“Err, excuse me sir.” The old man jumped at the gentle tap on his shoulder, heard the nervous, nasally voice, and instantly felt annoyed. Couldn’t an old man shop in peace around here anymore?
He turned to see the stock girl, a pimply pre-teen wrapped in a lime green apron, all gawky angles and braces and anxiety. She took three quick steps backwards, quickly distancing herself from his scowl, her ridiculous over-sized face shield fogging up with condensation from her wet, nervous breath.
Most unexpected things involving other people instantly annoyed the old man, so it’s not to say that his annoyance was the fault of this particular pimply pre-teen stock girl wrapped in a lime green apron on this specific Tuesday afternoon in January. He would’ve been just as annoyed to be tapped on the shoulder by any other stock girl. But this wasn’t just any other stock girl. It was this stock girl. And she wanted something from him.
He raised his eyebrows. “What . . . uhh, what can I do for you?” Wasn’t she supposed to be the one asking him if he needed help, not the other way around? What kind of damned backward grocery store was this?
“I really am terribly sorry to bother you,” she began, gesticulating wildly for no conceivable reason. People who did things for no conceivable reason especially annoyed this particular old man.
“Get to the point girl,” he snarled. The girl winced.
“Cccould you,” she stammered, “wwwould you . . .” The old man raised his eyebrows.
Did they not teach children how to speak in schools anymore?!
The girl’s hands were balled into tight little fists now. “Could you or would you . . . errrr. . .” Her voice trailed off, then found the courage to begin again. “Oh man. Ok. Aren’t you Harry Squires?”
Someone recognizes me. It was the first thought that popped into the old man’s head, and it was delightful, a welcome departure from his normally curmudgeonly state. “Yes, yes I am,” he said, his voice filling with pride, energy, and maybe even a little kindness.
“My Dad was a huge fan. Would you wait here a minute while I grab a sharpie? It would mean the world to him to have your autograph.”
The old man nodded, still blindsided by the questions, and the pimply pre-teen stock girl wrapped in a lime green apron disappeared into the back room. It had been years since anyone had approached him for an autograph. How many things have I gotten wrong in this life, he wondered. Hundreds. No, thousands. No, hundreds of thousands. There was no doubt about that. But perhaps the more important question was, how many things had he gotten right? He’d been a damn good hockey player, there was also no doubt about that. And that thought made Harry Squires smile.