Friday, November 17, 2006

Madam Meeyamo

I’m not allowed to go to the grocery store by myself. It’s because I get these ideas, like the last time my wife sent me to the store for a loaf of bread.

Have you seen what they want for bread nowadays?

I came home with a hundred pounds of flour and this really neat idea for saving money. When I explained my really neat idea my wife said some rude things, including where I could stick my hundred pounds of flour.

Sometimes my wife or daughter will take me to the store but it’s only to push the cart and I have to promise not to read the labels. Some foods got the same chemicals I use in the shop for cleaning parts but it’s considered bad form to read the labels out loud in the store and especially tacky to laugh at what’s in other people’s shopping carts. So mostly, I don’t shop; it had been a couple of years since I’d been to the store.

But this was an Emergency. Wife called, got me out of the shop, told me to run down to the store and pick up something. So I did.

The store had changed a lot since I’d been there last. They’ve got a big new deli over along one wall and even a little restaurant in the back. And a bank, right up front by the registers. Seriously. A one-man bank, right there inside the grocery store. Next to the florist stand and dry cleaners, beside the Madam Meeyamo Know’s-All Psychic booth.

I wandered around for a while looking at things. A lady back near the meat department offered me some barbequed chocolate flavored tofu. Just across the aisle another lady was passing out samples of Chinese microwave pizza on a stick. They was doing a brisk business, yelling out how pizza on a stick wouldn’t rot your gums like that tofu stuff. The tofu lady fired right back, saying her Japanese tofu flavored with Mexican chocolate was one hundred percent American, unlike that Chinese kack on a stick that was guaranteed to cause constipation.

Truth is, both tasted a bit like cardboard.

What with all the wandering around and reading the labels, damn if I didn’t forget what it was I came for. I tried to remember but all I could think about was the IRS conversion I was working on when the phone rang. I reached for my cell phone and found I’d left it in my shop coat, along with my wife’s phone number which is programmed into the thing. I’d have to go back to the house just to call her. I plodded toward the door feeling pretty stupid.

It was a lot harder to get out of the store than it was to get in. There was a press of people lined up to use the bank. Turns out, a one-man bank, or one-woman in this case, isn’t real handy when a hundred people want to use it at the same time. Come to think of it, regular banks don’t do much better.

I worked my way around the crowd, trying to get out of the store. When I came up against the Madam Meeyamo Know’s-All Psychic booth I happened to catch Madam Meeyamo’s eye. She was an attractive woman in her middle thirties wearing a business suit. I wondered if her name was really Meeyamo.

“Actually, it’s Helen Cates,” she said. “The Madam Meeyamo shtick is a franchise.”

I stood there gawking at her. I hadn’t said a word. I wondered if she’d read my mind.

“Of course I did,” she said with an exasperated smile. “I’m a board-certified psychic and I’ll help you with that thing you’ve forgotten just as soon as I take care of this lady.”

Except there wasn’t any lady. And then there was. She came huffing out of an aisle with a frantic look on her face. “I forgot. . .”

“I know,” Madam Meeyamo said soothingly. “That’s why I’m here.”

“It’s for my niece’s birthday party. . .”

“Is that Ellen’s daughter?”

“No, my brother Bill . . .”

“Karen or Halsie?”

“Oh... ah, Karen, the young one.”

Madam Meeyamo nodded her head, wrinkled her brow and stared intently at the woman who waited expectantly. “I see . . . pink! And a . . . cake?”

“The candles! Of course! I need pink candles for the birthday cake. Oh, thank you!” The woman plunged back into the depths of the store. I stared at Madam Meeyamo and discovered my hair really can stand on end if it wants too.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” she smiled. “Everyone forgets things now and then.” She got that intent look on her face, staring at me like a snake after a bird. “I see . . . thirty-something. Oil? Thirty weight oil!”

“Uh, no, that’s for my bus. I was thinking of picking up an extra case, seeing as I was in town. My wife sent me to pick up . . . something.”

Madam Meeyamo gave me that stare again, her eyes all squinched up. “Rubber pucks? I don’t think we carry rubber pucks.”

“Um, ah, that’s for the suspension I’m rebuilding. Sorry.”

I started to explain that I was a Volkswagen mechanic but she cut me off, patting her brow with a hanky. “You’ve got to work with me here, Robert.”

“Most folks . . .”

“. . .call you Bob. I know. But it reminds you of your Uncle Bob who was an alcoholic and you’ve never really liked the name. Okay? Now try thinking about what your wife wanted you to get.”

I tried. I really did.

“Karmann Ghia? Is that some kind of pasta?” She was starting to get red in the face and a tendril of hair had come adrift.

“It’s my wife’s car,” I said, ashamed at not being able to help her out.

“I’m sensing some hostility here, Robert.” She tucked the strand of hair into place. “Maybe you should call your wife, ask her what it was she wanted you to get.”

I nodded, began edging toward the door.

“The phones are over there,” she nodded toward the deli.

“Yeah, but her number is at the house . . . “

She nailed me with those eyes of hers. “552-1381. And there’s a quarter in your left front pocket.”

“Paper cups,” my wife said over the phone. “Two dozen paper cups. It’s for the punch.”

As soon as she said it, I remembered. They were having some kind of a party at her office that afternoon. So I bought her some cups, dropped them by her office and headed home.

Back at the shop I got this Neat Idea, a kind of Psychic Hotline for Volkswagens, some sort of computerized list where folks could dial in, describe a problem and be told how to fix it. But the more I thought about it the more I realized it would never work. Nobody believes in that psychic stuff.

-Bob Hoover

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