Ellis Leahy rolled over to the grocery store for a twelve-pack of beer and encountered a sizeable dinnertime crowd therein, cluttering his path to a straight shot at the desired purchase; so he detoured down the aisle with the feminine hygiene products and shampoos and lotions, where, by chance, the condoms caught his eye. He skidded to a stop. Right out there on the shelf they were, and Ellis marveled at the changing of the times. In his youth, with the reproductive urge bubbling up in him, he would slink back, sweating bullets, to the pharmacy and whisper his need for little raincoats to a stoic guy in horn-rimmed glasses and a white coat, who would package the prophylactics in a brown paper bag to be carried from the store surreptitiously, like a thing ugly and shameful. Now there they were, sitting out for the entire world to see, right at eye level, sandwiched between a product for the relief of feminine itch and tubes of hemorrhoid ointments and suppositories.
"I'll be damned," Ellis muttered.
"Probably," said a young mom, two little munchkins in tow, as she steered her cart around the fat, rumpled fifty-year-old Ellis Leahy, noting, with disgust, what he was looking at. "You probably will be," she added, as her boy child, a finger buried to his second knuckle in his nose, panned his head to keep Ellis in view as he passed him.
Ellis might have told the pert young woman to kiss his rosy red ass if he hadn't noticed that one particular brand on the shelf he in front of him offered up a line called "Magnums: Large Sized Condoms." He hadn't known they came in sizes, and he immediately began to wonder if he ought to feel a wee bit inferior in terms of his masculine endowment, because, with God as his witness, he'd always thought that most men were pretty much the same down south. But proof otherwise, the Magnums, stared him in the face bold white lettering on a black background of the rectangular package proclaiming themselves "Large Sized Condoms," and it struck him almost immediately that this "large sized" proclamation might be b.s.; it might be nothing more than a marketing device. After all, if you're going to grab a pack of rubbers and waltz up there to one of those good-looking supermarket cashiers with it, why buy a regular pack when you could toss a box of Magnums on her belt?
Remembering his original mission, Ellis, pensive, pondering the spectrum of possible sizes, wandered away from the family planning shelf in the direction of the beer, where he found a twelve-pack of a popular brand on sale. He hooked the cold box under his arm like a football and did a broken-field meander through the throngs of dinner-time shoppers, half of them chattering like fools on cell phones, and exited the aisle in the direction of the registers and caught sight of cashier Colleen.
Middle-aged, with a bit of extra weight on her frame, weight that she carried well and voluptuously, a straining of bosom against button-down blouse, a head of nut brown hair and a spray of freckles across her nose, Colleen was Ellis's favorite cashier. He always went to her line; always joked around, telling her once as he bought a toilet brush that his wife Ruth had sent him out for, that "these things make great back scratchers," as he angled it over his shoulder and used the black bristles to get at the unreachable spot between his shoulder blades. She laughed out loud at his buffoonery like an angel's song, to Ellis's ear and whenever the opportunity arose thereafter, he tried to elicit that laughter anew. Smitten, you could say, was Ellis Leahy, so when he saw her there, with only one customer in her line, the florescent lighting flashing like little starbursts off her hair, he thought suddenly of Magnums, and the rise he could get out of her by showing up with a box of beer and a box of larger sized condoms and a grin.
He did a left-face and trotted back over to the family planning shelf, snatched up the Magnums and retraced his steps to Colleen's line, and encountered once again just one person in front of him, an aged little lady with a head full of white curls and a hundred dollars worth of groceries that were already bagged up, piled in her cart. "Eureka!" Ellis thought, "I'll be able to make my play without any busybodies watching." But the senior citizen had a fistful of coupons, and Colleen was vigilant in the tabulation the savings, a time-consuming effort that brought the grand total down eight dollars and thirteen cents, and allowed a gathering of the cashier-bound to accumulate behind Ellis, a dense convergence of after-work shoppers pressing in, bearing potential witness to his slightly smutty little joke while at the same time fencing him in between the jutting candy and snack racks, preventing should he decide to attempt one an escape.
The decision was to go through with it, witnesses be damned, until as coupon lady handed over a ten dollar bill Colleen's relief showed up: a scrawny, pinch-faced, spike-haired girl with cold blue eyes and the customer service style in Ellis' experience of a hungover old carnival queen.
