Thursday, October 27, 2011

Churches. Churches and Liquor Stores. Churches and Liquor Stores of the QuikTrip Variety

Centerville might very well be "a nice place to raise your kids up" and if you need to find out for yourself, go ahead and watch Frank Zappa's 200 Motels. I dare you.

I gave the 1971 98-minute film a whirl about 13 years ago and I don't think I ever fully recovered from that lone viewing. Don't get me wrong: I got it. Were I not a massive Zappa fan, I probably would not have, but even though I was, it is so bizarre. Honestly, I think my brain destroyed every cell associated with the experience, save for the above clip, an unintentional edit that left me a better human being.

That said, I had my own churches-and-liquor-stores experience a few months ago, only it barely involved a church or a liquor store and had a lot to do with one of my neighborhood QuikTrips.

Before I get into it, though, know the following: I love me some QuikTrip and I know you do, too. I'll break down the badassery of this fine American establishment another time, but know that the QuikTrip is like the National Football League. You want QuikTrip on your street corners. You need QuikTrip on your street corners. The rest of the bones of the analogy look something like this: Major League Baseball is your 7-11 -- they're convenient for when a QuikTrip isn't nearby, probably not going anywhere, and considerably less fun (read: they don't sell booze.); the National Hockey League is like BP -- decent concentration in your city, trying to build up to QuikTrip status, and still doing serious image-reconstruction work after a recent catastrophe; and the National Basketball Association is none other than a Kicks66 -- you probably don't have one in your town, don't miss their absence, and when you stumble across one, you realize they've staffed the joint with doofuses from all the seedy neighborhoods in the metropolitan area.

Anyway, I've got about six QTs that I frequent -- I'm in the car a lot -- and depending on the day of the week, you never know in what hour I might visit. I've stopped at one before dawn when we'd run out of coffee at the house. Just popped into one a quarter of four in the morning a few weeks ago after the conclusion of a night shift*. In the afternoons I'm filling the gas tank, and in the evenings I can be found bouncing in for a Red Bull en route to hockey. This particular visit, however, fell approximately at midday on the Sabbath, and the tale -- consider yourself warned -- is not for the faint of stomach, so proceed at your own risk.

*For those keeping score at home, the bulk of this was penned before the said night shifts were a part of my routine.

Sunday mornings are rough. There’s no two ways around it. They’ve always been rough, but now they’re even rougher. It’s sort of a multi-edged blade if you will, but the bulk of it is about trying to get out of bed at quarter of eight for 9:00 mass. Are we capitalizing mass these days? I feel like the church would tell us we’re supposed to but our English professors would say otherwise, right after they finished reminding you that English, since it’s a language, should be capitalized, and yes, even if you’re talking about English class. But don’t capitalize your other classes. Nobody wants to see you submit an essay in which you discuss your Math and Social Studies teachers. That would be blasphemy. I could just look it up in the style guide, but that would require getting up; it’s much easier to sit here and ramble for a few sentences.

Nonetheless, my mother used to be the biggest pill about making us go to mass. Oh, I know what I was going to say: Word-processing programs auto-correct our typos, but m-a-s-s with a lowercase ‘m’ gets left as is. It doesn’t even give you one of those obnoxious red lines under it. The kind that makes you scream, Jesus, you dick! I keep trying to move onto the next sentence and you’re holding me back, bro. But just on the inside. Nobody wants to hear you hollering at your monitor. It’s important to keep some of that crazy masked.

Yeesh. Talk about blasphemy. Anyway. My mom. She wanted us to be in church every week.

“I don’t get it,” I once said. “We’re good people. We were baptized and confirmed and we don’t break the law (I was speaking for my mom and sister there, notsomuch myself). Why do we have to go to church every week? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s called a sacrifice,” she said. “God is asking you to sacrifice one hour of your week, and after all that Jesus sacrifi—“

“Whoa,” I said. “I got it. I’ll be there. I didn’t know we were gonna get into Jesus paying for my sins in this conversation. Nine a.m. mass. I’ll be the untucked-shirt kid with the drool string coming from his lip.”

There was a spell where we’d have to get up on Sunday mornings for church. She didn’t have much tact about getting us up, either. There was no soft twisting of your bedroom doorknob, no gentle pats or soft shakes to rouse you from your sleep. She would just barge in, and using mid-conversation voice, she would state your birth name. That was either followed by repetitions of your name, or the kind-hearted phrase, “Get up.”

