Compliments to James Tate

    I went to the supermarket because I was desperately short on yams.

    I beat all the lights and parked in back where nobody ever remembers to park.

    After a few minutes of wandering, I found aisle three, the yam, squash, and peroxide aisle.

    I was pushing my cart toward the far end of the aisle, where the yams were, when another man entered the aisle coming from the opposite direction, walking right towards me.

    Seeing the upcoming roadblock, I explained myself.

    “Excuse me, sir, I’m just trying to get to the yams.”

    “Excuse me, sir, I’m just trying to get to the hams.”

    Confused, I explained to him that the hams were probably in the deli aisle, where meat foodstuffs normally are.

    He stared at my face and repeated his predicament, more forcefully.

    “Excuse me, sir, but I really just need to get to the hams right now.”

    Again I explained my situation, his situation, the deli aisle situation, and how they were comically overlapping as we spoke.

    He repeated his predicament, almost on the verge of tears now.

    “Sir, please, I just need to get to the hams. That’s all. Please.”

    Seeing we were making no progress, I awkwardly backed my cart out of aisle three, him staring at me and advancing his the entire time.

    Once we were both out of the aisle, he wheeled his cart around in the opposite direction, and reentered the aisle.

    Confused but still hungry for my yams, I followed him.

    We both stopped at the far end of the aisle. Again he wheeled his cart around and stared at my face.

    I stood there for a few seconds, not sure what to do, before remembering why I was here in the first place. I reached out and grabbed a can of yams and placed them in my cart. I looked back up at the man, and he was still staring away at me. Uncomfortable, I quickly reached out and grabbed another can, which was completely superfluous and unnecessary, and placed it in my cart. The man broke down sobbing.

    “I’m sorry,” he said. “This has just been a rough year for me. My brother used to play the ham-yam game all the time.”

    “Your brother was a great man,” I said, somehow confident it was the truth.

    I opened my arms out to him for a hug and he accepted unconditionally.

    I held him there for a few seconds, feeling him rise and fall with each convulsive breath. I gave him a double-pat on the back, signifying the end of our encounter.

    He broke free from our embrace, wiped his nose, gave me a quick nod, and just as quickly turned around and left.

    I went about my shopping, heading for the honey aisle. Having gotten everything I had come to the store to get, I wheeled my cart to the cashier aisle, smiling. She unquestioningly rang me up, and when I reached down to pay, I noticed my wallet was not where I had left it.


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