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I stood in line outside the grocery store, waiting to be admitted into the building as if it was some new ride at an amusement park. I wondered what kind of faces everyone was making under their masks. Is it just me who liked to stick my tongue out at people in public knowing that they can’t see my otherwise unacceptable gesture? Or are they making even more obscene gestures at me?

The woman in front of me tried to be discreet as she looked back at the tape on the ground to make sure I was 6 feet behind her and not 5 feet, 11 inches. She made eye contact with me and cleared her throat dramatically. I could see the look of discontent in her eyes. Did she just mouth “Fuck you” under her mask? I swear I heard it.

More than two months of rage flicked a switch in my brain, and without thinking I reached out and poked the back of her shoulder.

She turned around in disbelief not knowing how to unleash her wrath.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but welcomed and deserved whatever she was about to throw my way. Our eyes locked and she stepped closer, without making a sound. The silence was intimidating.

It seemed that the shoulder poke, coupled with not being able to carry her reusable bags into the store anymore, and maybe some other incidents over the past two months triggered the same rage-switch in her brain too. She didn’t break eye contact and proceeded to deliver a left-right hook combo, which she mastered in her virtual boxing class that morning, and then swiped my knees out from under me.

Her blows landed me on the ground.

Both of our masks flew off in the ordeal, and I am not sure how, but we seemed to have maintained eye contact throughout it all. She looked down at me, then we both examined our bodies, which had switched instantly from grayscale to full-color.

As she reached down and helped me up, we tacitly decided to cut everyone else in the line that was now wrapped around the corner of the building. We walked by people smiling, brazenly touching every single one of them. Some people got a tap on the shoulder, some got a bop on the nose, others got a firm handshake, or even a grabbed butt.

There was no order to the way we touched these complete strangers. There was no justice.

There was just touching, touching, touching.

The woman and I continued down the line and got more elaborate as we went; delivering hearty slaps across the face, gentle fist-pounds, overly aggressive tittie-twisters, and thigh bruising charlie-horses…. We progressed down the line changing everyone from grayscale to color with our touch.

We approached the entrance where a portly man, who almost looked like a brown version of Shrek was newly appointed line-mask-regulator (do they have an official title for this person yet or is it still being decided on?).

He stepped in my way and said, “Sir, you need a mask and you need to wait in⏤” stopping mid-sentence as he looked back at what used to be the dull drone of appropriately-spaced humans, patiently waiting to get into the store. Thanks to my partner and me, the drab, grocery funeral procession had turned into a wild, full-color, dance party, complete with all the fixings.

Some people played beer pong (with beer in the cups, not water!). There was a cooler full of jungle juice and only one ladle. Everyone was touching their own faces. There was a DJ and big speakers with loud thumping music. People took off their clothes and formed a mosh pit and lined up at the solar power trash/recycling bin and started blowing lines off it.

The stocky man who stood between me and the store entrance finally locked eyes with me.

His look of judgment looked remarkably similar to the lady I had poked in the shoulder, who was now leading a conga line past the hand baskets. The music screeched to silence and everybody stopped dancing. They all turned their attention to watch the standoff.

He stepped closer to me.

I stepped closer to him.

He pulled his mask down slowly, and an empty shopping cart with a squeaking wheel rolled across two handicap parking spaces. Just as it collided with the curb with an unmistakable CLANG… the two of us started wildly making out. As we stepped back, he changed to full color as well, and then he ripped off his uniform. To everyone’s surprise he was wearing a colorful tuxedo, a top-hat, and he now yielded a conductor’s baton.

The music started up again.

He smiled, winked, gave a hop and skip-step, and then marched us into the store triumphantly.

The first person I saw was an elderly woman meandering to the bathroom. I took a flower from the florist to my right. I brushed the grey hair back behind her ear and placed a single flower through her hair. The gaze was powerful for a split second. Then it was broken when she kicked me directly in the shin. No sooner did she make a blood curdling noise from way down deep in her throat while she gathered every last bit of phlegm she could muster.

She leaned back.

She jerked forward.

She spit a clam-like-loogie so thick that I was surprised it wasn’t growing a pearl, directly into my eye.

She turned into full color, curtsied, and kicked down the door into the men’s room where she released the contents of her bladder, standing up, into the urinal. She walked out and joined the crowd, clearly noticing that the automatic flusher did not activate and consciously decided not to hit the mini flushing button or washing her hands.

As the parade marched on, the newly appointed conductor took it upon himself to open up the cases of seltzer water and shake them up vigorously.

He quickly doled out the cans to each person as they walked in. We opened up the cans together and showered the entire produce section in lightly-flavored, calorie-less, carbonated water.

The young black-and-white woman stacking bananas popped her head up to the scene. Somehow she stripped down to only in her apron. She blew a kazoo and turned into full color as she backflipped over the fresh fruit she had just finished putting out. She stood proudly on top of the watermelon stack. Without missing a beat, the barista tossed her an oversized mallet which she caught in her mouth, flexing to the crowd as everyone cheered.

The four other produce workers on duty were immediately hoisted into the air on trapeze rings, juggling apples and avocados and tomatoes as they tossed each other elegantly from ring to ring.

The mallet-yielding woman flexed again and the crowd went wild.

She pounced to the ground and started smashing all of the melons, outdoing Gallager himself. She kicked over the free sample table of grapes on toothpicks, and threw the chunks of smashed fruit into the crowd, where it was immediately devoured. The trapeze artists tossed her more fruit as they swung, and she swatted them out of mid-air, smashing them to smithereens.

Food was flying everywhere, and the chaos engulfed the whole store, aisle by aisle. People were covered in the contents of the hot lunch bar. Everyone was belly laughing uncontrollably. The manager ate mac and cheese off the floor. All the bottles of olive oil were smashed, and people moon-walked the wrong way down the one-way aisles.

There was a full-on orgy in the express checkout lanes.

I decided—enough fun and chaos—it was time to get out of dodge, so I grabbed what I came for, walked to the check out lines, and had a very polite conversation with the clerk.

I picked my nose as I casually walked out the door designated ENTRANCE ONLY in bright red letters. A police cruiser pulled up to the curb, and the officer jumped out in a panic. He approached in a tizzy and explained that he got a call about a disturbance.

“What’s going on in there?” he demanded.

I didn’t break my stride. I pulled my mask up over my mouth and my sunglasses down over my eyes. I pulled my flat brim hat down really low and brushed a piece of rice crispy treat off my shoulder.

I took one bite out of my apple and then I tossed it to him. I respond, “The Aristocrats.”

Billy Hafferty

Billy Hafferty is probably still hanging out of the passenger side of his best friend's ride trying to holler at you.

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