Should I run down to the corner store, endure the judgmental gaze of Marlene the cock-eyed clerk who works the night shift, to buy a box of condoms? Or should I just cross my fingers and pull out and hope for the best?
"Condom, GO!" Jessica exhales, as if she's tapped into my thoughts.
I can't stand the baggage that accompanies buying condoms. But here I am at 1:30 in the morning walking with my half-wood painfully tucked into the seam of my denim jeans to a box, as if I'm living in a pre-Amazon world where I can't order boxes of condoms discreetly and at a bargain. I open the glass doors of the 24-hour convenient store, with my head down and slink towards the back, but, as always, my resistance proves futile. She notices me.
"You can't buy booze after midnight!" Marlene says in her Marlboro deteriorated cackle.
"I'm aware," I shout over my shoulder, without facing her.
Embarrassment is a natural emotion. It begins around age six, when you piss yourself on the playground for the first time. We shouldn't be embarrassed by this pillar of childhood; yet, upon seeing a rushing pant-leg river of urine, the other kids laugh and tease the guilty piss-pantsmen, despite the fact that these dry bullies have evacuated apple juice on themselves at some junction of their post-toddlerhood. We all have done it. Some, just more frequently than others.
Buying condoms should be championed! We should be proud of it, like when we buy organic cereal, or when we substitute a salad for French fries. The same parallel exists in buying condoms. We all have sex. I have sex. You have sex. Our parents have sex and their parents, our grandparents, have sex. The flavor-of-the month Disney star has sex. Tim Tebow has sex. Yet, in the family prevention aisle, a sunken embarrassment comes over me. Every time. It really should be the opposite.
Buying condoms should be championed! We should be proud of it, like when we buy organic cereal, or when we substitute a salad for French fries. It symbolizes a healthy decision. An armed resistance to our biological constitution to procreate. Crossing my fingers and pulling out was the alternative, remember?
So I grab a box that advertises sensation enrichment. I exhale, and then make the walk of shame towards Marlene's counter. I glide the box across the crawling automated belt contraption. Marlene grabs the box with her herculean grip, exposing garter-snake-sized veins twisting around her forearms. Her eyes, all cocked to hell, attempt to stare at me.
I maneuver to find an equal plane of vision for eye contact, but fail. Crooked bastards are never still.
"Yeah. Just the condoms," I say, defeated. Her eyeballs ping around their sockets. She enjoys the guilt. She feeds off it. She probably goes home and tells her husband, who's named Burt or something, about all the young people she shamed at work. They must laugh and celebrate with a glass of milk and a half dozen Hostess snacks that Marlene gets an employee discount on.
However, on this night, my shaming is over. The condoms are stowed in a plastic bag and I'm walking out of the store until my wretched phone vibrates with a text message from Jessica:
Strawberries and whipped cream? 🙂
I could tell her no. Could say that I had only enough cash for her condoms and that the stores credit card reader was disabled. I could power off my phone and cite a dead battery for my absentee response or drop the phone in a storm drain. Anything not to face Marlene again.
So I'm picking out strawberries, which is very difficult at such an hour, slim, non-fresh pickings. I settle for the least-damaged box in the crate. There are only about eight strawberries in the box, half as many as advertised. I grab a can of whipped cream and march, once more, towards Marlene.
"You're not getting much value with these strawberries," Marlene says. "Produce truck arrives at four."
"This will do."
"What's the rush. Is this some sort of fucked up sex thing?" Marlene growls.
"Yes. It is."
She is frozen. Her eyes are finally still and her mouth stuck shut liked she ate a ritz cracker smeared in Elmer's glue. Her disappointment is palpable. How will she sleep tonight? How can she face her husband and admit defeat at the hands of a hyper-sexual youth? I am a champion! I have made the right decision and nothing will stand in the way of my sexual evening! Not Marlene or her perpetually jogging eyes.
"You have a great night, Marlene!" I say, snatching my bag and exiting the store with a gleeful bounce in my step.
I get back to my loft and Jessica's asleep. There is a cute pool of vomit on my bed sheets and the strawberries are too mushy and I have never enjoyed whipped cream and there will be no sex, protected or otherwise, and Marlene wins—again.