This was never anything shy of terribly annoying because the running water of her shower would’ve already woken you once, and you knew it was only a matter of time. The other angle was that she would engage in her delicate-rousing tactics at either my bedroom door first, or my sister’s, and then move across the hall to the doorway of her other child. It didn’t matter though, if you’d slept through her shower, or were woken up second, or if you were laying there awake through the whole thing. Neither one of us wanted to get out of bed Sunday morning for mass, and mind you –- my mother was** the kind of churchgoer who took after her father, which means the departure process looked like this: Walk out the door 40 minutes before the service starts, so that once the six-minute drive to church was over, we could sit there in the uncomfortable pew for over half an hour, while we waited to try not to fall asleep during the hour-long celebration.

**"was" as in when her church-attendance rate was high, not as in she's dead

See there? I called it celebration. I never celebrated anything at church. Except for maybe the time my sister and I stole away 25 minutes worth of mass to push each other around like maniacs in a church-basement wheelchair, all covered by the feigning of dual upset stomachs. But I’ll call it a celebration. I’ve got to regain some of the ground I lost when I said “Jesus” and “dick” in the same sentence earlier. No, no. That time doesn’t count. I was just quoting myself.

Anyway, my sister and I would inevitably not get out of bed on the first attempt, and usually not on the second, either. This always made for a pleasant start to the morning, because attempt two was more of a modified attempt one, each word now it’s own sentence: “Get. Up.” Now I’m not sure how the inner workings of my sister’s mind used to operate, but this would piss me off.

The logic of it all looked something like this: You, one person that you are, is waking up the two of us, also known as household majority, to do something that we, the non-governing 66.6 percent, don’t want to do. And when we demonstrate a little resistance or sluggishness, you start to get mad. So like I said, I can’t speak for my sister, but attempt two would pretty much make me just roll over and reposition myself for a few extra minutes of sleep. These were not restful minutes of sleep by the way, because attempt three would come shortly on the heels of attempt two, and the words, if you can call them that, would come out mashed into one pauseless command that forced its way through gnashing teeth, hurling saliva: “I’mnotgonnasayitagain!

And then we were up, angrily bustling about the house, being told to tuck our shirts in and comb our hair and then, just before departure, we’d have to help mom find her keys. This is a rough estimate, but about 93 percent of the time, they were in her purse, the first, fourth, seven, and eighth places she looked.

This didn’t last for too many years, though; I don’t think she could tolerate it anymore. Instead, we wound up going to 5 p.m. mass on Saturday evenings, which wasn’t much better, but the dress was more casual and we could usually talk her into leaving after communion, good little Catholics that we were. In hindsight, it was much better, even if it delayed our Saturday-evening plans, because -– jackpot! Sunday-morning sleep.

All of that was grade school and middle school. By high school, I think she just gave up. We were working and partying and frankly, she was probably exhausted, too. By then she’d been working two jobs for some time. We became the Easter-and-Christmas-Eve churchgoers, and if memory serves, we probably put up a fight for those services, too. Perhaps a bit justified, though, in that our mother, like her father, adjusted her holiday-mass schedule to look like this: Walk out the door 55 minutes before the service starts so that once the six-minute drive to church was over, and we’ve dealt with the catastrophically non-existent parking calamity, we could sit in the uncomfortable pews for almost an hour while we waited to try and not fall asleep during mass.

It wasn’t much better at my dad’s house either. His wife was getting everyone up and fed and bathed and dressed and to church early just like my mom. The worst part was that Dad didn’t seem to mind a bit. It was almost as if he too wanted to get out of bed and go to church on Sunday morning.

Anyway, I was off the hook for a good number of years, until I got married anyway. The wife and her family grew up in the same parish as my dad’s family, and so that’s my church now. It’s the church in which we were married, the church in which our daughter was baptized, the church in which her father ushes, and her mother sings in the choir. We were engaged for a year and-a-half, and encouraged to be at church on Sundays, and we managed to do that maybe 50 percent of the time. Probably closer to 35.

We got married, though, and it suddenly became important to her to be there as often as possible, so we upped our attendance rate, and then, when we got pregnant, things shifted in the don’t-make-me-go-to-church-by-my-pregnant-self direction, which I totally got. I did. And I was there with her more Sundays than not. Then, when our daughter was born, it sort of became a ritual for us to be at church together as a family every Sunday, and to spend a little time with the in-laws afterwards. These are two practices to which I subscribe and support. They’re nice things to do. It’s a good example for our daughter, yadda yadda yadda.

