating on an anticipated rejoinder.
“Roger that Captain. Parking lot sector is condition green.”
This was good news for me, David Kirk, one of the Three Geekateers, but my buds call me K’avid. Well except for the duration of this morning’s mission, where a priceless serendipity had me playing the role of Captain. Captain Kirk. Sometimes life was just too good.
My crew, Jason (K’aison) and Keith (K’reith) are cruising the parking lot, alert to offer backup and patrolling the outer perimeter of Dillon’s Supermarket—Central and Maize quadrant.
Stacey Stull, a fine x-chromosomal entity had entered the building. Her presence required the institution of a new alert level. In addition to Red-Alert and Yellow-Alert, we added “Babe-Alert” to our operational lexicon.
I discovered her while orbiting the Thursday night singles group from the geek seats. I attempted to open hailing frequencies once when our paths crossed near the water fountain in the church’s narthex. But a Klingon athlete crushed my hopes, my foot, and my knee in a dead run to bring her a folding chair.
Months later, I finally made first contact with Miss Stull when the aforementioned Klingon brute jettisoned her for another babe. Over time, via ad hoc moments, we began to gel. Our chats became frequent enough to impinge on the fellowship of the Three Geekateers, forcing me to exercise damage control to restore order.
“Captain … K’reith here. Permission to let the air out of one of her tires as a Plan B diversion.”
“Absolutely not K’reith,” I shot back.
“But sir, we could ride in to rescue. You could be her hero.”
“Negative, K’reith.” That guy scared me sometimes. “Besides, I don’t know how to change a tire unless it’s a virtual one.”
“Roger that Captain. I’m standing down.”
I noted that Guy’s Potato Chips, my favorite, were on sale and tossed a few bags in the cart.
Over the past month my compatriots had clamored about rebound syndrome.
“She’s gonna fillet you man.”
Perhaps because of their concerns, I chose to play the aloof card with Stacey, hoping to boomerang into a real date eventually. The delicate balance seemed to work. She responded favorably.
Then it happened. One evening while having a serious discussion over chai tea, she took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said: “David, I love you like a brother.”
My mind, my heart, my very core imploded, NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! But it was too late.
Like a derelict shuttlecraft, I hurtled end-over-end into deep space. It was very cold and dark out there. I floated aimlessly for six weeks. With my intergalactic passport stamped by the “Love You Like a Brother” seal, I was as pocked as an asteroid being used as cannon fodder in an alien shooting gallery. I buried myself in work.
Jason offered condolences while Keith suggested a plan to take over the online world.
Sensing my plight, they banded together to divert my Eeyore state of mind. Like the toy surprise in a Cracker Jack box, we inserted some virtual Easter eggs in our programming code—intentional hidden messages, in-jokes, and novel surprises. “All for one, all in fun,” became our new motto.
In one particular scenario, when someone pressed and held the right ‘Alt’ key on the keyboard while simultaneously clicking the help button, a custom message popped up:
Forget Girlfriend 2.0 - G33K@T33r Clan Quest - RuneScape RuLZ w00t! w00t!
Only trouble was, I couldn’t forget. That was when my fellow Geekateers decided to mount a rescue mission. They concocted a plan to reverse polarity and get my dream ship back on course. Gotta love them.
So there I was, detergents, condiments, and frozen foods were the only obstacles in my path—between aisles 10 and 17.
A Wichita State hoodie, sporting university colors of yellow on black, disappeared from my visual radar. I knew it was her. I had photographic memory where her profile was concerned.
I rounded an end-cap populated with cholesterol infested munchies and in my hasty pursuit, the grocery cart lifted into a two-wheeled tilt.
“Must maintain composure.” I whispered, forgetting my pals.
Acknowledging my angst, K’aison offered encouragement as only he knows how. “Worry is illogical. The Captain always gets the girl.”
“Roger that K’asion.”
“It is why we exist at this precise moment in the space-time continuum.”
“Thank you, Mr. K’aison.”
“Acknowledged K’avid, uhh Captain.”
A buoyant pair of blonde pigtails bounced into view as Stacey scooped up a package of frozen veggies and fruits. I steered sharply starboard as the event horizon for rendezvous was yet to come.
Under normal circumstances, any y-chromosomes would bend her way like metal filings to a magnet. If not the hair, her melodic voice would fish glances and sink the hook just as well.
