I had an interesting conversation in the checkout line at WalMart. I was buying items to send to Pam, my bff currently serving in Iraq. (Sixty-one days and a wake-up and she comes home for good! Yay!) One of the items was a People Magazine. Time is slow over there. She once told me if you want to live forever, move to Iraq. Time stops. I figured knowing how Sandra was holding up after her split and seeing new photos of Brad and Angelina's twins might make the days go faster.
So the boy running my items across the scanner was maybe 20. I knew he wasn't local for a couple of reasons. One, I've taught in this county long enough that I recognize almost every kid who has passed through our building in the last decade. Gotta love a small town. Two, his accent was pretty thick. Okay, okay...I have a Kentucky accent. When I lived in Pennsylvania, I was reminded daily of how funny I talked. I will never be able to pass for a Northerner, but a Central Kentucky accent (where I live), and an Eastern Kentucky accent are not the same.
The boy ran the first item across the scanner, looking up briefly.
"How are you?" It sounded more like "Hire you?"
I was still unloading the cart onto the conveyor belt, so I wasn't really looking at him. I heard the rhythmic beeping as he began scanning my groceries. I unloaded the cart to the same rhythm. Beep...beep...beep. I'm reminded of a heart monitor when a really efficient checker is doing the scanning.
Suddenly, the beeping stopped, and my heart monitor imagery was reinforced when I heard a gasp. I glanced up to see the boy staring at the People magazine with eyes as big as saucers. He looked up at me in wonder.
"Ricky came out."
The word "out" has two syllables here. Ay-ot. I struggled to maintain a neutral expression.
"Yes, he did. I heard it on the radio yesterday."
Actually, what I heard on the radio was, "The sky is blue. Bears live in the woods, and Ricky Martin says he's gay." I remember because it made me laugh.
The boy abandoned my groceries and took the magazine over to the next aisle where a girl about the same age was scanning an older man's groceries.
"Look! Ricky Martin came ayot! He's ay-ot!"
The girl stopped scanning to look at the magazine. The old man said, "Out of where?"
"The clawset a course."
The old man wore an expression somewhere between suspicion and bewilderment, and the girl got a clue and started scanning again. The boy came back to our aisle, scanned the magazine, and reluctantly put it in a bag. I know he wanted to read the article.
"There's a whole stack of those magazines at the front of the aisle."
"I know. I'm gon' read it on my break."
I put the rest of my groceries on the belt, and he resumed his scanning. Every couple of seconds he said, "Go Ri-acky!"
He never stopped grinning, and it was contagious.
Finally, I said, "Where are you from?"
He named a town so small, I'd never heard of it. He had to name another couple of towns close by for me to place it.
"People were so narra-minded there, I had to leave. Now, here I am in the big city!"
I hated to put a damper on his enthusiasm, but I felt like he needed a little honesty. "There are narrow-minded people everywhere I'm afraid. This town isn't that big."
He paused for a minute. "Well, it's bigger than my town, even tho ya'll still hang out at WalMart here." That made me laugh outright because it's true. "And look at you. Yer nice. I meet nice people in my line all the time."
I left the store smiling and feeling pretty good about my small town. The bag with the People was right on top, and I could see Ricky Martin's face peering up at me.