So, it’s 9:00 p.m., and I’m in the Express Lane at our friendly neighborhood Albertsons. (Albertsons' Motto: If we can’t win you over with our high prices, we’ll make ourselves so stinking convenient, you’d have to be a real weenie to drive by us on your way to another grocer.) I wasn’t planning to be out, so I’m dressed quite casually. Quite casually. Very, extremely casually. To be honest, if I were dressed any less, I’d be in the shower. (Or in the YMCA locker room, but I digress.)
I have my 10 Items or Less on the conveyer belt, and I’m waiting my turn, when I hear voices and glance over my shoulder to see who’s behind me. Lo and behold, it’s Brother Dustin Hoffman* and his little daughter. (*Name has been changed.) Brother Hoffman is in the bishopric of a neighboring ward in our stake, and I’ve known him, more as an acquaintance than anything, really, for about three years. Katie and I spoke at a fireside in his ward a couple of years back, and afterwards he invited us to go to dinner with him and his wife sometime. (P.S. We never went.) And since I’ve been in our bishopric, I’ve seen him at various and sundry meetings where we’ve chatted casually from time to time; so, while I wouldn’t call us “friends,” I’d say we are definitely “friendly.”
But not tonight.
First, I’m very self conscious because I’m dressed like I’ve wandered from my bed to the bathroom, and second, well, Brother Hoffman has caught me – ME, a fellow bishopric member – engaged in the reading of an intriguing article out of the cheap and tawdry publication known as People. (Nick and Jessica. I just really thought those two kids were going to make it. And my heart aches when I think of the strain that Dukes of Hazzard has had on their relationship.)
“Oh, hey!” I nervously call over my shoulder to Brother Hoffman, as I fumble with the magazine and try to hide it behind a copy of Newsweek. (Why a single copy of Newsweek was on the “impulse buy” rack – the same rack as People – is beyond me, and my only explanation is that blessings come in all shapes and sizes.)
Brother Hoffman pipes up, and in full confidence says, “Hey Robert! I almost didn’t recognize you.”
Now, for those of you keeping score at home…there’s a good reason Brother Hoffman almost didn’t recognize me. My name is not Robert. Never has been. But I’m not really in a chit-chatty mood, don’t have any real reason to correct him, and now I don’t have to worry about being judged for my recreational reading as an added bonus. So I don’t say anything. I just wave and turn back to face the cashier, who is helping the person in front of me. But Brother Hoffman can’t leave good enough alone.
“I didn’t know you lived on this side of town?” he says.
Ah, nuts. I’m stuck in line and I’m being dragged into chitchat. And I’m at a slight disadvantage, because I’m suddenly a fictional character with a background that only Brother Hoffman knows.
“Yeah…yeah. Live over off Sasparilla. How about you? You still in the Elkhorn Springs Second Ward?”
Brother Hoffman cocks his head back, and while his smile stays intact, there’s suddenly a question behind it. “Yes…” he slowly answers. And it occurs to me that Robert is most likely not LDS and wouldn’t know that Brother Hoffman is in a “ward.”
“Oh,” I say. “Great.” And now I’ve got to quickly strike up conversation to distract him before he says, “You aren’t Robert are you? Why didn’t you say so? What’s wrong with ya, boy?”
So I say, “Yep, we just moved, actually, and now we live just one street over from your sister, Destiny Child*.” (*Name has been changed.)
Strike Two. Apparently Robert doesn’t know Destiny, and may not even know that Brother Hoffman has a sister. He is just staring at me now. Just a long, quiet, blank stare. I’m starting to panic. I feel like he’s about to point at me and say, “That’s him, officer, that’s him. I’m positive. That’s the impostor that was reading People in the Express Lane at Albertsons!”
The longer the moment lasts, the more I anticipate him calling my bluff. I start to do a character sketch in my mind. Who is this Robert? Would he buy gum? Should I put some on the conveyer belt? Would he be reading celebrity gossip? Should I ask Brother Hoffman his feelings about the Pitt/Anniston split? Is that something Robert would do? Does Robert swear? Probably not in front of little girls, so that option is out. I’ve got to think! The tension is so thick; you could cut it up and sell it in the Albertsons bakery at $8 a slice.
Finally, when my face is about to burst through my forehead, the cashier speaks up. “Sir,” she says to Brother Hoffman. “Sir, would you mind tying that cord up behind you, you’ll be my last customer and I’m closing the lane.”
“Oh, sure,” he says. “That’s easier than having to tell the person behind me that you’re closed and won’t help them.”
“Yeah,” I chime in, “the last thing you want is to be trapped in an uncomfortable situation.” Inside I think I am the funniest man alive, but my face is stone cold, as if there is no irony in my comment.
Finally it is my turn at the register. I am almost home free. The cashier asks for my special “Albertsons Card” that gives me fabulous discounts and incredible cash savings, which I gladly hand over. Once the card is in her hand, however, I recall that their canned response whenever they swipe my card is “Thank you, Kenneth.” NO! Their polite, new age customer service mumbo-jumbo is going to completely foul up my escape!
I start to weigh my options. One, I can correct the cashier, “Oh, it’s ‘Robert Kenneth,’ actually. But the ‘Robert’ is silent.” Or, “Oh, that’s funny, I have my twin brother’s Albertsons card. Hmm – this happens all the time. Do you know my twin? He’s in the Elk Ridge bishopric. I think he spoke at a fireside in your ward once with his wife.” One thing is for sure; I will quickly sell this cashier down the river before letting Brother Hoffman know that I am not Robert.
Then I start to panic double as I realize that at any second, somebody I know could enter the store and call me by name. What then? Do I deny who I am? If my neighbor walks in and says, “Hey Ken!” do I snub them? Do I look at Brother Hoffman and say, “I think he’s talking to you.”
I turn and focus on the cashier. I’ve got to deal with her first, and once I’m done, I can bolt for the door and run out into the night.
She starts, “Thank you, Ke—”
“No, thank YOU!” I interrupt, grabbing the receipt out of her hand, hoisting my groceries in my other hand, and heading for the door. For the sake of keeping up with appearances, I turned back once more to Brother Hoffman and said, “Have a good night.”
“We’ll see you later,” he said, still looking puzzled. He’s not going to let this go away. I can tell right now. I’m just curious if our next meeting will be at Albertsons or at a meeting at church. In the meantime, I am going to have to do some serious research on this Robert guy.