I had French bread, a bag of chips, and Crisp Rice Cereal. Don’t let the prosaic name fool you. Crisp Rice Cereal murders Snap, Crackle and Pop in their sleep. It’s so much crunchier in milk than Rice Krispies that Kellogg’s should just quit the breakfast game entire.
He’ll say something about the cereal, I thought. Without a motherfucking doubt.
“I like this cereal much better than Rice Krispies,” he would say.
I would point to the kiddie puzzles on the back panel, and with nary a pause I’d say, “I just want to figure out that maze.”
BOOM. Son of a bitch would ring that nautical bell three times, which means in Trader Joe’ses everywhere that a cashier needs the manager yesterday. The manager would come over and say, “What’s the problem, Steve?” and the cashier would say, “Problem? Trust me, Dimitri: there is no problem. Listen to what my man just said…”
Years would go by, decades would pass, nations would fall and others would rise, and this cashier would still be telling the story. Embellishing it here and there. Padding the details, unconsciously adding spin and giving it heft. He’d make me taller, older, black, more refined, maybe smoking a cigar.
“…with a bejeweled pinky extended at the games on the back of the box, he looked me dead in the eye and said (I tell you this never gets old!), ‘I just want to figure out that maze.’ Him, a grown man buying a box of cereal for the sole purpose of mastering a game fashioned for a tot! The very thought! The man then handed me exact change and, verily, faded away… as a fog might, or as a cloud of mist would, or as the vapor which wafts through—”
His listeners would interrupt, saying, “Yeah, grandpa. We heard this one already. A thousand times.” The aged cashier would spit back, “Well, I hope you like it because I’m telling it again. 'Twas the stern end of a doubleshift when in walked a man—nay! not a man—he was a daemon from the antique race of sages…”
The cashier handed the woman in front of me two carefully-stuffed paper bags and wished her a good evening. He himself was about to have a very good evening.
I was ready. I was taut, alert, bouncing lightly on the balls of my feet. Oh, I was quite ready.
He scanned my French bread. Only the register spake, and it with but a beep. Of course. It’s a fair loaf, sure, but only bread. Then he scanned the Crisp Rice Cereal. Nothing.
What!?! But, but—ah, he’s just waiting to scan all three items and then say something dramatically, without identifying which item caught his fancy; he'll be allusive, saying, “I just don’t understand how it stays so crunchy in milk. Even after a quarter of an hour has passed. It is…how you say… impossible? Aye, but crunchy it remains.” Then out with my quip, and this man’s life changes utterly:
Wittiest guy I ever saw…
I bet he’s famous now, somewhere…
A stately black man of two score and twelve, clad head-to-heel in sable, his cigar burning in the gloom like a sentry’s watchfire…
At last, he pointed to... the bag of Ridge Cut Salt & Pepper Potato Chips. “These chips are insane.”
Something inside of me died.
“They’re so good,” I managed.
But I—I just wanted to figure out that... maze…
I paid. He packed the bag, handed it to me, and wished me a good night. He wished in vain.