Saturday, February 20, 2010
Percy Puckets. Cloverdale's Araneolus Grandiloquus.
I spent a lifetime one afternoon trapped in a conversation with Percy Puckets, a resident of Cloverdale’s Nearly There Home for the Elderly and Infirmed. I found him at the end of the canned vegetables isle while shopping at the Piggly Wiggly last Wednesday. He seemed entranced in an attempt to decode the Truth in Labeling Sticker on two cans of vegetables. Knowing nearly every artery feeding into his heart was held open with small wire scaffolding due to his 80 plus years of poor dietary choices (he was the head cook at the Greasy Spoon Truck Stop on Highway 1 for 43 years), and knowing his blood pressure was high enough to cause his eyes to protrude just enough out of their sockets to give him a distinct Homer Simpson look, I felt confident that he was considering which can of Lima Beans his cardiologist would approve for his Thursday lunch. He was, after all, on such a strict no salt diet that taking a dip in the ocean was even forbidden.
Percy heard my cart’s wobbly wheel as I stopped suddenly near the instant potatoes and attempted to back away out of Percy’s isle in stealth mode.
“Victor, is that you?” he shouted. Oh, did I forget to mention Percy's gradual loss of hearing? Percy dropped both cans to the floor - denting them - a trick he used regularly knowing the manager would put the dented tins in the bargain basket at the front of the store where he could purchase them at 1/2 off.
“Yes Percy,” I said while exaggerating my pronunciation, giving him a better chance of reading my lips. He waved me closer. That’s when I knew I’d “Had my Chips,” as they say in the old country. I was the fly trapped in the web of one of the world’s deadliest spiders, the Araneolus Grandiloquus (The Speaking Spider). It beguiles its victims with a coy friendliness drawing a sense of curiosity out of the victim before getting close enough to lock onto your arm and hold you tight while it sucks consciousness away.
I froze like a deer in headlights, locked into paralysis by his bulging eyes and smile accented by coffee stained teeth. He hooked my left arm, filled his lungs with enough air to power his vocal chords for a good two hours, and started. At thirty minutes into this one way conversation he’d covered the bible, modern secularism, and America’s love affair with Israel. I felt like the passenger of a doomed ocean liner, drifting in the ice cold water of the North Atlantic, clinging to a deck chair while scanning the horizon for a plume of black smoke announcing the arrival of a rescue ship. I watched either end of the isle, hoping and praying for someone else to turn the corner in search of Pinto Beans or Golden Corn.
Overhead I watched one of the store’s security cameras turning toward me. It locked onto my position. My heart lept. I was lost, but found. A beep over the intercom preceded an announcement.
“Clean Up on Canned Goods. Code Percy,” spoke a young female voice.
“Hope Springs Eternal,” I whispered to myself rubbing my arm to restore feeling. His solid grasp was preventing an adequate supply of blood flow.
“What Did you Say?” Percy asked, shocked that someone would participate in a conversation. Something he’d not experienced since his first year of marriage. I remained silent, knowing anything else said by me would translate into an additional thirty minutes of entrapment. Why? He interrupted your comment as interest. Deadly.....
The announcement attracted attention. My fellow shoppers gathered at each end of the canned goods isle. Their faces wore the same broad range of expressions the ancient Romans wore as they witnessed Christians being fed to the lions. I saw looks of horror, shame, mercy, pity and enjoyment.
My captor was neck deep into a discussion of fiscal responsibility and the imminent collapse of the American dollar when a teen age boy broke through the onlookers. He wore the red vest of a Piggly Wiggly employee. He pushed a bucket and mop towards us. A white badge with Red Cross was pinned to the vest. He was my Saint Bernard. He crept up behind Percy, all the while holding a finger to his lips telling me not to say anything or look in his direction. I could tell he was trained in this kind of rescue. He silently pulled the mop from bucket’s extractor, put it to the floor pushed it towards Percy’s feet.
“What?” Percy said feeling something strike his white tennis shoes. At that moment he released his grasp on my arm to spin around and see who was there. I was free! The boy motioned me to go. I didn’t need to be told twice. I was gone.
A few minutes later, as I quickly checked out I found the teen bagging groceries.
“Thanks,” I said. “You saved me at least another hour.”
“No problem,” he replied. “I do it all the time. Percy comes in here daily to buy a couple of things and every day finds someone new to bother.”
“How did you get away from him?” I asked.
“With these,” the boy showed me the earphones extending from the iPod he wore on his belt. “I have these in. He starts talking and I pretend I don’t hear him. You know us teenagers. We always have music pounding into our heads. He gives up after a moment or two and moves along.”
I slipped the boy the change from my purchases as a tip and quickly returned to the world where normal people always say “Fine” when asked how they are doing, and both parties leave it well enough alone at that.