The only tricky part is that I still don’t like to get out of bed on Sunday morning. For clarification purposes: The wife can be in bed at 10:15 on a Saturday night, just like any work night. I, however, cannot. I have the better part of two decades of working nights in my system that I haven’t been able to shake, even though I haven’t been working nights for almost three years. Ultimately, I like to be social.

Now, there are a few tricky details to manage with this whole conflict-of-interest situation. The first being that there’s usually something going on on Friday night, and I’m only supposed to go out one weekend night. There’s also, more often than not it seems, something going on on Saturday night, which means if I’m going to go somewhere after the fact, it’s already 10:30 or 11 before I get out of the house. Church alarm goes off at quarter of eight. You do the math.

Add a few adult beverages into that already-narrow sleep window, and that recipe yields a cranky, grouchy Sunday-morning daddy.

But I’ve made some steps toward eliminating that groggy monster. I more or less cut out the late bars some time ago. When Herman Edwards was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he once said, “Nothin’ good happens after midnight. If the girl at the bar ain’t winked atcha’ by midnight, she prolly ain’t gonna wink atcha’ at all.”

Coach Edwards said a lot of dumb things during his infamous three-year run here, but that wasn’t one of ‘em.

I like to use it, but a modified version. Instead of girl at the bar/winks, I’m using the good-time ratio, and instead of midnight, I say the 1-1:30 window is fine, especially since, if I’m out, I’m usually right down the street, so I can be home, in bed, and asleep in 20 minutes. No sweat. If I’m smart, I’ll actually be in bed by 1:30, and I think the wife is semi-okay with that. And let’s be honest, semi-okay is as good as it’s gonna get, because perfectly okay is don’t go out at all.

Anyway, there are other important factors –- albeit none more important -– than just the wife’s happiness. One is hockey on Sunday evenings, and I like to be relatively useful and try to contribute something to the team. If I’m hungover, that means I’ve probably got rotten guts, haven’t slept enough, and haven’t eaten enough either. This translates to a sluggish skate, and almost always bleeds into a slow-moving Monday morning.

Even bigger though, is the hangover thing. Many, many years have passed since that stubborn boy refused to get out of bed on warnings one and two. Gone are the teen years, my 20s, and before long, my 30s’re outta here, too. The point: hangovers are crippling anymore, and kind of have been for several years. So believe me when I say that it’s in everyone’s best interest for ol’ dad here to make his Saturday night jaunts out as brief and responsible as possible.

One last thought about that before I tell you the story I’ve been meaning to: I don’t look like I’m about close to being 40. I don’t think I do, and people certainly don’t seem to, either. Anytime I’m buying beer or cigars, or in a bar I don’t frequent, I get carded. Sometimes, the requester of ID laughs, too, when they see my birth date.

When I’m in conversations with people I’ve not known for long, and we get around to that age topic, I’m that guy that says, “How old do you think I am?”

Now, usually these people are facing me, so that can’t see my bald spot, or my neck fur that’s like ivy racing its way up the side of a house. Inevitably, though, they guess about a decade younger. I tell them to add 10 years, and “No way!”s and “Get outta here!”s are usually thrown at me.

The problem: I look fine -- hey, I’m not saying attractive; fine -- on the outside, but on the inside is a whole different deal. I got bone grafts and wooden plates and holes in my head, and pencil lead wedged in my knee and an aching back and flat feet and ruptured ear drums, shoddy vision, crackly wrists and a hyper-extended elbow. Believe it or not, all of that is perfectly manageable, and in some cases, unnoticed.

What’s not are my rotten, self-consuming guts. They’re kind of on the brink of bad and threatening to get uglier before they get any better.

Genetically, I inherited the intricate bowel of a father whose ulcers were so foul that he had his innards hacked into and his stomach sealed shut with some 40 staples. All before age 40. And boy did he put that surgery off for a bit. You remember, as a kid, when you’d get on the bus or get to your classroom and be in close proximity of a kid that clearly brushed their teeth first, then ate a bowl of Cheerios before leaving the house? Imagine that –- a rotten-Cheerio-breathed kid -– who spiced his cereal a tablespoon of raw sewage and a sprinkle of dry landfill and then burped in your face. There was so much gas in my dad’s guts when he had his ulcer that he was dusting the neighborhood with these belches of epic toxicity every five or six minutes. I mean, it’d make your stomach turn when hanging out with him outdoors.

