By Cara DiPaolo
my parents are snorers -- a fact they will actively deny even when
their own loud gravelly exhalations wake them up. What was that?
my mother often says suddenly awaking from her car-ride slumber,
her eyes popping open in a startled manner. You were snoring,
my sister Rita explains, exchanging a knowing eye roll with my brother
and me in the backseat. No I wasn't! my mother replies defiantly.
I wasn't even asleep, so how could I be snoring? Was I snoring,
James? My dad barely looks up from the steering wheel, I
didn't hear a thing.
to say, Andrew and I did not sleep the entire vacation. The cold
and snoring aside, our "bedroom" provided the only passageway
to the basement in which the "game room" was situated,
consisting of an ancient pinball machine and a lopsided foosball
apparatus. Every morning at six a.m. we'd hear the pitter-patter
of leaden feet as my niece and nephews trampled past us down the
stairs. Occasionally, a faceless parental figure would urge them
in loud whispers, be quiet! Aunt Cara and Uncle Andrew are still
asleep! And for a few seconds, at least, the kids would try
to keep their voices low. But soon we'd hear the distorted pings
and electronic whoops of the pinball machine and the banging of
foosball figures against the hard ball, followed by the screeches
and wails of the children who weren't getting enough time on either.
day two we had run out of things to do to keep ourselves occupied.
You can only walk around a lake so many times before you start saying
to yourself, what's the big deal about lakes? There's
nothing to see here but a bunch of water. By day three we'd
run out of things to talk about with each other and were already
starting to recycle stories. Did I tell you I ran into Mrs. Bowen
at the store last week? my mom would begin, hopefully. Yes,
we'd all reply dully. You told us.
being in the middle of nowhere, out in nature and away from the
hustle and bustle of the city have its merits, I can just never
figure out what they are exactly. What do people do out here?
I wondered. Don't they ever want to see a movie or go to a Starbucks,
for chrissakes? Dont they ever crave ethnic food or a mall?
Or even a Panda Express at a mini-mart? Even the lakeside goats
seemed bored. We'd pass them on our daily walks and I swear their
monotone bleats seemed to be saying, Blaaah, blaaah, blaaah.
when my dad mentioned that he was thinking of taking a drive to
the nearest grocery store, Andrew and I jumped at the chance to
join him. It produced such a flurry of excitement you'd think he
had announced we were going to the moon. Maybe we can get some
salmon, my mother said giggling like a schoolgirl. And cookie
dough for the kids, my sister added. Yay!!! the kids
replied in unison. Maybe they sell videos there or something,
my brother suggested. Or a crossword puzzle book. Andrew
offered, helpfully. The possibilities seemed endless. Visions of
civilization danced in our heads. I brushed my hair for the first
time in days.
our hopes were dashed when, a half hour later, my dad pulled the
minivan into the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. This is it! my
dad said enthusiastically, hopping out of the car with surprising
alacrity. This is it? Andrew repeated quietly, as we both
surveyed the dismally gray industrial building, which might have
been mistaken for a prison if it hadn't been for the mirthless dancing
pig hanging precariously atop a pole in front.
the flickering fluorescent lights revealed aisle after aisle of
the most depressing food ever imagined, consisting mainly of assorted
canned meats, assorted fried pork rinds and assorted chewing tobaccos.
One tiny corner of the store was devoted to "specialty foods"
where the more discerning Bucksnortian could find such unusual items
as "spaghetti" and "wheat bread." Since it was
the only section that looked familiar to us, Andrew and I quickly
loaded the cart and made our way to the check out counter while
my dad went in search of sterilized water.
soon discovered that checkout people in Bucksnort are not nearly
as friendly as the checkout people in Los Angeles. In California,
Andrew and I are treated like royalty. Our register people always
ask us if we've found everything okay. They offer us options as
to bag type and whether or not we need assistance to our car. They
may despise us for our petty requests: Can I have paper in
plastic, please? and secretly want to throw melons at our heads,
but at least they attempt to hide it beneath a veneer of obsequiousness,
which we appreciate: Of course you can! No problem!
the Piggly Wiggly, there were no such niceties. The chubby check
out clerk named "Pepper" appeared almost openly disdainful.
She didn't even look at us as she began scanning our items and tossing
them, rather aggressively, to the back of the counter. As our food
started piling up with no hint of a bagger, we began to wonder if
we were supposed to do it ourselves. But just as Andrew made a motion
to begin the process, Pepper, seemingly addressing the scanner,
let out a hoarse, Walt!
turned out to be a large, ancient man with a cigarette dangling
precariously from his mouth. He was dressed comfortably, like a
homeless person, and didn't have a nametag or anything to suggest
he actually was a Piggly Wiggly employee.
Nevertheless, "Walt" immediately began throwing our groceries
into bags, making no attempt to put like foods together or concerning
himself with organizing by weight -- shoving bread in first and
wedging eggs between two glass jars of juice. Still, I felt it only
polite to thank him for his efforts. He replied by simply staring
at me blankly then squinting his eyes slightly as he inhaled his
cigarette. I could have been reading him wrong, but I got the impression
he was imagining me gutted and tied to the front of his truck.
rest of the vacation passed slowly, interrupted by the occasional
explosive fight whenever we attempted to play a game together as
a family. As individuals, the DiPaolos aren't so bad. Sure we can
be a little overbearing and sometimes tend to talk too much, but
no one would call us monsters. But put us together in a room with
a game board and suddenly we are more horrible than anyone could
imagine. We gloat and backstab and connive, all in the name of healthy
competition. It's been a rite of passage for each of our significant
others. Andrew still hasn't gotten over the first time he played
Trivial Pursuit with my family when we were first dating and the
"friendly" game turned suddenly sour. At one point Andrew
found himself being pelted in the face by tiny colorful triangles
as my brother and I lobbed them at each other, screaming, Here's
your stupid piece of the pie, loser!
the end of the week we were all ready to go. We packed our bags,
said our goodbyes and readied ourselves for the flight home. My
parents dropped us off at the Nashville airport five hours early,
claiming they wanted to "get on the road early." As we
were waiting in the lounge area for our flight to be called, Andrew
got a call from his mother. Guess what? she told him, excitedly.
We're renting a place on the beach this summer so we can all
be together! Andrew smiled and looked at me with "pay back
time" written all over his face. Great! he said enthusiastically,
we can't wait to see you!
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