... it was a dark and stormy nite.
Oh wait. Different story.
It was actually in the winter of... some years ago. Back when Beanie Babies were all the craze, and people were practically rioting in the streets to obtain them (ok, maybe not rioting, exactly...). McDonald's was giving them away in their kid's meals, and I am ashamed to admit that I actually knew people who bought all the kid's meals so they could obtain that collection of Beanie Babies. So it wasn't like I didn't know that these things were popular, I just didn't completely get it. And that nearly was the end of me.
I just didn't know that some people would go absolutely wackadoodle bat shit crackers crazy for them. And unfortunately, once I got caught right in the middle of that. I almost didn't make it out alive, you guys. And all I wanted was some stupid lotion!
It happened because a friend of mine was having a party to celebrate her birth, or maybe it was her upcoming marriage, or something. I knew she liked this particular lotion that you could only get in the gift shop of the Cracker Barrel. So one morning, I got up and headed over there to get her lotion. It was a little before nine in the morning, but the store was open, and since I had never been there before, I decided to meander around a bit.
It was while I was browsing that I noticed that there was an unusual amount of elderly ladies in that gift shop. It wasn't a very big store, but it still seemed like an excessive amount of old ladies this time of day in the gift shop of the Cracker Barrel.
And I'm talkin' elderly. Not, like, ladies in their fifties; the youngest one was maybe in her late sixties. The rest of them were up there in years. Gray hair done up in curls, the comfortable shoes with the thick soles, canes, even a walker or two. The air was heavy with the scent of their cloying perfume and, oddly enough, baby powder. They greeted each other with niceties and leaned together and gossiped, their voices mingling pleasantly enough, but I noticed that each and every one of them kept darting piercing looks behind the counter of the gift shop, where there was a door leading to the back. They checked their watches. As the minutes ticked by, it seemed that they were getting ready for something.
I might have gotten a clue from the way their postures seemed to tighten in anticipation, how some of them shifted from foot to foot and then settled in, like runners getting ready for a race. As the clock ticked down the last few seconds of the hour, some of them raised their hands and knotted them into fists, almost like a fighter getting ready to step into the ring. The amicable chatting came to a complete halt, tension snapped in the air like something tangible, and there I stood in the center of that, unknowing, ignorant, and worst of all, curious.
And then I saw the door to the back room slowly swing open. A young man, not much older than me, stepped through, carrying a large cardboard box. It was unadorned, but the ladies zeroed in on this man and his charge like a pack of lions noticing something that might be edible moving into their territory. Their heads snapped in his direction, their eyes riveted on him... or rather, that box. The young man stood there for a second, like a deer in headlights, then heaved a big sigh and slowly started to move down the length of the counter. His destination was an empty barrel sitting just a few feet away from the counter, and I noticed that for several feet around it, there was no merchandise.
As the young man made his way to the barrel, the ladies started to edge inward. All was silent. He made it to the end of the counter, and taking a very deep breath, as if steeling himself, stepped out from behind it and quickly upended the contents of his box into the barrel.
The box had just started to tip when the ladies all surged forward in one, giant movement. I was buffeted from left to right, tossed about as they pushed and shoved their way towards that barrel. I barely caught a glimpse of what was pouring into the barrel, but it didn't take long before the contents were being torn through as the ladies merged like piranhas on a fresh kill. They were yelling and shoving each other away from that barrel, reaching in and scooping out little, brightly colored.... stuffed animals?
They were practically killing each other over... stuffed animals?
I stood to the rear of the frenzy, watching with absolute fascination as these ladies, previously so quiet, so stately and dignified, wrestled each other over... Beanie Babies. Several of them were engaged in brutal tug of wars, and one of them actually hit another one over the head with a furry little toy, and yet another, climbing her way out, her hands full of Beanie Babies and tucked protectively against her chest, was reeled back in when one of those screeched that "she saw that first" and "that's MINE!".
A voice rose above the din, breaking me out of that trance of watching those ladies go wonkers over the toys. It was the young man who'd brought them out there in his box. He was urging me to come and pay for my purchase, quickly, before they got done and perhaps... turned on the rest of the store? I took that for the good advice that it was and moved up the register, quickly paying for the lotion and forgoing the bag. Instead I tucked my lotion away and got the hell out of there. A last glance behind me showed that melee was in full swing and that these grannies were not going down without making absolutely sure that they left with what they came for!
Making it outside the shop, I stood there breathing the frigid air for a few minutes, thinking that certainly an ambulance or three would be needed before it was over, cause these chicks weren't messing around. They were serious. I decided, though, that I might want to get out there before an ambulance or the cops or... SWAT... showed up because I really did have places to go and people to see and.... things to process.
A few weeks later I was picking up a friend at her grandmother's house, a place I had never been to before. The very nice, wrinkly lady let me inside and had me wait in the living room. As I sat in her chair, I noticed a collection of Beanie Babies sitting proudly on a shelf of her bookcase. She noticed me looking, and asked if I collected them. I answered in the negative. She said, "Oh, it's my little hobby. I have an enviable collection. Did you know that the Cracker Barrel puts out new ones once a month?" she smiled, and there was something in that smile that put a little chill down my spine. There was nothing sweet or granny'ish in that smile; that was pure hunter. I was glad when my friend came in then, ready to go. Her granny gave me a little pat on the shoulder and said I could come back anytime, and see her collection, if I wanted. All with that little smile on her face, that didn't quite meet her eyes....