Therein lay the beauty of my plan. At 0940 hours on a Friday morning, any route she took would be populated instead with other x-chromos, perky and punctuated with conversation. Stacey was inoculated against silence; it was part of her makeup to jibber jabber with her own kind. That assured me ample time to rehearse my quest en route to aisle 27.
By my calculations—smeared on a Bionic Burger napkin—probability was high, my confidence not so much, that Stacey would wind up her grocery acquisitions near the dairy case. She was, after all, in charge of tomorrow’s autumn harvest bake-off for the church singles group. Everyone knows you must have fresh milk and eggs with which to build cakes, cookies, pies and such. And Stacy was a rare breed. She baked from scratch.
With K’aison coaching via cell phone, I had a good shot at engineering a chance meeting with the baking chick of my dreams. All systems were go. If only I could short-circuit his nervous rhyming.
But that presupposes I had my own quirk under control. When under pressure, I tended to lapse into Star Trekese. As if on command, I scanned the area and filed this log entry:
Captain’s Log, supplemental: Grocery cart Enterprise, prepared to dock at the produce bay—Dillon’s—Central and Maize. Long range scanners indicated area is clear, save for harmless alien life form (species soccer mom) and her young, last seen caressing heads of lettuce. Curious. Entity known as Stacey drifted out of visual range. Kirk out.
Palms slippery when wet with sweat, I ventured toward my destiny. My knock-the-polish-off-her-toenails speech played over a reel-to-reel in my head. Bundled nerves slapped my insides like loose film flailing about a projector’s sprockets.
As I rounded the end-cap of aisle 23, the incense of Hostess Ding Dongs & Ho Ho’s wafted over me, enticing me to abandon ship.
Dave Kirk, come over to the crème filled side.
“Crème was evil! Pure, unadulterated milk chocolate was my friend. I rebuked the devil’s food.”
“First Officer K’aison to Captain K’avid err Kirk. Repeat last transmission.”
I cupped a hand over the Bluetooth headset embedded in my right ear and quietly responded.
“Just commenting on a devil’s food incursion, Mr. K’aison. No worries, it’s all good.”
“Captain, if I may speak freely. Single-tasking. C’mon man, you rule at this. Single … tasking. Keep your eye on the prize. Stace is your base. Face the Stace.”
“Roger that, K’aison.”
“Did I mention single-tasking?”
“Got it. I get the irony. Single. Tasking.”
“Single at 28 man, your chronometer reading is about to roll over the three-zero in less than two terrestrial years, hear me dude, I fears …”
“I’m fully aware …”
“If you don’t race - now, for the Stace - OW!”
K’aison’s annoying habit, the art of exaggerated rhyme, was flaring now more than a solar storm. On a liquid diet of Jolt cola, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, and a few other high energy drinks, he was amped.
Without warning, a creature stepped into my path—a wicked sample queen sensing a viable host. Unable to initiate evasive maneuvers, I fired off an abrupt SOS. “Alien vessel approaching!”
“A distress call? I’ll send in K’reith. Your ear bud will take the fall. Get it? Ear? Bud?”
K’aison was in rare form. I liked the guy, but he needed a whack with a clue-by-four.
The alien hoisted an impaled cake bite—Ding Dong or HO HO, I dunno—into my face. The party toothpick drew white filling like a hypodermic, confectioner’s plasma oozed onto her plastic gloves. Cheeks rosy, and hairnet bulging, she came at me like grandma needing a hug fix.
“They’re scrumptious, honey.”
This chocolate purist, being crème free, plans to stay that way. I dodged.
“Makes you feel dreamy on the inside. Confections are medicine, dearie. Take a bite.”
I whipped the cart handle hard to port, secure in my purity. Granny stared after me befuddled.
Grocery cart Enterprise dropped out of warp, tipped into a side wheelie for a grueling three seconds and plowed into a cardboard display in the open expanse between the produce case and the dairy case. Miraculously, my cargo remained intact. Shaken, but not stirred.
Just my luck though, the store was current on its gravity bill. Enterprise rebounded, slammed me in the gut and shifted trajectory as I pushed back on the handle. Popping another wheelie, it came down on a cart with no name, several feet away.
There was a wail and not of the siren kind.
My body, still reeling backward from the collision, twisted and I shouted, as my buns found chilled sticks and tubs of butter.
“Woo-hoo that’s cold!”
