It was morning on Christmas Eve, and I was busy. On the “to do” was a short list of tasks: pickup a last-minute present for my wife, some necessities for my mom, and deliver a Christmas gift to my dear friend terps.
His gift is right there on the left, an amazing Obama Chia Pet, produced by Ronco or somebody. A couple weeks earlier, I had hunted down that prize in the garden department of Kmart on Franklin Road.
I had snagged a holiday gift bag from my basement to put it in, but I still needed some tissue paper to wrap it. Preferably red, because terps, of course, is a red-blooded American male Republican.
Dollar General at Cave Spring Corners was out of every color except pink. I bought a pack of that for $1, just in case, then headed into Kroger to pick up a couple of other items for my mom, who was visiting.
And I thought, “well maybe they have red tissue paper here.” So after I picked up mom’s necessities, I wandered into the Christmas decorations aisle. But I didn’t see any tissue paper. I figured it would be near the wrapping paper. But I didn’t see any of that, either.
Suddenly the entire aisle was seized with an overpowering odor of cheap perfume. “Oh my God,” I thought. “Where’s that coming from?” Nobody was within 30 feet of me except for a young male Kroger worker — and it wasn’t coming coming from him.
And as I looked around for the wrapping paper, the bizarre perfume smell grew stronger and stronger. This was no ordinary over-dousing. It could scare away a mama grizzly in Alaska’s back country. On a warmer day it would have caused every fly within a mile to flee.
“Where’s the wrapping paper?” I said to the clerk. He led me over to an empty display.
“I guess we’re sold out,” he said.
Suddenly the perfume odor grew even stronger. A dowdy-looking woman who was about 60 years old was the only other person in the whole aisle. It had to be coming from her. She was walking toward us, and she’d overheard our conversation.
As she looked at me she had a smug smile on her face.
“That’s what happens when you wait ’til the last minute,” she said.
“What a nosy old hag,” I thought malevolently, as I suppressed my gag reflex. Her acrid perfume cloud was beginning to make my eyes water. The smell was revolting. I looked into her eyes.
“Thank you for telling me that,” I said in a blank voice.
Her face grew red as it dawned on her that she probably shouldn’t have opened her mouth in the first place.
“Well, uh,” she stammered apologetically, “I’ve got a lot of extra at my house. It’s less than a mile from here.”
I looked at her then turned silently and walked away, over to the other side of the store. Believe it or not, there was red tissue paper near the greeting cards. Chia Obama would get wrapped in red after all.
Later, at terps house, he guffawed at the gift. So did his 18-year-old son.
The gal who had doused herself in a quart of perfume was last seen exiting Kroger — as shoppers on their way in clasped a hand over their mouth and nose, trying not to retch.