They call each other Al and Bert, these old men I know. Al sold cars, Bert sold insurance. On Wednesday nights, they went bowling; on Saturday mornings, they went fishing. They bonded, as men will—doing for, not doing with.
Al and Bert were family men before the kids scattered, before Harriet got the cancer and Dottie just dwindled away. Now, Al and Bert live next door at Independence Village.
They prowl the aisles at the Kroger store, resolute and clueless. Al, bent by “Arthur itis,” steers the grocery cart. Bert, lost in the blind spots of “macular,” pushes and follows.
“You’re pushing too hard, Bert.”
“I didn’t think I was pushing at all, Al.”
“Reach up there, Bert, and grab a box of Cheerios. No, not there. Over there.”
“”Al, you gotta not say ‘over there.’ I got no clue where ‘over there’ is anymore. You gotta say ‘up, down, left, right.’”
“Left then,” says Al. “No, I mean your other left. A little more. Little more. Up now. There you go.”
“Got it,” says Bert. “Big yellow box. I remember the big yellow box.”
“What’s next on your list there, Bert?”
“Here, you read it. I left my glasses at the home.”
“It’s not the glasses you’re needing, Bert. You’re blind as a bat.”
“Are too,” says Al. “And this list. You got us back and forth all over the store.”
“I thought a list would help, Al. I was only trying to help.”
“But it’s got to be organized. Like an assembly line. I’m only trying to help here too, Bert.”
“Well, Al, you’re helping too much!”
“And you, Bert, you’re helping too little!”
They shuffle down the breakfast aisle, childish and childlike. “Jeez, Bert, I’ve never seen so damn many cereal boxes. Used to be Grape Nuts was all you needed to get started in the morning.”
“Times change, Al, so I guess we oughta change too. Seeing as how it’s gonna take two of us, you be the hunter Al, ‘cuz you can see things, and I’ll be the gatherer ‘cuz I can reach them.”
“You’re on, Bert. What’s next on your list here? Eggs. I’ll find them and you gather them. Cheese and milk are over with the eggs.”
“And chicken fingers, Al. Over with the eggs.”
“Chickens got no fingers, Bert. And you’re getting us off track again. We got to follow the system here.”
“I got the system, Al. Ice cream’s gotta be alongside milk.”
“Jeez, Bert, you’re a big help. Now reach over there and gather that carton of eggs. No, not that one, the one over there.”