Willie and I did some grocery shopping last night at the Rainbow in Columbia Heights.
This is Willie's store. He knows this store; it’s the one he hits between work and home. He knows its aisles, understands its parking lot, feels at home in its dairy section. Never mind that there are stores closer to our home, this is his store, dagnabit.
Willie is a creature of habit, and we’ll just leave it at that.
Have you been to the grocery store in Columbia Heights?
Not getting your fill of people grocery shopping in bedroom slippers? Wonder if there are people eating whole roasted chickens in the aisles?
Anyway, when you’re done shopping and it’s 7:00 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.
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 with a hole in the crotch 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 irritably arguing over Hamburger Helper (hamburger with noodles vs. hamburger with potatoes). Now this.
I turn to Willie, smiling. “Double stack, medium fries. I’ll find a table.”
I abandon him to the line and his new friend. Willie is a private man, and he dislikes encounters like this. He winces silently at me.
The cashier continues to wander around in the back for no discernible reason.
Stains stands next to Willie, who appears, from my vantage point at the table nearest the exit, to grow more and more uncomfortable.
“Huh! Huh! Huh!”
Stains is laughing; and I watch him lean into Willie, his new best friend. “Huh! Huh! Huh!”
Moments later, Willie sets the tray on the table, hands me a hamburger.
“He wants to know if we want to go to a party.”
“Him and his wife there,” Willie unwraps his burger and shoots an eyebrow to the table where Stains and his wife – we’ll call her “Dumpling” – are drinking pop. “He wants to know if we want to go to a party. It’s okay with his wife.” Willie takes a bite out of his hamburger. “He thinks you’re hot.”
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.
Let them say what they will, but I’m big in Columbia Heights.
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