When I first had kids I knew there would be tough conversations I'd have to have with my daughters. Topics like dating, marriage and the Electoral College would need to be covered to be certain I raised solid, well-rounded children. I knew puberty would come up, and I was not intimidated.
What surprised me was not the hard topics that I knew I'd have to cover. It was all the ridiculous stuff I never imagined would come up. I have been collecting a list of these unexpected lessons over the years and the first of which involves whistling.
Last Saturday night, I went to pick up my middle daughter from my mother. As is tradition in our family, each girl gets to celebrate her birthday by spending a Friday night with my mom, and usually, I meet them halfway for the pickup. This Saturday was no exception, and I piled into the car, my youngest daughter in tow, to bring her sister home from a weekend of one-on-one attention and spoiling.
I had spent most of the day working around the house with my wife and two other daughters, and I thought it would be fun to grab a little bit of ice cream, and get home and maybe watch a movie together as a family. The designated meeting place with my mom is located in a rather large shopping center near a very busy highway interchange. The closest and most convenient place to get take-home containers of ice cream is Walmart. But it's Walmart. On principle I despise Walmart. But the next closest grocery store was across the highway at another shopping center, and, well let's face it, I'm lazy. But when faced with the prospects of standing up for my principles at the cost of greater effort, laziness wins out. All the time.
Besides, I thought, how bad could it be?
So after picking up my daughter, I made my way down "Depressing Drive" and pulled into the Walmart parking lot. I walked in, past the sleeping greeter, stepped over the merchandise carefully strewn around the floor like daycare toys at five in the evening and went straight to the freezer section. I quickly grabbed two gallons of ice cream for the family and made my way to the checkout lanes.
So far so good.
As I approached, I realized something incredible. Walmart had no aisle open that required an actual employee to operate it. All that was open was the self-checkout kiosks. That's right, folks. Walmart has finally figured out how to run a store without a single customer service rep. Kudos to you Walmart for always finding a way to set the bar lower than your competition.
Well, I made my way forward to the cattle-pen of self-checkout registers with the rest of the suckers. This is a big deal because I have a bit of an issue with these machines. They never seem to work correctly, and there's always an issue, you have to wait forever or one of your children manage to breathe on the motorized belt just the wrong way and you set off an alarm that stops the entire process. Then you have to wait until a person approaches you in the same exact pajamas as three other people in the store only for you to realize this particular pajama clad individual is, in fact, an employee. Not just an employee, but the cashier manager!
The CSR walks over smelling of desperation and cigarettes and types in their password to reset the machine. I always watch this and check out what the passwords are. Not because I plan to steal anything (Back off, Big Brother!) but just because I like to know what sort of security measures are in place at mega corporations like Walmart. Invariably the CSR password is something no hacker could guess, like 22-enter or 55-enter.
Some security there.
At this particular Walmart, the self-checkout area is broken apart from the other vacant checkout lanes into a sort of cattle-run style pattern. It's the only thing more degrading and dehumanizing than trying to find your seat in the 'economy' section of an airplane. A single line forms at an open doorway of sorts, and you walk through the partition to an area where there are ten or so machines in a rectangle while customers check-out their goods on behalf of the place selling them with their backs to one another. When they are done, the customers walk out the other side of the rectangle past the person leaning by the alarm light, that may be an employee or may be a homeless person with nothing going on.
It's impossible to tell.
As I approach the entryway of the gauntlet I take up a spot in line behind three young ladies approximately eighteen to twenty-four years in age, each dressed in clothes that you would buy on a hanger and have dry cleaned, therefore marking them clearly as NOT Walmart employees. They were all in dresses, not quite prom dresses, but more than simple street clothes. Perhaps they were heading out for a night on the town and stopped by Walmart first just to slum it out like the other ninety-nine percenters. Maybe they lost a prep-school bet.
So I walk up behind them, a gallon of ice cream in each hand, with my nine and seven-year-old daughters on either side of me idly chatting away as young girls do. For an instant my middle daughter (the nine-year-old) was quiet. And then she whistled loudly.
Now, this might not seem like such a big deal. What harm can a whistle do? It's just a whistle, right?
It wasn't just any whistle. It was THE whistle. The one that no guy should ever do to a lady. The one that sweaty construction workers use to show a girl how unintelligent they are.
