“You get to spend all day with daddy today?” It was an innocent question, especially since it was aimed at a 20-month-old boy who couldn’t and didn’t care to reply. A bagger at the local Kroger supermarket was just trying to be nice to Frank. My reply, “he spends every day with his daddy.” That might have been a little quick and a little biting in tone and attitude. It probably sounded worse to me in continual mental replay than it did to her at the moment. It was mixed with a little pride but mostly frustrated amusement. There was no reason for it, the frustration that is. Well, plenty of reasons just not any good ones. The lady at The Kroger, that’s how it’s said down here in Knoxville – The Kroger, had absolutely no idea who she was engaging or that her simple, polite question to an amazingly cute kid would spark an entire day of grinding wheels in my head.
A quick The Kroger aside here. The first contact I had with indigenous personnel at my new duty station in The South revolved around The Kroger and went like this. “What cha know?” Now imagine that with a heavy southern accent and you might understand why my first reply was, “I’m sorry?” He repeated it again and then again. The third time I looked at my sponsor, (the loser of the short straw drawing who helps you in-process when you get to a new base), with a look that screamed “c’mon bro you wanna help me out here, I can’t understand a thing coming out of that man’s mouth.” My sponsor just stared back at me. Then the other guy says, “you need to get yursef down to The Kroger and get cha one uh dem Southern to English translators.” No I am not making this up. I spell em as I hear em. Now I did recognize a word in that sentence. Okay two words; The Kroger.
I knew The Kroger, as I had to stop at one on my way into town for an emergency Diet Coke; awesome grocery store and gas station. Now I drive past a family owned grocery joint to shop The Kroger. Don’t judge me. My inquisitor didn’t think I understood his advice and leaned in enough to make the close–talker from Seinfeld jealous and reiterated, “you understand THE KROOOGER?”
Ah yes, the universal language of slow and loud. For those unaware, even the ancient language spoken by the first civilization at Sumer can be understood by anyone if said slowly and loudly enough. Another side note; the Senior Master Sergeant who asked me the question and recommended the KROOOGER became and remains a good friend and revealed to me later that my sponsor put him up to that. I told him it was OK. We in the northeast take that stuff in good fun, seeing as how we won the war and all. Back to the The Kroger Lady.
When I replied that Frank got to spend everyday with his daddy I got a completely different look all together. It went from this must be his Tuesday to have his son, as if it was negotiated in a divorce settlement, to aww poor guy must have lost his job. The lost his job look was loud and clear and I intercepted with “I’m retired”. She attacked with a “he’s retired, he can’t be more than late 40’s” quizzical glare. I quickly parried with a look that said I’m in my early 40’s in case you were wondering. She dodged and out-flanked me with a few quick glances down to my ring finger. Well played The Kroger Lady, well played.
This happens more than you would think. When people hear I’m retired at such a young age and not working another paying job they think I’m wealthy. If they know I retired from the military the thought goes from wealthy to maybe I was wounded. In this case The Kroger Lady must have felt I was the wealthy type and was checking my availability by eyeballing my ring finger. Yeah, egotistical I know, don’t judge me. As much as I was enjoying the conversation, I left her to figure it all out. The Scandinavian Masters was on the Golf Channel so me and Frank had to get home. Frank loves him some European golf. Plus the ice cream was melting.
I was relaying this story to a friend and he said “man you should write this stuff down, write a book”. I said Ok. So I’m writing a book. I’m retired, what else do I have to do? So this whole exchange is really the impetus for the book or what may turn out to be just a series of blog entries. Well either way, the The Kroger Lady has no idea what she started.