A short story by Dan McClenaghan
Ellis Leahy hit the grocery store, shuffled in to pick up a twelve-pack of whatever beer was on sale. The place was packed, pre-supper time, so he made a detour down the aisle that held the soaps and shampoos, the feminine hygiene products and the condoms.
The little raincoats caught his eye. He skidded to a stop beside the eye-level display and said, “I’ll be damned,” because in his randy youth, the only way to buy rubbers was via a slinking trip to the pharmacy, way in the back, to whisper his need to a guy in a white coat and horn-rimmed glasses, then slip out of the place with a brown paper bag, feeling dirty and sinful.
Now, here they were, right out in the open, for all the world to see, for anybody to pluck up and toss in the basket, with the Cheetos and wine, the mayonnaise and Hebrew National hot dogs.
And if the bold and open display of prophylactics wasn’t surprising enough, there was, also, right in the middle of the batch, a well-know brand name variety that proclaimed itself, in large white letters on a black background: “Magnums: Larger-Sized Condoms.”
“I’ll be damned,” he said again.
This, Ellis mused, was something to ponder, because, with the exception of porno-film freaks, he’d always thought that most men were pretty much the same size south of the border. But here was proof otherwise: “Larger-Sized Condoms.”
And why “Larger-Sized” instead of just “Large.”
He plucked a twelve pack off the shelf and figured this out right away: If a condom was “Large,” then the regular condoms must be something less than large. That could mean small. No self-respecting man is going to grab a pack of “Small” condoms and walk up there and throw it on one of those good looking cashiers’ conveyor belts. In fact, it was probably impossible to buy “Small” condoms, so if these condoms that he now held in his hands were “Larger-Sized Condoms,” it only made sense the the regular condoms were “Large” condoms, even though they weren’t specifically marketed that way.
So buying condoms, he thought, was much like buying a Starbucks latte—it was impossible to buy a small latte, a “grande” was the lowest level you could get.
“I’ll be damned,” he repeated to himself at this impromptu insight into marketing and male psychology.
“Probably,” said a passing mom with a toddler riding in the seat of her shopping cart, “You probably will be damned, an old goat like you buying rubbers.”
She wheeled briskly by him, and he called after her. “Come on back here, you little beauty. I’ll show you what this old goat and his rubbers can do.” He didn’t, of course, mean it. He just wanted to see her ass pucker as she clipped off down the aisle, trying to put some distance between herself and a potential pervert. And pucker it did, like she was trying to hold a dill pickle between her buns, as her child, its finger buried up to the second knuckle in its left nostril, looked around his mom at Ellis Leahy and his “Magnums.”
He’d have put them back on the shelf and gone on his way, picked up his beer and headed home to his football game, but as he perused the shelf anew, to see if perhaps there was something there in condom department called “Gianganto-Sized” or “Humungous,” the young mom returned, with a face that looked like it had eaten that sour bun-hugged pickle in three vicious bites. She had the store manager in tow.
A confrontation ensued. The mom hurled accusations of impropriety, called Ellis a lecher. Ellis shot back that she was just jealous because her husband was a guy who used “Petite-Sized” prophylactics (as he gestured at the imaginary size on the shelf), and went on to say that it was understandable, the bitter mood she suffered at the sight of a true Magnum Man.
The store manager—a lanky, thirty-ish blonde woman in black slacks and a white long-sleeved blouse, with a bright blue scarf in place of a neck tie—had the look of a woman who’d rather be sitting in the dentist’s chair on the receiving end of a root canal than here in the personal hygiene aisle talking manhood sizes with an out-of-control shrew and a dumb-ass, condom-shopping old dude.
“Now, now,” she pleaded, “Let’s keep things civil.”
To no avail. The mom shrieked at Ellis, accusing him of being a filthy son-of-a-dog. Ellis bellowed back that she’d be a lot calmer if her husband wasn’t Mr. Petite, making her howl wordlessly and lunge from the back of her shopping cart to throw a punch at him, a big, wide, right-hand haymaker, telegraphed all the way from Argentina.
Ellis ducked under it, and Mom’s bony little fist swept a half a hundred packs of various varieties of condoms off the shelf and to the floor. The momentum of her punch, having failed to connect with something solid, spun her into a pirouette that ended in a stumble that evolved into a fall, that resulted in her sprawl into a sea of little cardboard boxes on the black-and-white floor tiles.
The ruckus had attracted, early on, an audience. Cell phone cameras caught the action from several angles. The toddler seated in the shopping cart bawled, and Mom thrashed in anger and embarrassment, and scattered the boxes far and wide before she gathered herself and leaped to her feet with raging murder in her heart for the man who had set this chain of events into motion.
But he was gone, slipping off toward the exit without his beer, shooting a quick glance at the in-store Starbucks and the grande lattes, feeling every inch the Magnum Man, oblivious to the fact that he would in short order show up on YouTube, and would then have to explain to his wife, Ruth, what the hell he was doing involving himself with condoms.
Photo credit: Robert Telyov via a Creative Commons license.