Willie and I did our holiday grocery shopping Christmas Eve Eve at the supermarket in Columbia Heights.
This is Willie's store. He knows this store; it’s the one he hits between work and home. He knows the aisles, feels at home in its dairy section. Never mind that it’s in Columbia Heights, several miles further than the one near our home.
Willie is a creature of habit, and let’s just leave it at that.
Have you been to Columbia Heights? It’s something of an armpit – and a bad-looking armpit at that.
I don’t like coming out to this store – there’s always something unsavory going on, someone arguing obscenely over a cell phone – but Willie knows this store, it’s his store…
Oh, wait. I was going to leave that be.
Anyway, when you’re done shopping and it’s 8:00 and you no longer feel like cooking, and what you really want to do is go home and lay on the couch and watch TV, where do you go?
Well, there’s Wendy’s.
Fast food, my friends: The United States’ pants-swelling, artery-clogging contribution to Epicurea.
No point in the drive-thru. Everything will go ice-cold in the walk between the car and the house. No, the only thing worse for you than fast food is cold fast food. (I have nothing to back that up, but it’s a feeling I have.)
We went inside.
Picture the inside of this Wendy’s. There are five people at three different tables: two heavy-set couples at each end of the place and a disheveled elderly man in the center, staring out the window, a number of garbage bags at his feet.
“Sir, sir. Sir.”
A heavy-bellied man in a dirty oversized ski jacket and a pair of stained sweatpants was whispering to us as we approached the counter.
“Hey.” The man gave off the very air of lechery. He was grinning at Willie. “That your wife?”
Ah. This is why I avoid Columbia Heights: First the man at the deli with the fuzzy slippers, then the couple arguing over Hamburger Helper (hamburger with noodles vs. hamburger with potatoes). Now this.
I turned to Willie, smiling. “Double stack, medium fries. I’ll find a table.”
I abandoned him to the line and his new friend. Willie is a private man – his father is Dutch – and he dislikes encounters like this. He winced silently at me.
The cashier continued to wander around in the back for no discernible reason.
Stains stood next to Willie, who appeared, from my vantage point at the table nearest the exit, to grow more and more uncomfortable.
“Huh! Huh! Huh!”
Stains was laughing; and I watched him lean toward Willie, all confidential-like. “Huh! Huh! Huh!”
Moments later, Willie set the tray on the table, handed me a hamburger.
“He wants to know if we want to go to a party.”
“Him and his wife there,” Willie unwrapped his burger and shot an eyebrow to the table where Stains and his wife – we’ll call her “Dumpling” – sat drinking pop. “He wants to know if we want to go to a party. It’s okay with his wife.”
Christmas cheer, fast-food-on-the-bus-line: Columbia Heights style.
Willie grinned. “I’m turning in early tonight, but I can drop you off.”
We declined the party by finishing our burgers and leaving promptly.
Nice to know I still got it, though.
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