I remember when I was a kid, and my mother and I, along with my brother, would be standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to checkout and go back home to Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and Ducktales. My brother and I would look at row upon row of candies, and cakes, and neat little impulse items that every store owner knows will attract the kiddies to pester their parents to buy them that little doo-dad or whatchamajiggy.
I’ve always been a people watcher. I like seeing what other people are doing, and think about what they might be thinking. It never failed that, while in line, I could look up and see a row of shoppers behind us, just standing and waiting; some would read the tabloids, but most of them just stood there, and had this blank stare, one that said “I know where I am in life, and I sure as hell didn’t think this was where it would end up.”
Today, I realized I was That Guy In Line. The one who stood there, purchases in hand, and stared at the blank wall ahead of me. I realized this because there was a mother and her two kids in front of me, and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. The older one, a boy who appeared to be about 10, was telling his several-years-younger sister about all of the different kinds of gum on the candy rack. She pointed to one, and said “Bazooka?” to which he replied, “yeah, that’s a gum older people used to chew. It ain’t no good.”
The little girl tried to get around to see the other candy, and accidentally bumped into me. She looked up at me like I was Paul Bunyan (it didn’t help that I was wearing my knit cap and gloves, plus I do have a beard). Her mother pulled her aside and gave me the “I’m sorry my children are bothering you Mr. Weirdly Hairy Unknown Stranger” look, and I just smiled warmly and chuckled, which one does because kids will be kids, and there was no harm done at all.
It was then that I realized I had become that man, the one who was kindly, and patient, towards children. More than once I had bumped into someone, or tripped, or dropped something at their feet while in the grocery store, and most of the time I would get that Look; the one that said, it’s okay, you’re just a kid, enjoy it while you can, and so I did, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
It feels like I was doing the same as these children, that it was only yesterday I was poking at the quarter machines, trying to get one of those sticky hands you throw against a wall (it looked like snot, which made it cool). I’ll be 34 in a bit over two weeks, and it sure doesn’t feel like it’s been 24 years since I was standing in the place of those children, and children everywhere today. I’ve grown, I’ve matured, and I’ve become That Guy In Line. As much as the loss of years pains me, and makes my heart ache for childhood again, I can live with where I am now, and where I’m going. I can be That Guy In Line.