One of the great things about living in small town America is you can always find interesting people, businesses and places. One of the things I love about New Hampshire is, that while 7-11 and Cumberland Farms are ubiquitous in their offering of convenience 24 hours a day, the family owned country store is still readily available. The country store offers something that the chain stores cannot offer – a unique experience.
About 3 or 4 times a year, I get a craving for Twizzlers. It’s like clockwork – about every 100 days I get a Twizzler itch and it must be scratched. Today that itch came while I was driving through a small New Hampshire town, which luckily had one of the aforementioned country stores.
As I pulled into the store parking lot, I immediately took note of the non-descript, cement-block-of-a-building with a fading olive green paint scheme. High, near the roofline, a sign told potential customers everything they needed to know:
CIGARETTES – COLD BEER – GAS – DELI
Now, THAT is a mission statement that anyone could understand and get behind. “When you come to our store to fill yer tank, we’d be obliged to sell you smokes, brew, and a large Italian sub with lettuce and tomato.”
The process improvement facilitators across the land with their black belts in how to re-engineer any company’s mission statement and develop your corporate vision statement, could learn an awful lot from this Mom and Pop outfit. The people who own this country store are not “Providng 21st Century customer service focused on the needs of our clients, community…”
Oh shut up! We sell Marlboros and 12-packs of Coors Light.
In the front of the building there was a long flower box, built about two feet high, just about the length of the entire store front. It didn’t look like any flowers had grown there in a very long time. It was really just a box of dirt, with gum wrappers, drink lids, cigarettes, and a few weeds. As I pulled into my parking spot I noticed a small humanoid sitting on that very flower box.
He or she had longish snow-white hair a sheepish, toothless grin on his face. I got a better look as I shifted my truck into park. This was a male, probably in his late 60’s. He appeared to be healthy. His height was hard to tell because he was seated, but I estimated he was no more than 5’ 2” tall. His head was large but seemed to be balanced on his body rather than connected to it. His shoulders were small and slumped – not from discouragement – but rather from a lifetime of bad posture. He wore a very tight shirt and it appeared his upper body was without bone structure. His torso was gelatinous.
It could have been simple lack of exercise. Although, I imagined that he was at one point over 6 feet tall, but over the course of his life he had lost 4 – 6 ribs and 5 – 7 vertebrae under very mysterious circumstances.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was the Creature Double Feature that was played every Saturday afternoon on UHF channel 56 out of Boston. Typically, the movies broadcast were b-moves in black and white that weren’t all that scary. Occasionally, I’d get creeped out by Vincent Price (The Tingler!) or by the Wasp Woman (Roger Corman classic). But for the most part it was not so scary giant lizards, vampires, werewolves, and aliens.
One Saturday, when I was probably 9 years old, Channel 56 broadcast a very chilling film. It was a movie that took place on a remote island that somehow had mutant turtle-like creatures that fed on bones. I can’t remember if these turtles were from outer space or a nuclear experiment gone wrong. In any event, the turtles would attach themselves to unsuspecting cows and suck the entire skeleton out of the cow’s body. All that was left was a mushy cowhide pile and a boneless cow head with a surprised look on its face.
It was a creepy movie. It got creepier when the turtle-things started to feed on humans. I remember my horror at seeing a scientist in his lab coat getting his skeleton sucked out of his body, leaving a gelatinous mess.
So this guy, let’s call him Whitey, with a great head of hair and a gelatinous torso testing the strength of cotton t-shirt tucked smartly into his checkered pants, is just grinning at me. And I am getting that Saturday Creature Double Feature feeling.
But I am here for Twizzlers, so I just smile at Whitey as I walk to the front door of the store. Whitey averts his eyes when I acknowledge him sitting there. Weird.
Just as I suspected this Mom and Pop Store is like walking back in time. At least half of the store is devoted to beer. It’s not like a 7-11. In a 7-11, you walk in and it’s always the same; same coffee counter, same design, same ATM, same refrigerators, same same same. This store is different. This place is disorganized and hard to understand. You have to work hard to find your Twizzlers. The shelves are filled with products you thought were long defunct – there are Andy Capp’s Hot Fries over there, Mello Yello on that shelf, and all 3 flavors of Charleston Chews (strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla – for the unenlightened).
I start to doubt they will have Twizzlers, but then I spot them – right next to the Sugar Daddys and the Mallo-Cups.
As I get to the register there is a guy in front of me buying a couple of jumbo, 24-ounce cans of Busch Beer. He’s a big guy, perhaps 6’ 4” tall and he has that country strong look. Brawny hands and forearms, with a thin layer of grime covering him. His gut is big; these obviously aren’t his first man-sized beers, and the buttons on his shirt are straining to hold his pot in and keep everything together. His gray hair, long and greasy, is combed straight back Fonzy-style and it frames his red face.
Ruddy, a good old Irish term my mom would have used to describe him. Ruddy? I’ve always thought alcoholic when I’ve seen faces like this guy’s.
He pays for his brew and walks out, stiff-legged like his hips are out of their sockets.
I pay for the Twizzlers and head out – I am back in the cab of my pickup in no time.
Seated on the flower bed, less than 10 feet from my truck are Whitey and Ruddy.
I pull a Twizzler from the package and take a big bite. It’s fresh and soft and I savor the texture. There is almost nothing worse than a stale Twizzler; flavorless and brutal to chew. You may as well gnaw on a bag of clothesline if you get a bag of stale Twizzlers. No worries today. These Twizzlers are fresh and true. I take another from the package without looking; my eyes are locked on Whitey and Ruddy.
Ruddy is holding court. He is taking long pulls off his can of beer and in between swallows his is intensely talking to his protégé. His free hand is gesturing wildly, his eyes are bulging and he is stridently talking to Whitey.
Whitey is locked in on every word. His gelatinous torso is moving independently of the conversation, but Whitey is listening intently, sipping his beer like it is a hot coffee. They look like a bizarre coach and insane player strategizing during a critical time out. Ruddy is drawing up a play, imploring Whitey to victory and Whitey looks determined to make the play work and win the game.
Whitey nods. He understands the situation. The spittle is flying from Ruddy’s mouth now but Whitey is undaunted; focused.
I am on my fourth Twizzler when Ruddy finishes his fiery speech. Whitey lowers his can of beer and they make deep eye contact. No one says anything. They are perfectly still except for Whitey’s gelatinous torso.
They both start laughing. Whitey’s stomach churns and rolls happily. Ruddy’s face turns even more red as tears stream down his face.
And I am sitting there thinking to myself:
“What is so funny?”
“What the Hell is so funny?!”
Copyright © 2017 cjcheetham