The Oddest Thing
“What happened to you?” Helen asked when Hebert finally returned from the store.
Herbert made a gesture that suggested he would answer her in a moment. He had, on his left arm, seven plastic grocery bags that were full and four more on his right. In each hand he held a bottle, one of detergent, the other of diet cola. With a steady but plodding gait he carried these to the kitchen and deposited them on the counter. He was sweating and his face was bright red. Breathing hard, he leaned against the counter and mopped his brow.
Helen, who had no sympathy for him, started to unpack the bags. “You do this every time,” she said. “If you just broke it up into two or three trips you wouldn’t be so winded.”
“I. . .wanted. . .to . . . tell. . . you,” he said staring down at the floor.
“Tell me what?” she said, putting the eggs, sour cream, sausage and milk into the refrigerator.
Herbert took a great sucking lung full of air.
“Do you have to make that noise? You know how I feel about those types of noises,” she said.
Herbert knew exactly how she felt about those noises. She would wake him from a deep sleep at night to tell him to stop snoring and to complain about how her boss hummed, whistled, clucked his tongue and cracked his knuckles every day at work. He would stay awake until she fell asleep and he would find he couldn’t nod off because she snored like a sawmill ripping boards. “Sorry,” he managed to say.
“So what is it you had to tell me?”
Herbert, who was still short of breath, managed not to gasp, gap, wheeze or hiss as he caught his breath. Instead, feeling as if he were sucking warm air through a wet plastic straw, he managed to say, “The oddest thing.”
Herbert was, on rare occasions, allowed to go to the store by himself. It wasn’t that Helen didn’t trust him, she didn’t. It wasn’t that he would buy the wrong items, he would. It was that Helen preferred to complain about such things in person and while it was happening. She liked to talk in a carrying voice in the middle of the store and more importantly she liked an audience.
Today Helen was willing to forgo her audience and had sent Herbert to the store because her friend Bernice was coming over to help her decide what color to paint the powder room. Bernice, Helen’s closest friend, had a very busy schedule so rather than run the risk of missing her Helen had sent Herbert to the store with a list.
Herbert, who knew that these little liberties had with them their associated punishments, nonetheless took full advantage of Helen’s absence. He went through the store in the opposite direction of what Helen would insist upon. He started in the frozen goods section, then the meat coolers and he even went to the candy and cereal aisles where Helen would never go. These were exciting things for Herbert. But his joy at thwarting Helen’s authority was undermined by the awareness that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t that he was going the wrong way through the store, he was. It wasn’t that he was getting the wrong items, he was and knew it. It was that the shoppers in the store were acting oddly.
Initially he thought it was in response to his behavior. Many of them were regulars and would have seen him and Helen shopping at the store. He began to suspect that they were taking notes on him and reporting back to Helen. They seemed to be whispering and muttering in every aisle. Hebert became more defiant and decide to buy white, liquid shoe polish instead of dish detergent. If he were going to face an outraged Helen at home he might as well make it a good and loud shouting on her part. No apologies, no “thought I got it,” it was going to be a “here’s your list and here’s what I got” moment.
Herbert had returned to the forbidden aisle of candy and cereal with the intention of buying two pounds of chocolate covered marshmallows when he saw a cluster of other shoppers, once again murmuring and whispering among themselves. He was about to say something, to call out Helen’s spies when he saw a man walk by in a pair of black and white checkered pants, a green polo shirt and golf shoes carrying a basket.
It occurred to Herbert that this was odd as no one ever carried the red baskets at the store. The whole point of going to the store was to get lots of stuff cheap. The man walked by Herbert, staring straight ahead, clearly ignoring the other shoppers.
“It’s him,” one of the shoppers said.
“You think so?” another asked.
“Go and ask him,” said a third.
Hebert decided his defiance of Helen wasn’t worth the risk and that whatever was happening here, he needed to get away from it. He put down the marshmallows, returned the shoe polish and went to get the dish detergent. He was stooping to get the dish detergent when he found himself eye to eye with the gentlemen he’d seen three aisles earlier. The man glared at him and then reached past him for a bottle of dish detergent.
Herbert remained there shocked for several seconds. There was something odd about the man besides him being overdressed for the store and carrying a basket. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He decided to start over his shopping and approach the store from the direction that Helen normally prescribed and hoped it would take him far away from the man and the group of shoppers that were trailing after him. So it was that he found himself in produce, looking at a five pound bag of granny smith apples when the man in the green polo shirt, black and white checked pants and golf shoes arrived carrying his basket. He was followed by nearly all the shoppers in the store and several of the clerks and one cashier. All were murmuring, “It’s him,” “Maybe he is on vacation,” and “I thought people like that had assistants.”
Herbert finally realized what was odd about the overdressed golfer, whose face was becoming red. He was, based on where he was standing, only slightly taller than the lower edge of the produce display. But Herbert couldn’t see why that would cause everyone in the store to follow him, whisper and stare.
Then the man began to jump up and down and shouted, “I’m not him!”
Several people looked embarrassed, some of the shoppers and clerks looked offended and then the crowd dispersed.
The man stared back at him.
Herbert continued to stare.
The man charged up to Herbert and glowered at him, “What are you staring at?”
“Who?” Herbert asked.
“What?” the man looked confused.
“Who aren’t you?” Herbert asked, still perplexed by what had just happened.
“You don’t know?”
“Not a clue. I thought people were following you because you were dressed like a golfer.”
The man looked at his outfit and stared at Herbert, “Have you had a head injury?”
“No, I don’t think so. Who did they think you were?”
“Game of Thrones, he plays Tyrion Lannister,” the man said, now looking as perplexed as Herbert was.
“Never heard of it,” Herbert said.
“It’s a worldwide sensation!” the man said, his face resuming its previous shade of red. “I haven’t been able to go shopping, out to dinner or a movie since it started. People pointing and saying, ‘it’s him, it’s Lord Tyrion.’”
“Oh, so they are mistaking you for someone famous. That doesn’t sound so bad. I wish people thought I was someone famous.”
“Look, you brain dead dolt! They don’t think I’m famous because I look like him. They think it because I’m a dwarf!” The man snarled.
“So you don’t look like him at all?” Herbert asked.
The man paused. “Well, when I had my goatee I looked a lot more like him. But-“
“So you look a little bit like him and people wonder and think you are famous.”
The man paused to consider this. “I’m not saying it’s all bad. But this isn’t the first time I’ve been mistaken for someone famous. Believe me, it isn’t all good. For years I was mistaken for someone else and it was absolutely horrible.”
“Who?” Herbert asked.
And then the man told him and it was horrible.
“Why did you buy turnips?” Helen demanded, holding the offending root vegetable before Herbert.
Hebert returned to himself. “The oddest thing happened when I was at the store.”
“What was that?” Helen asked, without any real interest.
“I met a man who spent over ten year of his life being mistaken for Tom Cruise.”
“Oh, the poor man,” Helen said, and forgot entirely about the turnip she hadn’t asked for.
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