I turned 62 on Sept. 19, qualifying for premature Social Security. Now that I’m on Easy Street, I plan to travel even more, maybe going to Billings every couple months instead of once a year. Before pets, I spent many a Billings weekend playing poker and prowling nightclubs.
I took one of those rare, overnight trips last Friday, but the only thing I prowled was Rimrock Mall. I unashamedly confess to the macho crowd: I’ve always been a mall guy. Shopping, giant cinnamon rolls, ogling attractive passersby from a bench … what’s not to like?
I checked into Howard Johnsons, eager to begin sampling Billings’ culinary cornucopia. Trying The Outback and that freakin’ onion, (pardon me; “bloomin’” onion) has been on my bucket list, but I opted for the fish tacos instead. With a contented belch, I concluded I’ve been wasting my time at the Olive Garden all these years.
I bought new threads at some of my favorite stores, but it was at a trendy mall store called “Buckles” I received another passing grade in a painful education. A buxom young clerk offered her assistance, and though their selection of leather jackets was woefully lacking, she was smiling and smelled good so I tried one on. Walking me back from the mirror, she chirped, “And we do have a layaway plan.” With my trademark, borderline-irresistible style, I asked, “Really, I can take a short nap?”
Her smile screamed “labored” and her comeback smacked of “Whatever.” Hand me my diploma (AARP card); I’ve graduated with dishonors! It’s a tragic phenomenon when these eye-roll reactions dramatically increase in frequency. It wasn’t so long ago these out-of-my-league age-group girls at least feigned interest.
But later that evening, an unexpected glimmer of hope. At Buffalo Wild Wings, where I watched every sporting event being played on a sea of TVs, a cute, perky young’n brought me my brew and a menu. Past the point of trying to fool anyone, I handed Megan my sports page and admitted, “Your eyes are much younger than mine; could you read the White Sox starting pitcher to me?”
Cheerfully obliging, she said, “James Shields, two dash nine.” I explained that meant Shields has two wins and nine losses. Now SHE was getting an education, while my will to live and love was resurrecting.
When she returned, I said the “Po’ Boy” sounded good, but I was torn between the steak or shrimp version. Without hesitation, she said, “Get the shrimp.” We were on the same page again; this poor boy loved that Po’ Boy! But it was such a gaping monstrosity, I had no idea how to approach it.
On her next trip, she wondered why I hadn’t taken a bite yet, so I asked, “I’m not sure how to eat this thing. Do most people use their hands or a fork?” In a playful tone, she said, “Well, it is a sandwich, but if you’re scared it’s too messy, you could use a fork.”
I assured her I fear nothing, and after she left, I laboriously took my first bite. A popcorn shrimp launched a foot away from my plate, I felt cole slaw on my nose and several dripping strands were draped across three fingers.
When it comes to cheap laughs, I have a “waste not; want not” policy, so I wasn’t about to move a muscle till she returned. Suddenly she got swamped and was gone for the 10 minutes I spent praying the bevy of lovelies at a nearby table wouldn’t glance over. I knew they wouldn’t “get me” like Megan did.
Finally she appeared and I held up my slaw hand, saying, “Naaah, I wouldn’t call it messy.” The perfectly-timed line landed like Cupid’s arrow. This was no “whatever laugh;” it was a bent-over, breathless chortle. Our revelry only grew, and as I left, I said, “I’m telling your boss to give No. 82 a raise.” Grinning widely, she said, “Haven’t you noticed we all have No. 82 on our jerseys?”
In my heart though, there’s only one No. 82, and she can read to me anytime. I was walking on air through the parking lot, thinking, “Eat your heart out, Buckles Bimbo. My street value hasn’t bottomed out just yet!”