This was written by Peter on caringbridge.org website while was going through diagnosis, evaluation and treatment for cancer. He had a knack for noticing, highlighting and commenting on the humorous things in every day life.
The craft store was first. What it really was a series of themed areas where crafted items from crafty people were displayed for sale. Much of the merchandise would clearly be regifted after purchase, but I assume that somebody would garner some modicum of happiness out of the deal. Not surprisingly there were no other men to be seen. This was the time for me to represent my gender with pride. Recalling that I was down a testicle and just about ready for a training bra made such a task all the more daunting. Clearly, I needed to clear my brain from all distractions and so started with my bladder. The restroom lacked adequate signage so I was forced to try a few doors before I was successful. The room itself was adequate for the task except it had the tiniest urinal possible and it mounted very close to the floor. Was this a message that men were not welcome herein? Banishing that thought, I bent my knees sufficiently to give me a fighting chance to hit the target. Midway through the ritual, I had a horrifying thought. Given the small size and unusual mounting of the receptacle, perhaps I was relieving myself in fake urinal put there for decoration. I hadn’t noticed any signs of functional plumbing and it was difficult to even find the thing. Visions of an overwhelmingly embarrassing aftermath ensued and I ceased the process in midstream. Further inspection revealed that the pipes (also undersized) were sweating so there was water in them. A quick flick of the handle confirmed full functionality and I completed the ritual. Eschewing the assortment of the floral soaps, I exited quickly with some dignity still intact.
One quickly noticed that this store was more secure than Fort Knox. Signs were posted every few feet reminding the shopper that a closed-circuit video surveillance system was present. Some were even embroidered with lovely sayings such as “Free ride in a police car if you shoplift” and “We prosecute to the fullest extent of the law”. I don’t recall my grandmother employing such phrases in her needlework, but maybe I wasn’t really paying good attention. There were 6 video screens flickering behind the cash register as they scrolled through images from the various cameras. I had seen such systems in place on TV where the show concerns prison security, but never in a retail environment. My master plan to stuff my pockets with ribbon, enameled magnets, sparkly glue, pastel milk paints, and stencils was quickly shelved in favor of clean living with no parole officer involved. Since I doubted that street gangs routinely frequented this place in hopes of scoring high-end goods for resale at flea markets, I came to realize that the fairer sex might be a bit rougher than I thought. This conclusion would be reinforced at the yarn store, but I am getting ahead of myself.
I made my way to the stamping section where I tried to amuse myself among the hundreds of rubber stamps. I ended up kneeling next to my sister as we examined items on the lowest shelf with Kara 15 feet away similarly engaged. My sister has some orthopedic issues and we both would have some difficulty rising to our feet. She has the idea that we should both roll onto our backs, flail our limbs like upended turtles and cry out to Kara to help us up. Always one for public humiliation and glad to see Roberta was up for fun, I readily complied. We did our little routine and Kara shrieked in laughter at the sight of two well-rounded adults in their late 40s behaving like children. One video camera was trained squarely on us, but I didn’t think they would prosecute us as no crime other than impropriety had been committed. Paying the bill was a bit awkward, but tolerable. On to the yarn store where surely a more benign scene would be presented.
For those of you who have never been in a yarn store, it is usually populated by sedate women who are surrounded by bin after bin of yarns from all over the world. There is usually soft music with hot tea available next to the potpourri-scented burning candle. The atmosphere is uniformly hushed as serene shoppers poke about the yarn bins in hopes of finding the perfect color and texture of yarn with which to fashion the latest project. This store was different, very different. Located in a strip mall, it was nondescript from the street. Upon entering even a neophyte knitter such as myself could not help but be impressed by the selection of yarns. Then it got rapidly disconcerting. The predominant hair color of people in knit stores in usually gray and sometimes blue. The woman behind the front counter had magenta hair. A punk knitter? It is California so I remain calm and try to be inconspicuous. She is pleasant and friendly so I begin to wander about. Knitters usually gather in such stores for companionship as they convert woolen strings into sweaters, scarves, hats and mittens. Often there is a circle of chairs to facilitate polite conversation. I rounded a corner to find such a circle of chairs occupied by humanoids who had just left the bar scene in “Star Wars”. There were four women there arranged at the cardinal compass points, each wielding sharp needles with mildly glazed eyes intent upon their respective missions. Instead of older women wearing sensible shoes, these knitters had attitude. Two had the magenta hair so I took this as a tribal marking. One seemed to be Jabba the Hutt’s meaner sister who looked as if nothing had gone right for a very long time. Two were dressed in the typical Berkeleyesque organic, vegetable-dyed, natural fiber uniform with woven hemp sandals. The last of the quartet was a Stepford Wife type next to a Nordstrom’s bag full of yarn. I was quickly identified as a man (thankfully) and a non-knitter and just a quickly dismissed as unworthy of acknowledgement. Jabba’s sister kept eyeing me and I expected she was about to leap up, carve a pentagram in my forehead, wrap me in a woolen cocoon and then shove me aside to be consumed later. Then the conversation started. Each in turn would locate in a magazine some heinous example of poor knitting and proceed to rip its creator to shreds. Cattiness would be too mild a term for these estrogen-fueled diatribes. Even Kara and Roberta commented on the venomous exchanges. I quickly realized the utility of the seating arrangement as it enabled each participant to be seated with their vulnerable backsides shielded from each other. Brilliantly tactical chair placements kept the conversation and bile flowing in relative safety.
Now it gets weird. By this time I am seated in the unbroken Circle of Everlasting Condemnation though I have turned my chair slightly towards the door to facilitate a reasonable chance at escape if they turn on me. The hot topic was now the relative merits of non-participation in the National Hockey League’s upcoming All Star Game. Again, I am surrounded by a group of emotionally cannibalistic women who are knitting and discussing the finer points of a violent minor sport. Even during my Vicodin and Percocet-fueled delusions there was nothing like this. It seems some players chosen to participate in the game were opting out and were threatened with punishment by the League’s commissioner, Gary Bettmann. Most men don’t know who Gary Bettmann is, but this group is fully conversant in the topic. Maybe this was my opening to achieve a modicum of acceptance in the group. Each knitter had strong opinions on validity of each player’s excuse for non-participation. They described in detail the injury or personal situation that prevented the player from playing and proceeded to question the manhood of each in further detail. As I was in no position to defend myself in the manhood area should I be set upon in the conversation, I slunk away to find a restroom. What I found was a scented candle-lit homage to both traditional and homeopathic remedies for female ailments along with a generous selection of feminine hygiene products (some organic) surrounding the toilet. There was no urinal so this was easy. I instinctively knew that leaving the seat up would have resulted in almost instantaneous death so I left things as I found them and exited the store posthaste.