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“How about this,” I suggested, being careful to keep my eye on the GPS—which I’m surprised I really needed at all because I most certainly know the way. “Since it’s getting late and the kids want to swim, I’ll drop you guys off at the house and then I’ll go and do the grocery shopping.”

We’d only just arrived in Florida and were making our way from the airport to our favorite destination. Nope, not Disney, but rather a little house just outside of Davenport—one that is clean, has a pool, comfortable beds, board games, a reasonably sized TV and a comfortable couch for watching Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, and a few extra amenities that make it just perfect for resurrecting six Michiganders exhausted by life’s extreme tempo.

“We can all go with you,” Jen said, turning to look toward the back of the van. “Right, guys?” Her eyes met with the disappointed faces of our four children. One of them—and I won’t say who—let slip a grousing, “Awww.”

“It’s 6:30 now,” I proposed. “It’s getting late. We’ve had dinner. I can take you guys to the house and drop you off, and then I’ll run out and get the groceries and be back as quickly as I can.”

“You sure?” Jen asked with concern. She knew I wanted to get to the house just as much as the little ones.

“I’m sure. You know how I shop.”

“I can go with you,” Josh interrupted.

“You stay and help, Mom,” I returned. “I’ve got the list. I’ll get there and get right back.”

“But it’s everything for the whole ten days,” Jen added, “because last year you said you didn’t want to keep making trips to the store every day.”

“I know.”

“Would you please go to Walmart instead of Publix?” Jen asked. “It’s cheaper and we’ll be able to get a little more out of our food budget.”


And so went my doom.

We arrived at the house a few minutes later. The van was unloaded, bedrooms were claimed by those who’d had them the years before, and clothes were taken from the suitcase and put into dresser drawers. A favorite board game—one so ironically entitled “Frustration”—was already on the dining room table before I could walk back out the front door.

Leaving the subdivision, I paused at the main road. Looking right, I thought, If I go this way, there’s a Publix just around the corner. Looking left, And this way, I’m pretty sure there’s two more between me and Walmart.

Keeping my word, I turned left.

After about a ten minute drive, finally, there upon the horizon was the radiant sign of my terminus, and in preparation for entry, I changed lanes and made my way into the right-hand turn lane. But as I turned, I noticed something dreadful. The parking lot was full.

Not kind of full. All the way full.

After a few minutes of searching, I eventually decided to park in one of the only empty spaces at the furthest border of the stores concrete coop. Never in my life have I found it necessary to remember the row and section number for the location of my car in a supermarket parking lot—as though I were at an amusement park filled with happy travelers and at risk of losing it among an undulating sea of minivans. But this time was different.

I walked toward the front the door—and walked—and as I did, I absolutely expected to see a convenience trolley drive by being piloted by an exchange student wearing a nametag identifying his country of origin.

Eventually I made it, and as the motion-sensor doors were in a constant battle to close, but because of the steady flow of patrons were really only able to bang against the outer edges of their frame, my stomach dropped into my ankles—and maybe even further to my toes. In fact, I think I felt a tug at my guts from something lurking malevolently below the surface of the pavement—something demonic, something hellish.

Sheer terror.

I won’t give you the full details of the experience, only the highlights—I mean the lowlights.

First, the store and its contents were as that of a wheat field being visited by a swarm of locusts. The shelves were bare.

Second, the aisle ways that allowed for access to the remaining items were almost entirely unnavigable. There were lines to get into each one, and once you were finally able to push through, it was easy to see why. It wasn’t just that there were thousands of people all vying for the same things, but also a train of carts filled with replacement stock lined each aisle so that what was at one time a three-way thoroughfare was now only capable of accommodating two directions of traffic—and one of the pathways was only big enough for a person to walk through since the stock carts were slightly off center.

Third, the inhumanity of the people in the store was breathtakingly crass and sad. As one mother screamed profanities at her infant child, I witnessed another man walking away from the milk cooler and drinking from his gallon of 2%. The bottled water aisle held one woman calling out, “Hey, Perry! We only need six water bottles. Just tear open the 35-pack and grab a few.” And Perry did just that. In the snack aisle, a woman had already consumed a third of a carton of Oreos. In the produce section, when I finally made it that far, two small children in a shopping cart parked too closely to what was left of the grapes were eating the remnants at the bottom of the bin while sometimes taking the opportunity to throw a few at each other and passersby.

These are but samplings of what comprised the swirling tempest of chaos at the Walmart I “chose” to visit, which again was a ten minute drive from the house as opposed to the Publix which was right around the corner.

In the end, after two hours of combat—both outwardly and inwardly—I deemed my cart’s contents as sufficient enough for at least seven of our ten days, and with that, I made my way to the check-out lanes at the front of the store. It was there that the last of my hope was stolen.

I left my cart right there in the middle of the aisle—about sixty feet from the entrance to the store—and I walked away.

As I made my way back to the van parked at the edge of the world, I contemplated the fruitlessness of the whole event. I’d been gone for over two hours and had nothing to show for it. And I supposed that even if I’d returned with what I’d managed to gather into my cart, all of the cold items would have finished the process of spoiling by the time I made it back.

I called Jen throughout the whole ordeal, sending her texts with photos as proof of the surrealistic event that was unfolding before me, and so when I walked through the front door, she already knew where I was on the scale of irritability. She was very brave to suggest that we both go to Publix together.

“I’m not going anywhere else, tonight,” I said. “I’m done.”

“We have to, Chris,” she said. “Your Diabetic daughter needs things.”

A moment passed. We went to Publix.

We didn’t come home without first having stopped at the liquor store next to the Publix. It was Jen’s idea, and it was a good one. She knows I appreciate this store as opposed to any of the others in the area because the very first year we vacationed here, the proprietor recognized me from his copy of The Angels’ Portion. The interaction led into a kindly conversation between two gentleman, one of whom was a complete stranger and yet knew so many of the stories I’d told of life and whisky. It was a pretty cool experience, and the warmth of the event returns each time I walk through the door.

Anyway, here I sit with this Compass Box Asyla edition before me as the culmination of the day’s complexity. Venting its cap, the elixir holds a decent bit of malt in the nosing while at the same time teases of apples and zinfandel. I don’t like fruity white wines, but at this particular moment, I’m up for anything that helps me to soften the effects of having willfully crossed a River Styx-like parking lot that I might peer into and eventually venture through the sliding, motion-sensing (and banging) doors of Hades.

Thankfully, the palate is rewarding. It’s a gentle delivery of vanilla, grains, and mixed berries—all the things I either saw flying through the air or missing from shelves at the Walmart in Davenport, Florida.

The finish is a light-hearted and compassionate voice at the end of the day, one that asks in a whisper, “So, it didn’t go so well this evening, eh?”


“You know, it’s only 10:30,” it encourages. “The kids are in bed.”

“Yeah. So?”

“You up for a swim?”