Monday, April 02, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Target

Well, it wasn’t funny and it wasn’t on the way to Target, so besides the words “Happened” and “Target,” the above sentence is entirely misleading. Sure, Target was involved and an incident happened, but we were already inside and it was entirely an oddity. It’s what I get for trying to play off of Sondheim; you just can’t force Stephen.

So, Kara’s birthday is in a couple of days, and it was decided that I should take the tykes to the the Big Red Homeland in search for items from a specific list of pre-approved gifts. The only thing that I needed to make the outing a complete success was a note pinned to my shirt in case I got lost on the way.

Of course, as soon as we get inside, both kids want to go two separate directions: Natalie wants to look at everything that’s pink or purple and Matthew wants to see anything with wheels or round and bouncy. I just wanted to fill out the wish list of my loving wife and do so in a competent, caring manner so that both of the children are involved.

That’s where the problem started. Before we left the house, Natalie threw a mini fit because I insisted that she brush her teeth before we leave. She didn’t want to go to Target and she didn’t care that this was the only day we could all go out and get something nice for Mommy. She wanted to finish her movie. She wanted to have a drink of juice. She wanted to work on her sticker book. She wanted to play a game on the computer. She wanted to do everything but put her shoes on, brush her teeth and go to the bathroom. I had to pull out my most devastating weapon in the arsenal, the “I’m going to leave without you” trick, a bluff that, so far, hasn’t been tested to its breaking point. She hears my car keys and scrambles. I hear the water going and the immediate scouring of teeth. Satisfaction. Not 40 seconds later, she’s at the top of the stairs pleading that I don’t leave without her.

I win again.

Back to Target. This is one of those stories that proves the most unexpected thing you could possibly think of is bound to happen sooner or later. Take a few moments and think of a couple of occurrences that you might imagine could happen at Target on a very typical afternoon. Go on; I’ll wait.

Ready? What did you come up with? Probably some normal things, right? Old lady falls down and breaks a hip. Someone stumbles into dishes and they crash to the ground. A robbery perhaps.

You’re not thinking improbable enough. Stampeding merekats. Alien abduction. Naked nuns (Hey, if they’re naked, how do you know their nuns? Callused knees). Okay, now you’re too off the wall.

I’ll just tell you.

The three of us were looking at the kids’ books—Matthew in the cart and Natalie by the books—and suddenly, without any warning what so ever, the power went out. Everything goes pitch black, cave black, hand-in-front-of-your-face black.

I expected much more chaos. I reached down for Natalie and fumbled around until I had her in the cart so she wouldn’t get trampled by the hoards of panicked-stricken cattle streaking for the light-bathed exits. Nothing. Immediately, I expected terror-laced screams from the masses, and I was surprised to only hear a few gasps of air, but then again, the only time I been in power failures in public was in grade school. The anonymity of the pitch black is license for kids to start screaming—like in the Haunted Mansion when they show the hanging guy. It’s not scary, but screaming makes it more so; plus, when do grown ups ever get to let out a good scream.

Certainly not in Target.

I figured the best thing for us is to stay put, at least until the emergency lights came on, and they didn’t for about 30 seconds, which is a long time to wait in the dark, in a store, in 2007. In the meantime, it was completely silent. Nobody around me spoke. No whirling noise of the A/C. No piped music. No cart wheels clattering on the tile. Nothing, and that was the creepy part, like I was the only one affected by this, as if I had slipped into some kind of sensory-deprivation chamber and everyone else went about their business.

I heard the insistent chatter of the store managers on the radio as one of the red shirts stumbled by, and it was interesting to note that they reacted quickly to the crisis… “Get the doors covered…” “Find the flashlights and post them at the stations.”

Then, after what I considered an inordinate amount of time, the emergency lights came back on. Everything else was still dark except for a bank of lights illuminated for every five or six dark ones.

This was the strange part: When the emergency lights flickered on, it was as if the curtain went up on a play, and everyone started moving at the same time, busy at the start of a scene. And then they continued shopping as if nothing had occurred. I saw someone hold up a DVD into the scarce light to read the back of it, and another lady referred to her shopping list and gave herself one of those “Where was I? Oh yes, and I need some conditioner” nods and shoved her cart down the aisle.

What were these people thinking? Did they think they were actually going to be able to wheel up to the checkout stand with a cart full of stuff and pay for anything? The Red Shirted yokels barely know how to push the buttons on the computer when the power is on, much less make a transaction without one, and if you’ve got a credit card, forget it. The days of the carbon paper and the slider thingy are long gone, and I doubt they even have one on the property.

But, it was business as usual… only this time, it was dead quiet, and you don’t realize how loud a big store is—what with the displays, the A/C, the music, the people, the carts, and the loudspeaker announcing blue light specials in five languages every 35 seconds—until all of those things are gone.

About 15 minutes later, we were still milling around the store, as half of me was hoping for some kind of terrific calamity to witness… so I could be that guy on the news that makes some ridiculous assertation as to what actually happened: “It was the Doberman Gang with a satchel full of diamonds from the Target jewelry department and one of them pushed a guard onto a transformer and I swear I saw Elvis. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.” Why do they always interview the stupidest, most ignorant and least mentally capable person at the scene of an incident? Maybe it isn’t just dumb luck that they find them. Maybe everyone’s that way.

It’s funny because it’s true.

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