Each time the inevitable birthday shopping trip rolls around, I postpone it, and am sorry for it in spades.
There have been years I have skipped it, yet “paid” anyway. If I do not present with junk toys galore, I am a “bad mom”. If I do not host a birthday party , the same- no matter how much strife and sadness cover the house like a fine layer of dust, like mold on the blinds, like the scent of something dying under the foundation. I chose to produce the toys, but knew I could not hold it together for the party. That will be in a nearby town, with people who were supposed to have been my family too. Thus I fail, because halfway doesn’t cut it. Thou shalt celebrate, or die trying.

Someone lets me cross the street and I run, my new body lighter , colder, and faster than it has been in years skips up on to the curb and approaches the door. Blank faced “immigrant” families of various types barrel towards me and I dodge them. Jabbering and occasional screeches are heard. I find a discarded cart outside and use it as a shield as I enter the store, the enter and exit doors seemingly to be located on the wrong sides. It doesn’t look too bad as I pass the snacks, knowing exactly where I am going and determined not to make any detours. I look far down the aisle, ahead of where I am to try and navigate a path when I realize some young man of unknown (not White) race and unruly , puffy hair is staring at me. It was yet another blank looking stare.Not particularly hostile, but not friendly or one of the typical “this place sucks , can you believe how bad shopping on the weekend is?” looks I am used to in my own neighborhood.
I look past him, pretending I didn’t notice, jaw set, as if I was the lead juror in a murder trial, and just voted “guilty”.

I realize I should have taken the “back way”, along the wall, by the refrigerated goods, but it is too late, I am almost there, and that would create even more of a back up. I reach the general area and turn in, go to to the wall area to stay out of the main traffic aisle leading there, trying to discern what category of toy crap I am looking at. The general noise is fairly loud in the store, the stereo section, which is adjacent to the toy section, blasts some kind of soul-pop, a woman singing redundantly and in a high pitch to an upbeat tempo.

It appears the general theme of the toys is small and cheap or big and a little less cheap. I head away from the direction of the stereo. I am now in some “summer fun toy” area. What looks like a father and son from some other country plays an impromptu soccer game in the aisle with a giant plastic ball substituting for the real thing. They are uninhibited, and completely unselfconscious and oblivious to me as I slowly back out of that aisle back towards the wall, checking behind me, an Asian teenager stands awaiting my approach to the wall with the cart, so that she may dart in front of me, though there was plenty of room behind me as she made her way towards the stereo dept and was parallel to my cart a second ago.
She squeaks an impertinent “Excuuuse meee”, and moves on.

Though I am not, I feel huge, lumbering as a woolly mammoth, she the lizard-like sprinting surviving remnant of the dinosaurs.

I feel a retroactive urge to have “accidentally ” squashed her.

The soccer players have also moved on, but I still take the back way to the next aisle. There is a “discovery and learning” area, full of National Geographic made toys. I look at a realistic looking light up moon that goes in one’s room at night and is accurate to the phases. This is something I would want, but probably not a 6 year old boy, and I would be reminded of this fact, another failing if I was weak, and presumed my son might enjoy something I also did. On top of that, it is almost exactly like the one I had seen at the Exploratorium and commented about months ago, so I would be called on it that I had really wanted it for myself. I return it to the shelf, making a note of the company.

Below that area, I see a child’s guitar, only 20 dollars and less garish than the one that was given him at Christmas. On the yellow, white and blue box is a smiling black boy, only his head, not playing guitar.

It is as heavy as it should be for it’s size, and it has classical strings like my own guitar, has it s own case and tuning instrument, (I don’t need that, but he may , if I am not around, no one on the other side of his family is musical) I place it in the basket.

Now I look for smaller items, things that would be seen as more action oriented , I find a small parachuter man. I try to think of things he would like, not as me liking the toys, in case the guitar is not considered “fun enough”. I find a bubble blowing kit, and a set of magnets. Then I think of art supplies as he draws fairly well for his age. There is nothing in the children’s section for this that is not electronic. On the way to this area, I pick up a card, tissue paper and huge gift bag, with a view to avoiding buying the more expensive wrapping paper, and knowing I am not great at wrapping presents anyway, and to make it easy for him to tear the wrapping off by himself.

I wonder if this will be perceived or commented on as half-assed, and feel a hot rush of anger/sadness/embarrassment at this.

The store has really started to become so crowded it is difficult to navigate down the aisle. People talk loudly as they careen down the aisle, as if on stage. Some call out to each other in various languages, children are berated, others wail mercilessly, while still others look blissfully unconscious in baby strollers,t he ones who are not covered up by yards of hand knit blankets. I think of SIDS whenever I see this. It is not cold in this store in the least. My mouth is dry, and I feel the beginnings of feeling faint , quite familiar I am with this feeling from my last pregnancy. this is not the case now, but I know I should get some sugar. When I first came in, I grabbed a box of candy, a kind I don’t even particularly like, because it was close and on sale cheap for this very purpose. No one notices as I open the corner and sneak a few jujube’s into my mouth, knowing I will have to buy this box of vile chewy gelatin and additives. However it works, in minutes the sweaty feeling is all but gone, only the thirst remains.