While in the midst of a dweeb dance, as I don’t possess an athletic bone in my body, my trusty cell popped free of its holster and emitted the traditional Star Trek communicator chirp. It dropped and spun end to end across the store floor, a hockey puck looking for a goalie.
Forget Girlfriend 2.0 - G33K@T33r Clan Quest - RuneScape RuLZ w00t! w00t!
Ensign Dignity—my new identity—took a fall as I promptly slipped out of the dairy case and onto the floor. Flail skiing with sticks of Blue Bonnet in each hand, I slid beneath a pair of legs. Soccer mommy legs. One, two, three, four pairs of them.
With that many legs she’s either truly an alien or my intracranial VCR needs adjusting.
There’s no word really to describe the sound I made at that point. Perhaps in a later recounting of the scene, K’aison and I can find a Klingon or Andorian term that wholly depicts sufficient pain and humiliation.
The female, who miraculously held ground while executing an Olympic worthy performance of balancing on the equivalent of a pommel horse, while holding onto a bundle of baby boy—began to teeter.
The back of her free hand welded to her lips while her pupils—I saw at least six of them—dilated into a hue of meadow green with a splash of hazel. Her brown hair framed a face that was contorted between anguish and hilarity. Her glasses reflected my bald heads as moons. It dawned on me that she was waiting to see which emotion was appropriate.
My engineering nature could be a curse. Details overwhelmed me. But now, a Cub Scout troop was hammering tent spikes into my brain with any hard object they could find. I blinked and blinked again.
Stacey leaned over me, her scent intoxicating and blonde braids caressing my face. Blue lagoon eyes pour into my soul.
“Are you all right? Can you hear me?”
It was the voice of an alto, not the melodic soprano of Stacey Stull. That meant one thing. Hallucination.
I popped up and whacked my forehead in a pinball action between the bottom of the grocery basket and the floor, ending with a snap back to reality. Imagining grid lines imprinted on my forehead, I tried to erase my embarrassment.
The not-Stacey gal made eye contact. “You passed out. Might have a concussion. Look here. This way, at the light.”
I don’t want to stare into the light. That was how Carol Anne’s life took a turn for the weird in that movie Poltergeist.
I turned and sure enough, a fine mist hit my eyes, stinging and burning.
Great. I supposed I was getting maced.
“Sweetie peadie, he’s not a plant. Put away your spray bottle. Oh honey, that was mommy’s rubbing alcohol.”
I so wanted to beam out.
“I’m so, so sorry. I carry a spray bottle of alcohol to clean my glasses. Well that and I’m a CNA, studying for my RN. My daughter likes to treasure hunt in my purse. I’m really sorry.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks and splashed onto my neck. I tell my face to smile but have no idea if the message got through. But I was blinking like a strobe.
“Your pulse is good. Seem to be breathing fine. What’s your name?”
“Kirk, uhh Dave, actually.”
“Dave, I’m Rene.” She shines a penlight into my eyes. “Your eyes seem to be dilating okay. As soon as I can find a store manager, or my cell phone, I’m calling 911. I just can’t leave the kids.” She scans a 180. “Katy!”
I prop myself up on an elbow. Twilight Zone, —that would explain everything. “Oh hey Rene, I’m okay. Really. I’m good. In fact, I think I’m done here.”
My wristwatch pinged and I conjured up a grin. “There you go. I believe my turkey timer just popped.”
As the duly christened butterball, I wanted nothing more than to be done.
“Dave, you must be still. We need to get you checked out. I feel responsible. Try not to move. You could have a back injury. Or a concussion.”
Rene waves at someone.
“The produce manager’s coming over. By the way, what is your last name?”
“Hey, at least we can rule out amnesia.” She smiles. “Mine’s Mellon. Rene Eester Mellon. Maiden name is Eester. Hang on, I’ll explain the situation to the manager.”
As soon as Rene turned away, sweetie peadie, the alien OCD sprayer, shuffled close to perform an inspection. A Cabbage Patch wonder, approximately thirty-three inches tall, she sported a beaming face adorned with myriad freckles. She was decked out in reds and greens right down to the LED flashing shoes, not unlike a Martian Christmas.
She scrunched her nose and leveled a finger. “Midder. You god budder on your poddie.”
Out of the mouth of babes. How could I begin to respond to that?
She immediately plugged a thumb into her pucker and sucked with the fury of a black hole. The other arm pulled down ringlets of red hair, obscuring half her face.
