4 min read

Silence of the Stray Metal Lambs

They roll, they wander, and sometimes they just get away from you. Get along, you silver dogies.
Silence of the Stray Metal Lambs

One of the best things you can have in a living situation is access.

The concrete pasture objective I am wandering into is across a six-lane state highway that barely contains the traffic to justify it. These things are generally dreamed up in some backroom cabal where local tax money needs to be spent in the fastest way possible. It builds ego and resumes.

My jaunt across the parkway is simple enough. There's a nice raised cement bar where panhandlers hold greeting signs as they attempt to collect someone else's lunch money. Unlike the cabal, these poor souls lack both ego and resume.

I used to get the question when I was in more desperate days, "Why don't you just go panhandle?"

Well, because I have a family, and it's hard to explain begging on a street corner to a kid in a way that won't damage them later. Makes more sense to do work for it, even if it's crap labor, and I promise you I've done some of the most menial jobs out there, from moving scrap metal in San Antonio to shoveling chicken shit in South Texas heat.

This trip has, thankfully, none of that, nor any of the associated smells. It is more a wafting of petroleum, cut fescue, and what I can only imagine is the tree pollen that will assault me later. They say that I need to have walks like this each day. What they don't tell you about are the sneezing and the pain.

I'm closing in on the most glorious storehouse of food and wares in all of Texas, more specifically, HEB. If you are not familiar with this chain, then bless your heart; I'm sorry for your loss. They are the only grocery store chain I have experienced where the store brand items were of higher quality than the national brands.

That's a fact, Jack.

I see the little dogie as I enter the cement pasture, alone and tiny, not moving in the breeze. It stands still and waits for my approach without shaking or flinching as I lay my hands on it and direct it back to the main house.

Because it's a shopping cart, people.

They replaced their entire herd a few months ago, some larger, others cute and tiny, all of them equipped with ankle monitor lock things that make them similar to my neighbors that spent time at the county jail.

This time, I have a targeted focus, but usually, I will round up all of the little metal calves in my wake of about thirty feet or so and lead them back to their two-lane corrals. It's a bad habit I can't seem to break. It's one that I do everywhere, even at the big blue box store.

When I was younger, still in high school and miserably failing at youthful love, I worked at a Winn-Dixie that happened to be situated on an incline. It does sound like a shaggy dog story at first listen, but I can assure you it is true. Once, a workmate named Carl lost a cart, which scampered down the said incline like an arrow, and joyfully jumped the four-inch drainage barrier in a spectacular gymnastic exercise through the glass windows of the bank below.

We were highly amused by the accidental escapade. The bankers, as their collective blood pressures began to decrease, were less than amused. One person's comedy is another persnickety person's tragedy. The two are combined when an intoxicated sorority girl is the one loaded in the shopping cart, wholly unaware of her general location, active state, or species, for that matter.

This is how we ended up with a four-foot brick wall at the end of our parking lot. From inches to feet, see what they did there?

The shopping cart frontier was real, y'all.

I watch the new batch of cowboys and cowgirls out there in the flat, oily pasture rounding up the wandering dogies that I'm not helping with. They have ropes and machines and a flat parking lot. If it were any easier, they would put a quarter in it.

That quarter thing is a pisser, too. That kind of thinking might be orderly and economical, but it's also part of the lunacy that led us to leave Europe in the first place.

I see the camaraderie, the teamwork, the snickers and grins as they probably joke about how pushing the metal carts together looks like they're having sex. I know this because I was sixteen once, sweating testosterone, and remember those conversations.

Not today, pal.

As the management looks on with happiness when I gather those carts and load them to the cart stations to save those poor kids time in the heat, they miss the most important part of the scenario.

I'm older. I've been there, done that. I'm a curmudgeon in training and just don't have the official card yet. I know that you're gonna meander off and gather the lost little metal lambs that have wandered off into danger like a grocery store Jesus.

You're screwing around and wasting time to keep yourself out of the store doing actual work like bagging my groceries and laying my milk sideways in the bag as if you're playing a game of Tetris.

I'm aware you don't have a clue what in the hell you're doing, and you have all of the time in the world to learn it and figure it out. But I don't, and I have to carry this stuff over the river and through the woods.

Five miles. One way. Uphill. Through the snow.

You'd just better be glad I can't make them stampede.