That I can take care of later, besides there is nothing to drink on this side of the store and the other side seems miles away now, the thought of having to battle hordes of loud, large, not-conscious-of-their-body-in-relation-to-mine people does not appeal one whit.
The way things are organized here seems to bear no relation to each other, unlike the smaller drug stores. I find the art supplies , crayons and markers. I am in luck, some are discounted. I buy the crayons, marker pens, tape, ruler, paste, and drawing paper. I realize there has been some other radio-machine blaring old soul-pop from the 80’s. In my right temple the thought of a headache begins. A couple feet ahead of me, sashays three black teenagers or perhaps early 20’s, it is hard to say. I cannot make myself politely look away (besides, they don’t see me) from what they are wearing, how they walk, talk. One wears a kind of halter top, her middle, sides and gut protrude like bad meat. I wonder whether she has had children or is just unconcerned , or possibly even thinks she is stylish. Another plays with her artificially straightened hair, what there is of it. At this I resolve to stay in back
of them, knowing the hate for White women with long hair, no matter how old we are in comparison to them.

The halter top draws to a halt , starts exclaiming over a whole box of Hallmark cards, categorized so you need not shop every time one needs a card, and seems to make a comment as if she is “playing house” about how she needs something just like this.

Now it is safe to pass them and start for the register. Another Asian hummingbird tries to dart in front of me in the line, but I swing myself and my items up too fast, she is away without any comment. I stand in line, the very next in line while the cashier , an elderly Japanese woman waits on the large , what looks to be Samoan couple, and child.

The immense woman holds up a bra, obviously too small to be for her, nor for the young girl with them, prob only 4 or 5. “It has no tag” she proclaims to the older woman, her face pug like, resolute. I can feel the exasperation of the cashier, yet she accommodates them, asking her to send a family member to look for the same thing (this wasn’t thought of when she realized she was going to buy it?. The cashier has already rung up all of their other purchases, and appears to not want to void the sale and help me, possibly creating more trouble and complications for herself. We wait. The other person does not return. The cashier looks at me at once sympathetically and showing her resentment towards the previous customer. Minutes tick by. A White man appears behind me, he looks like a rougher version of a CS&N type. He only has a pair of shoes to pay for. I warn him of the disaster of the line we are in. He acts nonchalant, but after more minutes go by, thanks me, and defects to another line. The girl eats a piece of gum out of the pack she is holding and starts to swing on the dividing rope to the cashier area, she leans forward, and loses her gum to the floor, picks up up , puts it back in her mouth. The cashier and I exchange disgusted looks. The Samoan mother’s (grandmother?) hairline is damp.

After the White man has paid and left, the cashier comes around her area, and starts packing my things back into my cart, seeing as how I have already begun to do this. I tell her “this country is going to be really dumb in a few years”. She looks at me, it is hard to tell if she is uncomprehending of my statement, or sheer disbelief that I said it. Perhaps she thinks it is directed at her. I tell her it is not her fault. She thanks me as I move on to a cashier a few yards forward. Almost over, almost over. The sheer crowdedness and noise level have made this trip take much longer than anticipated. I am so thirsty now I am planning on visiting the store cafeteria for some fountain drink. I pay, then head over there, cart full. A table full of Asian teenager boys giggle to themselves, some private in joke they think hilarious. I wonder if I have sat in gum or a pen is leaking in my pocket, a button missing. A woman at least as elderly as the Japanese woman , but White ,a nd wearing an employee smock, fixes herself coffee. I stand alone at the cash regiter, hoping someone will show up, or the older woman will go back to her post. She calls someone from the back cooking area. A giddy looking Asian girl comes out . I ask for a large coke,a dn gesture to the fountain. “Soda?” No one says “soda” here I think, and recall a PBS website quiz about regional differences, but I say yes. There is 20 cents tax on the soda. The tops are all of the open variety, as if for a slushy. I know this will spill on me in the car, but I am too thirsty to care. I pay, fill up and drink deep, as yet another Asian woman holds a baby , the back of his head extraordinarily flat , and scoots her stroller and items out of the way for me to get though.

I manage to get though the door, receipt in hand, though there is no one there to check at this exit and make my escape. I have parked along the side of the building , a shorter horizontal direction walk than the usual long rows of parking most use. As I put my items in the trunk I smell the sick, burning smell of pot. I look around , yet do not see it’s source. I once recognized this scent as high school and early 20’s, yet now it makes me feel ill. I quickly get in the car, keeping my windows closed, and drink more Pepsi.

Now to get the cake at the Pak and Save, knowing it won’t be as bad as this.

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