I knew it was time to go on a road trip when Mother threw her hair dryer through our big screen TV. Granted she’d taken a hammer to the radio in the kitchen the day before when her favorite program was interrupted by yet another ad for an extended auto warranty, but neither of us particularly liked that radio. After all, it was a 35th anniversary gift from her mother who found it at a lawn sale in East Madison. Who the hell decided a hot pink AM/FM/short wave radio deserved to come with a three-D image of Dolly Parton, anyhow?
Back to the hair dryer incident. February is a rough month for older Mainers unless you’re a tough old buzzard like Sandy Emerson who’d ski off the top of Mount Katahdin if given the chance. The rest of us mutter about heating oil prices, growl at those flatlanders who can’t survive a single aisle at Hannafords without consulting Brad or Muffy via cell phone regarding whether they should buy the 5 or ten ounce organic potato chips. Then there’s the weather, colder than alleged witch parts, wind with an edge you’d appreciate on an ax, and it can’t seem to make up its mind whether to snow or drop enough freezing rain to make walking impossible without tank treads on your boots.
Well, about the time we finished pulling glass fragments out of the couch and Mother’s favorite rocking chair, I looked at her and said, “Tomorrow, we’re going up to Farmington.”
She had the grace to give me an apologetic look before saying, “It’s those damn pledge drives. I give three times a year and them asking for money doesn’t get to me in warmer weather, but dammit, what I need right now is a ‘talk me off this frigging ledge’ drive right now.”
First thing on Saturday, we made certain we had our mugs full of industrial strength coffee, necessities stowed in the trunk and a full tank of overpriced gas. When we passed the Mercer Bog Preserve, I noticed a small patch of cleared ice, but nobody was skating. “Remember how Ron would borrow his dad’s tractor and clear a half mile oval on Seven Tree pond when we were in high school? We’d hide stolen beer in the snow and skate until we froze to death before warming by a tire fire near the shore? Life was a hell of a lot simpler and people more complex. Seems like those things have gotten flipped somehow.”
Traffic picked up as we got near the intersection of Routes 2 and 4. It was nice to see logging trucks with full loads for a change, something cabin fever kept us from enjoying down home.
After parking, Mother strode off toward her favorite shop, the Spider Silk Emporium. She was running low on their special super strength lightweight thread, something she deemed necessary for sewing her quilt scraps into parachutes for the gray squirrels that frequented our backyard. I’d never seen one fall, or use one of her creations, but I wasn’t about to tell her. After all, we all need our harmless obsessions once we get a bit long in the tooth.
I grabbed my special shopping bag, locked the car, and headed toward the ASS. People who frequented the store seemed to be equally split in terms of what they called it. Those who were more skittish about dicey language, called it by its full name, the Adjective Supply Store. Others like me, just called it The ASS.
Sherm Farquar looked up from where he was reading a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray in Korean. “I ain’t seen you in three dogs’ ages. How ya been?”
I was about to answer him when I realized how bare the shelves were. “Jesus on a pogo stick, Sherm, what the hell happened?”
“Where should I begin?” he sighed. “I started seeing a run on some of the more strident adjectives around the time the 2016 elections heated up. Once that was over, the run slowed briefly, but as soon as the mid-term election, and then the start of the pandemic arrived, all hell broke loose. Anything I had in stock that could be construed as invective, inflammatory, or divisive flew out the door. Heck, the UPS and FedEx drivers were here sometimes as often as three times a day. All the other business owners were convinced I was selling drugs. They even had the ATF people sniffing around here twice. It was good for my bottom line, but not for my mental health.”
“Sounds scary,” I said, searching the store to see if there were any adjectives I could use, but coming up empty.
“Wicked so, Sherm said. “The stress got so bad I took it home. Thankfully, my wife is a very adaptive sort. She found her relief valve out at the Bouncing Mustache Cafe in Madrid. She joined a topless drumming circle and hatchet throwing group that meets every Wednesday night. She’s been a different person since joining. Wish I could find something similar for me. Anyhow, this word grabbing hasn’t been limited to adjectives. I got a call from Bix Mercanter who owns the PUS over in Newport, wanting to know whether I was still in business.”
“PUS, that’s a new one to me,” I said.
“Oh, it’s the Pronouns Unlimited Store. When the gender spectrum expanded, Bix had a run on stock that was greater than mine. All he has left are you and it, but nobody wants them these days. His suppliers are quoting a twelve to fourteen month backlog before they can ship anything, so he’s closed up and spends most days ice fishing.”
“You in a similar situation?” I asked.
“I was until I realized times were changing in ways a lot of merchants and consumers haven’t realized yet. Words won’t go out of style completely, but the future is in emoticons and text inspired abbreviations like ICYMI. I discovered a company in Canada that has taken GMO to a whole new level. They sell seeds that produce super stick emoticons and abbreviations, so I ordered some.” He handed me a paper shopping bag. “See what you think.”
The samples inside were amazing. I even tested one fluorescent pink one that said LMAO. Sherm was right, I had all I could do to pull it off a test board he kept behind the counter.
“These would be perfect to slap over bumper stickers that piss you off,” I said. You selling the seeds yet?”
Sherm nodded and picked out half a dozen packages the thought would appeal to me. “Yo know, you might try what some of the younger writers are doing these days, make up your own adjectives. Half the people reading these days won’t know the difference when you get the hang of it.”
“Thanks, I’ll think on it when I get home,” I said as I went out the door.
Twenty minutes later, Mother and I were packing our purchases securely in the flexible netting we keep in the trunk.
“Good time to play over and under while taking the scenic route home,” she said as she handed me my crash helmet. “You got a number in mind?”
“Fifteen,” I replied while fastening mine securely. You want over, or under?”
“Given the weather and my mood, I’ll take over,” she said as she buckled her seat belt.
“I got a feeling you’ll win.” I drove off toward the back way home. Late February was always a perfect time to play the frost heave lottery.