What about a Camelback, one of those backpacks that carry water and have little mini hose spouts. Perfect for my dream life as a trailrunner. An employee pointed me to the display on the back wall of the store.
I tugged at tags and squinted at prices, wondered if a Camelback was the sort of thing that would end in our
Shrine for Forgotten Hobbies beneath the basement steps. And then, quietly, Chach said to me:
"Mama, what's this?"
I looked down to see her holding a broken red condom, innocently testing its elasticity.
"DROP THAT," I said with my calmest version of an authoritative roar.
Reader(s), I lost my ever-loving mind. I went Mom-Mad.
Mom-Mad, which does not require that one be a mother I don't imagine, is that special kind of rage directed toward a world where someone would carry a condom in a pocket so shallow that it might fall out on the floor of a sporting goods store and attract the attention of a 2 1/2 year old who loves to find things she's never found before. Especially in the color red. Mom-Mad. It could lift a bus, crush a watermelon with its bare hands, start a fire with its white-hot intensity. I recommend giving its powers a whirl.
Anyway, we quit the Camelbacks and scared up Chuck, who had wandered over to the canoe-kayak zone. I needed a second opinion on whether it really was a condom, or if it was some weird piece that shook loose from a set of lawn jarts. He, too, identified it as a prophylactic.
That's all the prompting I needed to march-stomped, dragging Chach like a Raggedy Ann doll behind me, toward a 20-ish employee who gave me a friendly "how-can-I-help-you" smile.
"Could you come over here and tell me what my 2 year old daughter just picked up off the floor of your store?" I asked him.
I led him 12 feet and then pointed, my finger a laser.
His face dropped and then he responded in all-business robotics:
"I'm going to go get a rubber glove and pick that up right now," he said.
"How about instead you tell me where the bathroom is so I can wash her hands," I suggested, still using the most adult version of my voice I've ever heard echo in my own head. (What a waste, I see now, to use this voice here, rather than in a major television studio's pitch room.)
He took us on an awkward 45-second maze through fishing equipment, knives, shoes and boating accessories. I double-lathered Chach's hands then double-lathered them again.
We met Chuck outside of the bathroom and I ditched my Nike tiger-wear on a random shelf on our way to the exit. Oh yeah, dirtbags? I said in my head. Re-shelve this!
I couldn't stop another thought, the one that always occurs when something terrible happens in a retail space: "Is this one of those 'Get something free' circumstances?" I wondered. It probably was not, though I'd like corporate to at least keep an open mind on it in case it ever happens again. Still, is that tacky, to put a price on gross? "If my kid is going to touch a condom that was on the floor of your store, I'm going to need to be compensated with a tackle box, three oars and a macadamia nut Clif Bar. Throw in a Wild jersey and I won't even hint about it on my blog."
Listen. I get that in all likelihood, this thing came off a customer's shoe or fell out of someone's pocket. I am not Mom-Mad enough to believe that the store's employees are having a contest to see who could plant the grossest thing on the floor by the Camelbacks. But I am also hugely in favor of stores being Open Condom Free Zones, even if it means adding an employee or two.
I spent a lot of time kicking around whether to post this story and ultimately, I just couldn't not. I'm a writer, see, and there ain't no writer in the world who can sit on a story about the time they encountered a condom on the floor at Dick's Sporting Goods. It's almost too easy. If it had been REI, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
Post-script: Chach loves to play doctor. In addition to looking in ears and listening to heartbeats, she likes to do the paperwork part.
What's your name?
How old are you?
Where do you live?
All while pretending to log the responses on a computer.
A few days after this happened she said to me, the patient:
"And what's your daughter's name?"
"Chacha," I responded.
"And did she touch something gross on the floor at the mall?" she asked.