I don't know Carl. We've never met. But I feel a certain kinship with the man, simply because I'm now privy to so much information he'd probably rather keep to himself. Carl made the mistake of either answering a call from or making a call to a rather large black woman who was multi-tasking her way through Publix, and because of that all of the shoppers in the store became unwilling participants in a lengthy piece of performance art.
No sooner had I made my way out of the produce section in my quest for sunflower seeds (they aren't in the veggie section, by the way) and turned down the first aisle, Ms Thunderlungs approached from the other direction in mid-conversation.
"You hear me, Carl? She never even sees those kids! Carl! She never even sees those kids! It's ridiculous for her to think she has a right to say something like that! Carl!"
I'm not Columbo, but I was able to pick up from that one cursory pass in the greeting card section (sunflower seeds aren't there, either, if you're wondering) that the woman was talking to Carl. I'm not sure Carl even needed the cell phone to have heard her part of the conversation, though. She was a loud woman. This woman will never be lost under rubble while cadaver dogs search for her remains. They'll hear this woman, I promise you.
Because we were headed in different directions, I got to make another pass in the next aisle (and sunflower seeds aren't sold in the shampoo and personal hygiene aisle, either). Here she came, and other than her dufflebag-sized pocketbook in front of the handlebar, her cart was still empty.
"That's all I'm saying, Carl! Carl! If she cared about those kids she'd make an effort to be there! You hear me, Carl? She's just saying that to make you mad, Carl! You don't have to take them to her, Carl! She hasn't done one thing for those kids, Carl! Carl! She hasn't done one thing!"
I'm not exaggerating the number of times Carl's name was barked out like profanity. If she used the word "Carl" once she used it a hundred times during the course of my search. I turned down the next aisle and resisted an eye roll as she approached from the other direction, still pushing the empty cart, this time down the cereal aisle (which isn't home to sunflowers, by the way).
"You're a fool, Carl! She's playing you, Carl! No! No! You don't have to- Carl! You don't have to do a damn thing, Carl! Carl! That's not true! I - I - I don't care, Carl! Carl? She can pick up those kids if she wants to see them! Has she ever? Has she? Has she, Carl? What? I said has she ever picked those kids up, Carl? Carl!"
A couple of other shoppers passed by, and everyone else seemed oblivious to the verbal beat-down Carl was taking. I felt sorry for Carl, that poor bastard. From what I'd heard, he probably had an ex-wife or ex-girlfriend who was badgering him about some aspect of shared custody visitation rights involving their spawnings, and on top of THAT bullshit he was getting it from Bertha in the pasta aisle (where you'll find zero packages of sunflower seeds, or any other seed-related products).
I decided to skip over an aisle just to avoid hearing any more of the abuse of poor Carl.
The canned goods aisle is product intensive, so I had to slow down my search and pay attention, which was a mistake, because Carl's tormentor was able to round the corner just as I was turning to leave the soup section (sans seeds). We were face to face, and I was momentarily blocking her path. Not wanting to interrupt her conversation (unless it was with a sharp blow to the back of the skull with a large can of Italian Beans) I stepped aside and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry!" to her as she passed.
"Oh honey, you're fine!" she beamed at me. Apparently, she didn't mind interrupting her lecture to Carl for pleasantries with a fellow shopper.
"No, Carl! Not you! I was talking to this gentleman in the store! Carl? If you take those kids over there you'll be sorry! This is ridiculous, you hear me? You hear me, Carl? Don't you- What? I said it's ridiculous! Carl!"
By now we were hooking up yet again, this time in the baking goods aisle. I found a little rack of seed-like products! Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans. No sunflower seeds. Pine nuts. What the fuck are pine nuts? I almost bought the little bastards because they were shaped a lot like shelled sunflower seeds, but the seven dollar price tag nixed that idea. Dammit. Here she came, again.
"I think you should just call her back, Carl! Call her back! Tell her you can't! No! You hear me? Carl! Just tell her no! She can get off her lazy ass and come get those kids! Carl! She can drive over and get those kids! It's not any further for her than it is for you, Carl... It's not any further for her than it is for you, Carl! She's got a car, Carl! You paid for the damn car she's driving, Carl! You bought that car for her, Carl! She can come get those kids, Carl!"
I grabbed a bag of almonds and headed to the checkout counter. Fuck sunflower seeds. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to find them in the dogfood/toilet paper/bread/ice cream/dairy or beer aisles, and I'd had enough of Carl's story. The woman still had an empty cart. I began to think that maybe we were all being filmed for an episode of "Punked" or something... a candid camera involving a loud woman on a cell phone and the reactions she might get from unsuspecting shoppers as she shared her conversation with them in the store.
Then I realized how fucking stupid THAT show would be and went back to my original theory that cell phones are the bane of modern society. In traffic, in theaters, in restaurants, in malls, in every place where one might expect a moment or two of personal space... there they are. Ringing, chirping, beeping, and playing the ice cream truck version of "Low Rider"...
Bless Carl's poor ass, though. I'd jump off a bridge before I'd answer another call from that woman OR his ex, if it were me. Poor bastard. Somewhere out there in the world is one badgered, beat-down, hectored shell of a man who probably used to have a set of balls and some sort of joy in his life. Of course, those balls and all that happy testosterone-sloshing "joy" is the reason he's catching hell from two women these days, so I guess it all works out.
My lovely (and dangerous) wife tells me the sunflower seeds are indeed back in the produce section. Good to know. The slaw was great without 'em.