It registers with me that for all the commotion I’ve caused, no onlookers have ventured over. That’s a good thing. I desire to keep it that way so I drop my elbow prop and try to become one with the collapsed cardboard display.
I lay there, perfectly still, hoping no one will see me. No one - being Stacey. After all, the status quo had changed. I think those who use athletic metaphors would say it is time to punt. I need to communicate with the Geekateers outside. Time to abort the mission. Lie low.
The freckled monster, unfortunately, harbored no cares regarding anonymity. As if reading my thoughts, the freckled waif grabbed Enterprise and shook vigorously while yelling, “Budder man fa down!”
I watched the leaning tower of frozen pizzas—my cover story shifting and sliding overboard, filling Rene’s cargo ship.
“I’ve talked to the manager. Paramedics are on their way.”
Wonderful. Rene has returned. Read my mind. Get a grip on your offspring.
“Midder. How come you go niddey nide on duh foor?”
I opt for silence, no since in egging her on.
“Midder man! Ids daydime. Ged up!”
“Emma, sweetie. Don’t bother Mr. David. He has an owwie.”
My head lolls to the side. It is then that I spy a pair of legs wrapped in sweats. Loitering near the egg case, the leg’s owner lifts onto her tiptoes. Her ankles are exposed. It might seem silly to some but I’ve memorized the contours of that gal’s feet from a couple of singles Bunko parties because they’re usually adorned with ankle bracelets.
I can’t let her see me like this. I’m doomed. I have to talk to K’aison—before he initiates the fail-safe option.
I motion and whisper to Rene. “My cell.”
“Don’t worry. My other daughter’s looking for it. Is there anyone you want me to call? Family?”
“No, no. I just uhh, need to check in with a friend.”
Where was the universal translator when you needed one?
I looked up to see little boy blue, hanging over Rene’s shoulder, a tendril of drool hanging ominously. I was strangely reminded of the acidic saliva of those beasts in the Alien movies.
Junior’s spittle, made alive by the laws of gravity, stretched and searched for a new host. To seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly grow and invade my … my leg! Frantic, I scuttle backwards, pivoting my foot to avoid contamination, slamming my shoulder into a wheel.
Rene stops bouncing.
“I’m so sorry. He’s teething. Would you like a wipe?”
She fought a smile while freckled Emma burst into giggles.
I don’t much like the sound of that. I’d prefer transport to another planet instead.
“No thanks. I’m fine. Really. I’m good.”
“God is good, all duh dime. Santa is bad, all duh dime.”
“That’s Satan honey.”
The little Martian smiled having blessed me with her theological thought for the day.
My peripheral vision registered the sweats moving away. Curious as to why Stacey hadn’t so much as glanced in this direction, I turned my head and saw. The dangling white wire. An iPod. She was looped in and bee-bopping her heart out, as she made a beeline to the automated checkout lane.
It was just as well. I was naked without technology. Sans the cell, I was undone.
I opened my mouth to question Rene, when a new voice invaded the area.
“Cool Mommy! Look what I found. It’s cartoon network.”
A third offspring, maybe 5 or 6 years at most. Another girl.
My lifeline in her grasp. I’m moments away from YouTube fame and my entire social network totters a few taps away from annihilation. Great.
A bolt of pain passes through my neck as a vision flashes before my eyes. My smartphone—covered in ladybug stickers—snug in a pink and green sandal shaped cell holder.
“Katy honey, give the gentleman his phone back.”
Katy did. Commotion.
Mother scolding. Sirens wailing. Paramedics rushing. Phasers firing.
The cell was alive. K’aison jabbered in my ear, as paramedics rushed in.
“Don’t freak me out going offline like that. Dude, you gotta see this. There’s like a whole squad out here. Gimme the scoop man.”
I feel a prick in my arm.
“Uh-ohh. Red Alert! Stace has left the building. Repeat! Stace has left the building. You getting this Captain?”
The overhead fluorescents twinkle. They’re not supposed to do that. My extremities tingle.
“K’reith here Captain, you want me to grab her before she gets away? I can take her down, nice and gentle like …”
It’s like I’m watching a soap opera. Or maybe I am the soap opera. Some guy named EMT air wrestles me for the phone.
I yell. “K’aison, take me away,” but the stretchers have me, and everything goes dark chocolate.