And that’s just one side of the helix ladder. On the maternal end, I stare straight down the barrel of a lethal trio known as diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and spastic colon. Yes, indeed: the good-times tri-fecta. It’s no surprise, then, that when I’m stressed out, I get a little acidy in the reflux department, or when I’m just generally not feeling well, it’s in the guts and not the head. But mostly, this was, for 30-plus years, a manageable situation.

Not anymore.

A touch of background: As a kid, I was a Cub Scout, a member of Webelos, and a Boy Scout, all of which involved camping trips. The extended variety of roughing it, wherein one trots into the forest with a shovel and some tee-pee, was never a problem for me. The shorter variety/weekend trips weren’t either; I could literally hold it all weekend if I felt like it. In high school, there were two toilet options: 1) You could sit in the stall that had no door, or 2) You could sit in the stall that had a door that peaked at chin level. Gonna go with no thanks on both. I’d hold it all day and use the comfort of my own home either at lunchtime or after school was dismissed. Not sure if I did any damage to myself there, but never did this practice cause me tremendous discomfort.

Things these days leave with fewer options.

A couple of months ago, the in-laws were out of town, the sister-in-law in for her 10th high-school reunion. The wife and I wrapped up our garage sale (Editor’s Note: Technically it was her garage sale, since it was her idea, and she did most of the work for it.), and while she bathed the baby, I ordered some carry-out for us, and stopped at the liquor store when I went to pick it up. After dinner, a buddy picked me up and we went to a friend’s house. My supplies for the evening included a six-pack of Pabst and a mini bottle of Jager. My buddy brought most of a twelver and a pint of Schnapps. I drank three of my beers, and had a cap-sized sample of each spirit before returning home, still very much coherent and not terribly late.

In the morning, we were up and out the door perhaps earlier than ever and actually sitting in the pews before mass started. All was right with the world. The post-church agenda looked like this: breakfast with the s.i.l., wife to attend two functions, me to head home before again picking up s.i.l. to take her to the airport. As we said our see-ya’-laters at the in-laws’ home, I felt a gurgle. The wife, rolling through her usual litany of things she wants me to do, think about, and avoid, kept me in the driveway a few moments longer than I’d anticipated, long enough for another gurgle.

“Gotta go,” I said.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The wife left with our daughter to attend a shower and a birthday party. In her car. This meant that I had to take the only available vehicle home: my mother-in-law’s still-pretty-darn-new, leather-seated SUV. As I backed out of the driveway, that first little wave-offable level of panic was knocking on the window, and the thought process was this: I could go inside, but I don’t really feel like laying some corporal punishment on either of the in-law’s toilets. Not today, or any day, really, especially with the s.i.l. hanging out inside. The only option was to head home, which is maybe a 10-minute drive.

Their house is the second one in from the end of the block, and I wasn’t yet to the stop sign when gurgle number three attempted to drown out the sound of the obnoxious NPR voice on the radio, and believe me when I tell you -– this was far from the first time -– that a third gurgle is already beyond the this-means-business phase.

As I turned the car south, I started to sweat a little bit, and my mind began to race at a furious pace. I made the conscious decision that I would not speed, that I would refrain from California stops, that I would be as safe as possible on this already-treacherous journey home.

Four blocks later, it was time to make a decision. I had two options: 1) Risk everything and try to make it home, or 2) Stop at the QuikTrip, a midway destination. Basically, option number two was the only route because, again, I’m in my mother-in-law’s newish car, driving it for the first time, and it has leather seats. Actually, I think they’re vinyl, but whatever. You may be thinking that vinyl seats could be better than upholstered, but I’m thinking worst-case scenario here: like an up-the-back baby-diaper blowout wherein seepage is most certainly a possibility.

So it’s option two. And QuikTrip, for the record, is the only option because they keep their indoor outhouses clean. There is a flaw to this option, however: This particular QT is a one-seater. Therefore, if I get out of the car and make my way in and that stall door is locked, I’m doomed.

I can make it, I can make it was one of two phrases cycling in my head. The other: No. Actually, you can't.

I drove. I squirmed. I lifted my seat out of the seat. I tried to loosen the pressure on my gut from the lap portion of the seat belt. I noticed that my feet, with all of the squirming slowly danced themselves out of brake-pedal range.

Had to stop. Plain and simple.

