Six teenage boys slap each other in the beer aisle you want to enter. They are ripped, backwards baseball caps and sleeveless shirts. They are confident and they have nothing to lose. Your cart overflows with 18 mega-jumbo rolls that equal 72 regular rolls of toilet paper. It’s Friday evening and you are all alone and just need to pick up that beer and you can head home, stocked up for the week. But you’ve been standing here — hiding — in the vitamin aisle for five minutes. They’re smacking each other in the crotch, pretending to punch each other in the face, trading insults. It’s a minefield out there, and you know they will stop you, they will mock you and the items in your cart. They may assault you. But you want to go home, and so you grip your cart and push forward, telling yourself that you — age thirty-one — are the dominant one, and you will assert that dominance as you step into their aisle.
“Take a good look at your future, fellas,” you say, pushing your loaded cart forward, avoiding eye contact. “I was just like you once, so know that this cart of hygiene products is what you have to look forward to. All these embarrassing but necessary items your mom currently buys for you; before you know it, you’ll be the one buying it all for yourself, alone on a Friday night.”
They clear a space, confused, and you get your beer. But the aisle is long, and you aren’t free yet.
“Nice toilet paper,” you ramble — knowing if you leave any opening in the conversation they’ll seize it and destroy you with brutal insults — “it’s expensive, but you’ll learn your lesson quick that the cheap stuff just isn’t worth the wear-and-tear on your hole. Then you’ve got the aloe-soaked wet wipes, a must for keeping an adult man’s ass clean and respectable. Take a look inside the cart, sure, laugh it up, but one day soon you, too, will be spending four hours at the office discreetly researching hemorrhoid creams and finally — after months of failure — finding one that seems to ease the pain. And then, of course, the Band-Aids every adult needs to help heal his ass after routine defecation. All standard items every adult uses as part of a basic restroom routine. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed of anything in my cart.”
Just a few more feet. “All right, fellas, you boys have a nice night and stay out of trouble.”
You pass the endcap, step into the white light of the store’s entrance, heading free and clear towards check-out.
“Wait,” one of the boys shouts. But you know their moves, and you do not turn back. “Mister,” he calls. “Sir?”
You stop, knowing it may be a trap. But you liked how sir felt. No one has ever called you that before.
“Sir, are you sure those are all standard items every adult uses?”
You slowly heave your heavy cart around to face the boys. “The thrilling world of adulthood,” you say.
The boys don’t look rowdy or condescending. They seem concerned. “I just…” one of them says. “I don’t think my dad needs Band-Aids on his ass.”
“If he’s a normal guy, he does.”
“And, mister?” another of them says. “I hate to possibly embarrass you, but there’s a dark-red stain on the back of your shorts.”
“Because I’m out of Band-Aids,” you say, rolling your eyes. “Hence this shopping trip.”
“How often do you…” the boy steps closer, whispering, “bleed down there?”
You raise an eyebrow. “Every day? Like an adult man does?”
The boys peer into the cart, seeing the towels and bottles of bleach and tools from the Automotive department you use to clean up the mess each morning and night. The box of new bathroom tiles, three new toilet seats. “All this stuff is to deal with your ass?” one of them says. “I’m so sorry you’re going through this, sir, but just based on my experience with my dad and my step-dad, I don’t think it’s necessarily a given that all adult men are doing this.”
The others nod. “Obviously none of us are gastroenterologists, but my dad is, and based on the bits I’ve picked up from him, I think there might be something wrong with your system, and it’d be best to have it checked by a medical professional as soon as possible.”
“It very well could be colon cancer,” another one says. “I think you should go to the emergency room.”
The air hangs silent for a long time. You look over each boy’s serious face, considering what they’ve told you.
But you can outsmart them. You were once a mischievous teenage boy like them. You know their tricks, their inside jokes. You know how they like to mess with strangers for the thrill of the reaction, creating outlandish stories to rile up residents of our sleepy suburb.
You smile at them. “Nice try, boys, but I’m a little too old to fall for the pranks of bored teenagers. Have a good night and stay out of trouble.”
Proud of your victory, you strut to the self-checkout.
The following morning, you pass away on the toilet.