from the journal:
I go to the grocery store. Once I step inside, I forget what I’m there for. I search my pockets; no list.
This happens. I’ll wind up places, have trouble piecing together why I’m there.
I lapse into my usual routine for these situations: I roam around, aimless.
I pause in the soup aisle, feel the shape of the cans. They have those ridges. I like the way they feel.
I pace the endless cereal aisle, marveling at the histrionic adjectives and colors. Cereal boxes are the most alien boxes.
I flip milk cartons around, gaze at cryptic bar codes; those interest me. I dwell on the inscrutable lines.
There’s a bench next to the bakery section, beside the glass case. It looks like a park bench, so I sit there and think and wait. I listen to the fluorescents, the chimey music, the register beeps…the electric high tide that never recedes.
A mom walks up to the glass case with her little girl. The girl is around five or so. The mom looks at cakes, talks to one of the employees for a bit.
The girl walks over to me. She stares, blinks. I stare back.
Then she says, “Oh, it was so funny. Ha!”
I look over at the mom to make sure it’s okay, this whole your-daughter-talking-to-a-stranger thing. The mom just smiles and rolls her eyes.
I ask the girl, “What was so funny?”
“That one part,” she says. “He coughed and he looked at his hand and he said ‘Hairball!’ Oh you should have seen it.”
She reverently holds a DVD case in her tiny hands, squeezing it tight. I read the title: The Cat in the Hat. The case is scuffed, the corners visibly eroded…it has mileage.
I ask her, “Is that your favorite movie?”
She says, “The hairball part is. I think it’s…”
She loses focus, pauses for a bit. She rubs her nose. She asks, “What’s your favorite movie?”
“I haven’t seen it yet,” I tell her.
She blinks a few times. She has to think that one over. That’s what I was going for.
Then she asks, “Can the hairball part be your favorite movie?”
“Maybe,” I say. “I’ll need to see it first.”
“Oh you should. And then for the whole time the fish is so mad.”
“I like this fish character already,” I tell her. Then I ask, “Have you ever read the book?”
She grimaces, says, “Sometimes.”
“You don’t like it as much?”
She frowns, then smiles. She begins to pretend-cough into her hand. Repeatedly. This goes on for awhile. She mimes a heaving cough, shoulders convulsing, then she fake hurls, “Hoowah!”
Passing customers look confused. The mom, presumably very familiar with this routine, doesn’t react. The girl says, “It’s like that. The hairball. When he makes it.”
“Oh it’s so funny,” she enthuses.
She squeezes the DVD case, smiles intensely, trembles, yells “Ha!”
The mom picks out a cake. She takes the little girl’s hand and they walk away.
I stand, look around, not sure what to do. I roam a few more aisles, peeking at bar codes and weird boxes. Eventually, I leave empty-handed.
Once home, I go online to watch a clip of the hairball scene. I mean, it’s not my new favorite thing ever, but I get what the kid is saying.