There, then, based on all of this discomfort, was the final other angle on the stopping option: Once I got out of the car and began walking towards the QuikTrip front door, there was no turning back. There was no, Let’s*** get back in the car and see if now you can make it home.

***I don't typically talk to myself as though I am plural personalities. In times of crisis, however, apparently I do.

Because you have not yet been given enough details, the s.i.l. has this gig wherein if she’s been out partying the night before, she needs to have food directly deposited in her stomach. No juice, no water, no waiting. Food, and now, or she runs the risk of releasing in a different kind of way.

Because of this issue, we wasted no time ordering breakfast. We also inquired as to whether or not the biscuits and gravy were hot and ready to serve, which they were. We shared a half order amongst the three of us, and I followed that up with three go-cart-tire-sized blueberry pancakes and a side of bacon, not to mention a couple of cups of coffee.

And because you care immensely about some of my driving pet peeves, I cannot stand it when people operating automatic-transmission vehicles place their gear selector in park before all forward motion has ceased. It seems lazy, unnecessary wear and tear on the cogs.

But as I dashed into a parking space in that QT parking lot, I willfully violated my own pet peeve.

If you frequent the QuikTrips, you probably know that the front glass doors swing both ways. I am usually extra cautious of patrons on either side as I enter, holding for the exiting, inspecting the other side if I’m pushing. On this day, in that moment, I could’ve movie-chase-scene exploded someone and their purchases with the speed at which I entered the building. I made a hard left, and had I been wearing a head cam, the footage would’ve looked like some Blair Witch Project clip, my outreached hand eager to grab the door.

I burst through my second door, and immediately noted that the stall was shut, but had one last hope as this is a deep unit; feet not visible without a ducking maneuver. I reached out and grasped the horizontal piece of steel to give it a jiggle.


Not just plain-old locked, either. A locked that was surrounded by silence, a silence that hung in the air with only the fragrance of an unviolated bathroom stall. I came back out the bathroom door as quick as I’d entered it. Directly in front of it, a young female employee wiped down a counter, rinsed out something. A coffee pot, perhaps. I was unsure. I took five steps toward the main area of the store, circled back. I cringed. I clutched my kidneys****, circled again.

****I know that kidneys are part of the excretory system, but I think they solely handle the number-one material. That said, I clutched my kidneys nonetheless, 'cause, uh, they were barkin' like mad. Seriously. It might've been some kind of dog-whistle barking where nobody else could hear it, but I heard and felt it loud and clear.

I felt a warm wetness on the back of my neck. My breathing heavied as my hands slid forward, pausing on my hips. I arched my back, and circled. I opened the door to the men’s room again. No progress. Pacing back towards the storefront, I paused and looked in the open door of an employee-area hallway. I could see shelves filled with napkins, straws, paper towels, and other items. I could see a sink.

I looked over my shoulder at the young woman. She was still wiping counters, rinsing a rag, and as my vision tried to focus on her, I could tell she was retreating from a glance at me. Back to the bathroom door, I gently opened it. Nothing happening.

I cycled once more, offering Lamaze bursts.

The young woman left the sink and entered the hallway, returning with a mop bucket, and it hit me: In order to avoid the most unpleasant of messy situations in my adult life, I must locate the drop sink. I will have to recruit a helper to guard the area for me, and I will be forced to squat over a square piece of floor-level drainage, and it will be the antithesis of pretty, but it will be better than that mess happening in my Sunday best. Of that much, I’m certain.

The segment of my brain that hatched this plan was suddenly attacked by an undisclosed other segment that quietly suggested that I get back in my mother-in-law’s car and go for broke. And all I could envision in that scenario was a virtual three-legged stool that supported these notions: an immediate shower, a trip to the car wash, and a poorly detailed, but lengthy explanation of why my daughter’s grandmother’s car has an intoxicatingly heavy Pine Sol-ish odor to it.

Thankfully, the drop-sink segment of my brain took over again, and I worked up the courage to walk down that hallway to see if I could spot it. I circled, huffed, and opened the door just in time to be blasted with both auditory and olfactory evidence that the man (Note: Let’s call him Goldie Wilson. Progress is his middle name!) was covering some ground. I let the door gently shut, and paced back toward the storefront. The young woman eyed me, this time directly. She wrung out her rag and wiped down the back splash.

I cringed, and for the first time, I recognized the possibility that a lone tear drop might fall. I knew, though, that if that happened, my nose would run, I’d sniffle, and get busted blotting the moisture from my face.