Yep. That whistle.
Normally Walmart is a pretty loud place. It's almost always crowded with people - no employees of course - but other people. There's usually the one guy talking on the phone loudly, arguing with his girlfriend about why she keeps sleeping with other guys. There's the girl yelling at someone about something that has to do with: "Oh no she didn't..." There's the woman yelling at her kids.
There's that guy talking to himself in the corner.
But at this exact moment, it was like someone pushed the mute button on all that noise. And the one and only thing that could be heard in the entire store were those few, iconic, shrilly notes.
Seemed to me that everyone in the store heard it.
I could feel my shoulders slumping to the ground. Without conscious thought, I was hoping I could, perhaps, melt into the floor. I looked up to the ceiling and questioned why I was on this earth. My mouth hung open I gazed up to heaven. Why Lord? Why me?
The three girls turned around.
It sounds cliché, but I'm certain that at that exact moment, time really did slow. With excruciating delay they turned, their gaze moving steadily closer to me. It's amazing what you can think in brief instants like that. Maybe they didn't hear it? I don't even like ice cream that much, why did I come in here? Why did I ever let my wife talk me into having children?
As they turned to face me, I had a fleeting hope, that there would be another creepier guy standing behind me. Perhaps I could pin the blame on some other shmuck? Hey, I'm not proud, I'm nobody's hero. But this is Walmart! If there's one thing and only one thing you can count on at Walmart it's that there's going to be some creeps in there. I mean Walmart is like where creeps go to worship, right? It's like creep Mecca. Surely behind me right now there was some dude in flannel pajama pants, with a thirty-six pack of Miller Lite under his arm wearing a NASCAR t-shirt that shows just enough gut to catch the eye while turning the stomach. Surely there's at least one of them behind me, right? RIGHT?
Like always, Walmart let me down.
No one was behind me, and my time was up. By turning my own head to look back, I think I condemned myself, somehow made the entire thing worse. The girls looked me up and down, curling their lips in distaste like they had just swallowed a manicured finger nail.
You might be asking yourself, what did you do? What did you say? Did you defend yourself?
What could I say? Consider the situation. Here are three girls all dolled up for a Saturday night of drinking and dancing (I can only assume. Being thirty-six years old now, married with three kids, I have no idea what humans do for fun.) There I was standing with my two daughters, embarrassed and ashamed, accused and condemned in the court of public opinion as an old man-creep. Consider my options. Tell the truth? Oh yeah, honesty's the best policy right. Here's how that would sound.
"Uh, funny story ladies, you'll never believe this. But that wasn't me. It was this little girl here, honest. I wouldn't do that. I'm evolved. I'm planning to vote for Hillary!"
Like they would believe that. And no, that's not how I am voting but in that moment, I'd have said anything.
Who would believe this little nine-year-old girl standing next to me in her bright orange birthday gym-shoes with the innocent eyes and a cheerful smile would have done such a thing? Surely it was the creepy old father of two holding the ice cream.
As quickly as it started it was over, and the three girls turned back around giggling at me. I was forgotten, just an anecdote to tell their friends at school, or cheer-leading camp, or whatever they did in their spare time when not hanging out at Walmart.
"Sweetheart," I said, looking down at my daughter, "you cannot whistle like that."
"Why not, daddy?" She asked, her eyes as innocent as a baby deer.
The words caught in my throat. How do you answer that? How do you tell your nine-year-old that there are some creepy, pervy guys out there who whistle that at girls passing by? I mean I'm standing in Walmart; I'm not prepared for conversations like this! I'm about to shatter her world view, and I think being IN Walmart is bad enough, don't you?
"You..." I stutter. "You just can't. That's it. You just can't. It's not nice. Quick, go buy some candy." I don't know what else I may have said. But there might have been something about every time you do it a puppy dies, or Santa puts you on the naughty list. I don't know, like I said, I'm nobody's hero.
"But daddy," she replied, disappointed. "I like to whistle."
Of course you do. Why wouldn't you? Next, you'll be telling me you like to throw knives at people's heads and you want your old man to practice with you.
"Well you're going to have to whistle something else," I said, as I committed myself to finding copies of "The Andy Griffith Show".
That's something you can whistle till you're blue in the face.