Three items: A bag of cat litter. A jug of water. A pack of chewing gum. Those were the only things I needed from the grocery store that day. Why did I drive all the way across town to the mega-market when I could have spent five minutes at the neighborhood grocery store?
Because time is a non-thing to me right now. Who knows which day of the week it is, and who cares? I’m on staycation. I can choose to waste time in order to cruise through my beloved city. I can take the long route that winds through areas which spark fond memories. Modoc Road, oh, how I love you.
Yet it is clear to me now that the real reason for driving that distance to that particular grocery store had nothing to do with my leisure and everything to do with Fran.
Fran the Angry Lady. I met her at the check-out line. We had a conversation. This is Part Two of the story.
[Click here to read Part One]
[Click here to read Part Three, the conclusion]
Give me a slight breeze and seventy-two degrees and I will choose gardening. My yard is a mix of projects completed, in session, or forgotten. A never-ending mess that I love. The backyard is covered in a weedy grass that can only be killed by Kryptonite. I have tried, tried, and tried again — mulch smothering, Round-up poisoning, boiling water scalding, the California drought. Nothing has been able to beat it.
So, after paying for my groceries, I left the store with visions of weed wars in my head. I could not wait to get home and take on the enemy, another sweet battle that I would temporarily win. I had already spent more time in the store than I had planned. If it hadn’t been for …
There she was, loading her groceries. My car was right across the lot from hers and a few spaces up. Her back was to me. I could have passed her by and been on my way to gardening joy.
I got closer to my car, my mind doing that Tom and Jerry thing where the angel would be on one shoulder and the devil on the other: Garden. Fran. Garden. Fran. You already spoke to her. But how can you pass by without saying something? The woman feels better now. She told you so! Oh, stop being selfish and say something to her.
The angel won. Instead of sneaking away, I called out to her as I got to my car. “Goodbye, Fran.” She turned to me and I waved.
“Oh! Donna. Look at this orchid.” She held up the plant. “I love orchids. I buy new ones every few months.”
I considered correcting her on the name fail, but I decided against it. “Orchids are so beautiful. Don’t they look like they’re smiling at you?”
“Yes, they do. And I see that you have a cat.” She walked over to me and pointed at my cart. “I saw the cat litter. I have a dog. I rescued her. Sweetest thing. Never would leave my side. Now she has all the room in the world to run, from the ocean” — she swung her arms back and forth — “to the mountains. Not like in New York. Here, I thought she would run away, but she still won’t leave my side.”
I tried to convince her that cats rule, but she wouldn’t buy it. “I’m too independent myself,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Anyway, nice talking to you.” She walked back to her car.
“Take care, Fran.” There. Duty done. I opened the hatch to load my things.
“I wish there was another place nearby that I could shop for groceries, but I live too close.” She yelled to me from across the lot. “I hate this store.” She pointed at it to make sure I knew which one.
“That is some strong language, Fran.” I turned towards the store. “This one is my favorite. I drive across town to buy my groceries here.”
“You’re kidding! Let me tell you something.” She walked back over to me. “This doesn’t happen in New York. Businesses know how to treat their customers. There’s too much competition for them to treat people like they do here. Treat the customer like that and they’re out of business the next day. Really!”
“I don’t doubt that, Fran, but, well, um, you know, this isn’t New York.”
“I don’t care!” She threw her hands up. “It’s business. Everybody should treat their customers right.”
“I agree.” I admitted to Fran that I encountered the “I’ll help you when I’m good and ready” attitude many times in Santa Barbara. I shared a bit of history and what I had seen over my fifty-five years in this town, especially the early days when local families owned all the stores and restaurants.
“Humph. How old are you?” Fran asked.
“I’ll be fifty-six this year.”
“I’m seventy-eight. You’re my daughter’s age.” Fran’s eyes had lost their fury. “My husband died and I remarried. That’s why I’m here — to be with my new husband. He’s a CEO for a worldwide company. I told him he had to retire.” She grinned. “If you want to marry me, I said, you have to retire.” She leaned in closer to me and lowered her voice. “This man is the best. He treats everybody like they’re special. If they call him, he’s there. It doesn’t matter what time of the night or day. Everybody loves him. But I told him he couldn’t have me and work every single day. Retire or forget it.” She stepped back, looking victorious.
“And he did?” I didn’t doubt it, but I was dying to hear her tell the story. This woman was thoroughly entertaining. The garden could wait.
“No?!” I was stunned. How could this man resist Fran?
Fran crossed her arms. “We compromised. He said three days a week. I said okay.”
I laughed. “I guess that’s better than seven.”
“Actually, after a while, I told him to go back to seven. Having him home those four days, it was” — she shoved me — “driving me crazy!” Her voice was shrill. Her delivery was perfect. She laughed like it was the first time she had heard the story. After getting over the shock of her shove, I joined her. Absolutely hilarious.
What more could this woman do or say to make our conversation better than it had already been? ∞
NEXT: Part Three (Final) – Darla Shares a Sad Part of Her Life with Fran
Note: As with Fran’s name and a few of her personal details, I have also changed Fran’s husband’s occupation.
Orchid Image: That center orchid has a lovely face, doesn’t it? The image is a lithographic color plate from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur, 1899, showing the botanist’s depiction of different varieties of orchids. Source: Wikipedia.