Painful reverberations bounced off the men’s room walls, distracted the threatening tears, and let me know that it wasn't going to be pretty in there. My mind raced again, this time in the direction of the future. This would be my fate, I decided. I won’t even be 50, and there will be Depends in my shopping cart every week, my poor wife tagged with the occasional responsibility of assisting me in my woe.

I cycled and arched my back, succumbing to the now-very-real possibility that my turn inside that stall could come, but perhaps a handful of seconds late. Which would be worse, I wonder. Completely losing it here in the restroom common area, or making it a step or two inside before the fortress is breached? Either way, I’d be leaving without pants, and that’s not going to be feasible, lest I make this worse and have the cops after me, too. It would not be possible to plaster the wears of under and preserve the outer layer, or vice versa. There just wasn’t enough time to make those adjustments that late in the game.

It wasn't quite noon yet, but I could feel all 87 of the outdoor degrees piercing the store’s windows. I’d given it everything I had. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway, only without the freighter to rescue me. I was going to go down into the abyss, my last ounce of dignity bubbling to the surfaces of urban-legend campfire stories, the pages of the local weekly rags.

Didja’ hear about ol’ boy at QuikTrip last Sunday? Marty was there. He saw the whole thing.

I squinted with aggression, inhaled vigorously through my teeth, and the sounds of the store blended into an offensive, warbled soundtrack. I thought of my wife and my pants and how I’d have to leave the car and borrow a self phone in my appalling boxers.

“Man,” the young woman said.

I glanced at her in pained curiosity.

“If you gotta go, you can use the women’s,” she said.

“Really?” my voice cracked, and the tears threatened stronger.

My brain sent out release-the-tension (but not too much of it) orders to my body. My mind flashed to my empty wallet. I had no money to get her anything. I had a debit card, but what could she possibly want from QuikTrip that she doesn’t already have?

I could bake her a pie, I thought. Or a Christmas present. I could get her a Christmas present.

“Yeah,” she said. It’s no problem.

“Oh,” I said, “my God. Thank you so much. But could you just?” I gestured toward the door.

“Sure,” she said.

I watched her walk in and crack open both doors.

“All clear,” she said, propping the door open for me.

I took an unsure step toward the door, and paused to turn and ask her if she’d man the doorway for me. As I opened my mouth, a woman jogger came rocketing through the front door, made the same hard left I’d made, and sprinted, sweat-soaked, toward us.

“Is it…” she began, barely slowing down. “Can I get in here?” she asked, scarcely slowing further, and entered the women’s restroom.

The young woman employee looked at me and shrugged, returning to her duties.
As I felt myself spiral back into the chasm of terror from which I’d climbed seconds earlier, I heard the magic sound from behind the door of the facility to which I belonged.


I hit that door like an offensive tackle in a training-camp practice, which was a good and bad thing in that I almost got knocked over by the 275-pound man exiting the stall. My focus was regained for maybe one second before I stepped foot into the stall and saw what he had done. It, as my s.i.l. later said on the way to the airport, is something her ex-boyfriend calls ass faucet. Thankfully, it does not involve the actual seat. Unfortunately, it does involve the rim and inner workings, and in this particular scenario there was the desire to do something about it, but an element was missing: time.

The next step in this sequence is why, if at all possible, it’s best to never try and do something in a hurry. If you can take a deep breath, calm yourself to some degree, and attempt to walk –- not run –- through the steps, you will be better off.

It’s just like Mom trying to get us out the door for church when she can’t find her keys. She’s checked her purse four times, and although that’s where they are, she simply cannot locate them.

Sometimes, though, haste is a virtue, and by Jove if I was going to rip my belt loops and burst my pants button to move this process along, so be it. I did not have the luxury of sitting on this day, but when it got down to brass tacks, the hovering-over-a-hole skills I’d acquired so many years ago on those extended camping trips came in pretty damn handy.

There was absolutely nothing quick and even less pleasant about the final moments of that particular QT visit, and if I could align my own cards, I’d see to it that such an encounter never again occurs. I won’t soon forget my convenience-store experience, and I’ll leave you with my parting exchange with the young woman employee.

“I want to thank you,” I said, “for choosing not to ignore my obvious strife, and attempting to be helpful.

“No problem,” she said. “Sunday mornings can be rough.”

Indeed they can, I thought. Especially when they involve churches and liquor stores.