My dad came out to spend a few days with us which was downright fantastic and pretty cool. Most of the time was filled with the common weekend stuff — family whatnot, some schoolwork (on a Saturday, no less) and an evening around a backyard campfire. At one it was decided that the boys would go get some groceries from Meijer. “The boys” include me, our sons, and my dad, affectionately known as Oompah to Mac and Zac. Oompah is an honest attempt to pronounce Grandpa by a wee toddler, circa 2007. It has since stuck and sticks well. The nod to Gene Wilder and his orange staff is not unnoticed.
Anyway, we went to get some groceries from Meijer. If you’re not familiar, Meijer is a Michigan-based chain of superstores that sells pretty much everything from housewares to food, clothes and even fine cutlery. It’s a one stop shop. Some Michiganders call it Meijer’s because 1) it was started by a guy named Fred Meijer and 2) we pluralize everything like this: Ford’s, Kroger’s, Penney’s, GM’s, Burger King’s, Taco Bell’s, and the seldom heard Taco’s bell.
We made an obligatory stop in the Halloween department, what with it already being September and the pre-Valentines sale already in progress the next aisle over. They’re coming up with some rather creative costumes for kids of all ages, which means that juvenile boys who laugh at fart jokes are especially drawn to the absurdity of costume. My boys tried every mask on and really explored the space. A giant Trump face? It fits and goes well with an on the spot monologue about twitter and walls. A Hillary mask? Sure thing — along with a sales pitch for her tell-all book. And then they found the horse heads.
The horse head masks have been around for a few years but this was the first year that the boys noticed and engaged. And engage they did. Man, those things are creepy (the masks). A long brown face that terminates with unavoidable protruding teeth, peep holes are hidden within the horse’s bowling ball eyes, and a flared snout that muffles the voice of the user. Sounds cute, right? If so, I did a terrible job of describing it. It is odd and unsettling, like when they sell sushi at a gas station.
The horse mask was topped only by the overwhelming presence of the unicorn mask. Similar shape and feel, but a different color scheme: the unicorn mask is white and features the single ring toss ready horn (perhaps horseshoes) and the eerie affectations of a mythical beast head, animated atop an innocent kid’s torso. It was pretty funny. We laughed a lot. Dad giggled his Bobby giggle — if you’ve heard it, you know — a hearty, almost stratospheric laugh. Joy flowed.
Then Mac had an idea. He said “Hey dad, let’s go over to the meat counter where the butcher guy hands out meat” and I thought “sure, what could go wrong?” I often think this thought right before things go wrong.
First off, let me say that one of the best ways to draw a lot of undue attention to your family in a store is to have one of the kids don a plastic halloween costume horse head. I asked him to take it off as we walked through the home improvement aisles, again by the dairy, and yet again by our grocer’s freezer. People looked at us for a long time. Children were intrigued. Children were frightened. Parents watched like hawks. The chill parents with tats were like “Hey, Zelda — check out the horsey!” to their kid, while the soccer moms were less than thrilled overall. Pretty standard generalizations, I know, but it all came to the surface again with horsey.
11 year old Mac finally made it to the butcher counter. The butcher, hesitation in his voice, said to my son the unicorn “can I… help you?” And MacUnicorn said “Yes, do you have any fresh unicorn meat?” Note that he asks for fresh unicorn meat, which implies that unicorn meat is a typical thing and that the fresh stuff is really what you’d want for stew, the grill, magical incantations, etc. The butcher, calm and overtly patient said “no, we do not have any unicorn meat.” Mac, never one to abandon a potentially workable bit, pressed on: “do you think you’ll get any soon?” Butcher: “No.” Mac: “Do you know where I can get some fresh unicorn meat?”
At this point, I should tell you a couple of things that were running through my head. First, I was really entertained by my son. Part of this may have been my idea, especially the part about asking for fresh unicorn meat. But I was unprepared as a parent and a writer for his persistence beyond the reasonable sustainabilty of his audience. Our butcher was not impressed, partly because he knew he was on the wrong end of a prank and partly because meat cutting is (evidently) nothing to be mocked. Butchers are national heroes. When it comes to what part, precisely, it is that we’re eating, we can only take their word for it. Remember this the next time you go to Outback Steakhouse.
But back to the meat counter, where MacUnicorn was truly oblivious to the growing frustration of his target. Mac asked his closing question: “Well… do you know where I can get unicorn meat around here?” And the butcher showed why he’s a national treasure. Without missing a beat, he said in a gruff voice “Wal-Mart.” And that, my friends, is a very funny butcher. Kudos, my meat-cutting friend. Kudos.
Dad and I laughed. It was a moment of sheer delight and embarrassment.
On the way out of the store, I overheard the greeters at the door saying “you get all kinds in here…” and I felt a sense of pride. It was my family — my children — who fueled an evening conversation at someone’s house that began with “how was your day?” where the butcher tells his poor wife that some kid came in and asked for Unicorn Meat, and how dumb it was. Or maybe… maybe he was worried. Maybe he called his butcher mentor and said “they know…”
The next day I saw someone in the lobby and they said “Pastor Adam, I don’t know if you recognized us, but we’re new to the church and we were at Meijer yesterday and saw your son…” and I was like “please come back next Sunday.”
Either way, a fun time and a good family memory. I wanted to save it here on RadBlog. Thanks for reading.