Colleen checked out of the register, spied Ellis and gave him a smile and a little wave and strolled off, with a lovely roll of ample buttock; and Ellis bent over the candy rack and plucked up a Peter Paul Mounds and let the Magnums drop in their place as he straightened up to buy his candy and beer.
"Hey fella, you dropped something."
He turned. Behind him in line loomed a rotund woman of late middle age, draped in a flower print muumuu, topped off by a white cotton candy bouffant. "Mind you own damned business," he thought; as he answered her with: "No I didn't."
"Yes you did," was the retort, and she bent over and picked up his abandoned box, lifted it and, peering through half glasses perched on the end of her nose, read: "Magnums, Large-sized Condoms."
"Oh good Lord," Ellis thought, as Ms. Muumuu turned to her fellow line waiters and proclaimed loud enough for the people back in the meat department to hear her: "Hot shot here's buyin' large-sized condoms!" an announcement that elicited a sea of wicked grins, and an infection of vehement eye-rolling from the disproportionately female crowd a vision that elicited in Ellis Leahy the sudden insight that said forget all about Albert Einstein: you don't have to approach the speed of light to alter the fabric of time, all you really have to do is make a damned fool of yourself in front of a hundred people. In this subsequent perception of slowed time at the center of derisive attention every second seeming like a minute and a half as a sea of lady eyes rolled back in a viscous lubrication into their respective skulls, gelatinous orbs rotating in ponderous slow motion away from the center of the Earth in the direction of Heaven he thought this activity in its collective nature might cause a localized nullification of gravity and a subsequent levitation of the ladies, as he envisioned them rising, with the white southern hemispheres of their eyes flashing in the florescent lighting, rising slowly like floating zombies from the shining tiles of the grocery store.
But it was not to be. Perhaps the stultifying presence of the spike-haired cashier blocked the diminishment of the gravitational pull, as she snapping time back to its normal flow called out: "Hey Magnum Man, you want to put your purchase up on the belt so I can move my line!"
Ellis grabbed his pack of Magnums from Ms. Muumuu, plunked it down on top of his beer. Spike Hair set the belt into motion, rang the two items up and slid them to a teenaged courtesy clerk with sparkling eyes and a perfect peaches and cream complexion, who shrouded his condoms in white plastic before she asked him, with a look of consternation as she held the bag out between a fingertip and thumb, as far from her body as her arm would allow, if he needed help out to his car with his purchase.
"No, no, Ashley," warned the spike-haired cashier, "let's let the big guy handle this one on his own."
Ellis grabbed his twelve-pack, swiped the bag of Magnums from the courtesy clerk's grasp and stalked off out of the store, serenaded by twitters of female giggling and the electronic sizzle of four separate cell phone calls hissing by him like mad wasps friends of his wife Ruth who'd just witnessed this scene, calling his better half to let her know what her man had just done.
When Ellis got home Ruth and the next-door neighbor, Juanita, were sitting at the kitchen table, cups of strong tea steaming in front of them. With an astringent pucker to her lips, Ruth wanted to know: "Hey Megaton Man, what are you doing buying condoms?"
"What is he ..." Juanita wondered aloud, staring at the surface of the tea in her cup, "Why would he need large-sized condoms?"
And as she looked up and met Ruth's eye, she was suddenly aware that her question could be taken as knowledge of the dimensions of Ellis's manhood. She blushed and said, "Oh ..." as her fingertips floated to her lips; and Ellis, thinking on his feet, sensing an opening with distraction and the mistake in terminology Ruth had gleaned from her cell phone snitches, went on the offensive, pulling a beer from the box and announcing: "They are called Magnums, my good women, Magnums, not Megatons." He cracked his beer open and took a long hit, clunked the can back down on the kitchen counter, and continued: "Let's get it right, huh. Magnums, therefore I would be Magnum Man!" He hitched his pants up, grabbed a box of Cheetos and another beer, swaggered off to watch a football game, leaving the two women with their tea, Ruth glowering, and Juanita, in a flustered attempt to shift any perceived culpability on her part, babbling at her friend: "I've always told you, honey, you've got to watch these guys, all the time, all the time."
Published July 2005