When The Man picked me up from work on Friday afternoon, he was distressed because the needle on the van’s gas gauge was in the red. He was afraid we would run out of gas before we went back down the mountain in four days. I knew (from stressful experience) that even once the needle is in the red, I have enough gas to get down the mountain. I didn’t know if I had enough gas for us to drive the six miles back and forth to work for four days and make it down the mountain, so it looked like we would have to take an unplanned side trip to civilization.
There was gas on the mountain, 25 miles and 45 minutes away, in one pump behind a general store. We could have gone there, but once before my debit card hadn’t worked when I tried to pay at that pump. By the time I got off work, I didn’t know if the general store would be open when we got there. We’d be in big trouble if we drove 25 miles to find the card reader wouldn’t accept my card, the store was closed, and we couldn’t get gas.
We decided to drive down the mountain to our second gas option. After an hour of twisting mountain roads, we found ourselves in one of those small towns that’s a hub for outdoor tourism but doesn’t have much else going for it. If it weren’t for nearby camping and fishing and whitewater rafting, this town would probably shrivel up and blow away.
I knew by the time we drove an hour down the mountain, filled up the gas tank, and drove an hour back up the mountain, it would be dark and cold, and we’d be not just tired, but exhausted. I knew cooking dinner in our outdoor kitchen was going to be miserable, and I wanted no part of it. I knew the one grocery store in town had a hot deli, so we decided we’d grab our dinner there.
After spending $80 and not quite filling my gas tank, we found ourselves in front of the hot deli case looking at fried chicken, pizza strips containing pepperoni, and meaty lasagna. What were a couple of non-meat eaters to do? We opted for a pound of potato wedges and called it a night.
We had to get in the regular check-out line to pay for our potatoes. We were third in line.
A young couple was first in line. The young man looked like he was barely out of his teens; maybe he wasn’t. He had scraggly facial hair, baggy clothes over a scrawny body, and a warm beanie pulled down low against the late spring chill. The woman with him was young too, with either a deathly pallor to her face or makeup to make it seem that way. Her hair was dyed a light blue and pulled up and twisted into two little blue buns on the top of her head.
The ages of the next couple in line were more difficult to determine. The male half of the couple seemed to be in his mid-30s, but the female half seemed older. I wasn’t sure if she was his mother who’d birthed him at a very young age or if she was his wife who’d aged in a hard-life sort of way. The woman was plump, with perfectly straight, shoulder length hair, no bangs. She wore a tasteful, loose and flowy blouse and seemed like an ordinary middle age woman from a small town. The fellow was tall and had probably once been athletic, but his body was getting middle age soft. He had on unremarkable clothes, a ball cap, and tattoos on the arm I could see.
When we walked up to the line, the fellow wearing the ball cap was talking to customers waiting in the next check-out lane, something about a promotion he’d gotten. His conversation ended, and we all stood quietly for a moment against the bustle of the grocery store.
The fellow with the ball cap stood facing forward, and I heard him call out loudly enough to be heard by those standing immediately around him, but maybe not loudly enough to be heard by the object of his scorn, Hey! What’s wrong with your hair? He was of course talking to the young woman in line ahead of him. He had a good ol’ boy grin on his face, knowing he could most probably get away with saying whatever mean thing he wanted because the (boy)friend of the woman with the blue hair wasn’t likely to fight him.
I don’t know if the woman with the blue hair heard the rudeness. She never looked our way and her face never betrayed any feelings. The rude man’s lady companion did hear him. She gave him a nasty look and the tiniest shake of her head, but nothing more. Mother or wife, I’m sure she was all too familiar with his asshole antics.
The young man with the blue-haired woman heard the remark too. He glanced over with a stoner’s look of What? on his face. The mean man broadened his smile in a we’re all friends here gesture directed at the young man, who gave back the barest minimum of a smile. He, like me, knew we were not all friends here, but he must have realized flight was better than fight in this situation.
About that time, a cashier opened the register to our right and called for the next customer in line. I quickly ushered The Man over to the newly opened register. I Did. Not. Want. to stand next to the fellow with the ball cap any longer.
As I purchased our pound of potatoes, I could hear the fellow with the ball cap and the cashier (a young woman with her dark hair piled on top of her head and false eyelashes the size of caterpillars) discussing the woman’s blue hair, which had apparently made quite an impression on them.
I looked up and saw the fellow with the ball cap had tattoos on his other arm too, as well as the outline of the state of California tattooed on his neck. I’d have thought someone with multiple tattoos would have been a little more accepting of someone with an unnatural hair color, but in this case, I was wrong.
I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to shout, Hey asshole! Let he without a stupid neck tattoo cast the first stone!