Excerpt: Shopping With Kurt


We’re in the Walmart and Kurt adjusts the speed on his chair to four, which is high gear. Inside the enormous store he’s an unleashed rolling terror. He zips fast up the aisles and barely pays attention to whether or not I have the shopping cart behind him. His face is impassive—stone cold. He barely registers recognition as people leap out of his way. He corners a gangly young store employee after surveying the produce situation.

“Do you have … any of … those apples … you had … last week?” he takes a deep breath, “Like maybe … you have . . . some in the back?”

The kid is sort of off balance, parsing this, “Um, what sort of apples,” he glances at me hopefully.

“They were … good, crisp ones … ya know what I mean, … juicy ones,” Kurt is having a sense memory of the wonderful apples, recounting biting into one, his eyes are closed.

“He means were they Fugis or Galas or what?” I try to help.

Kurt does an exaggerated double take at me, “Well, lemmee think … about … that… what kind are those … right there?”

The kid has moved over to the shelf of apples, “I’ll look to see what’s in the back, but I bet this is what we have.”

“The stuff … on the shelf … is for suckers,” Kurt tells me as the kid disappears. “They keep … the good … stuff … in back.”

“What for?” I chuckle.

“That’s a good … question, …  I don’t know,” he says kind of dreamily. He’s never thought of that.

The kid never returns, we end up bagging a variety of the apples, he gets something like thirty apples. And then, he’s off, flying up the outside aisle near the frozen goods, people scrambling to escape his path. He’s looking for twenty-four count boxes of diet soda in the can, doesn’t see them, swings around and corners another store employee, a young woman this time. She jumps back as the three-hundred pound chair with Kurt awkwardly strapped in, approaches her like a hungry beast.

“Do you have … the twennyfour can … boxes of diet … Pepsi?” his voice gurgles a bit, he’s kinda got a Tom Waits thing going on.

“Yessir, they’re up two aisles and next to the sports drinks and bottled soda,” she points, a happy grin on her face, happy to help the scary wheel-chair man, his bloated feet with horrendous toenails, pointing every which way. Why didn’t we put shoes on him? I never understand one visit to the next what the protocol is with him. I’ve also been given large, flat, pop-cards of pills for him, in case of emergencies. I’m told the stuff is worth thousands of dollars and they just give me all of it. The nurses won’t count out amounts. “We’re not a pharmacy,” they tell me.

Off he goes, me chasing after him, he’s talking to me but I only catch words here and there as I’m about twenty paces behind him, “Last time … they had it … on an … end display … .” and something else, who knows what. I try to smile and nod apologies to people as he nearly runs them down.

“Oh man, … my arms … are so tight, … can you … give me a stretch?” His chair suddenly stops, his southern drawl coming out as he gets tired.

I grab hold of his right arm and extend it as far as it goes, I feel his muscles convulsing in protest. Years ago his arms were built like a pro-wrestler’s. He spent years in the gym, lifting and developing his physique. Mostly, what’s left of those muscles—small sinewy things—seem to just want to contract. As I release his right hand he goes right to the joystick with the back of it, he’s forgotten about the left arm. He’s spotted his soda. Zoom!

I get him two boxes of it, forty-eight cans, he behaves as if he expects Pepsi to go out of business anytime.

“Maybe I … should get … another … just in case,” he looks up at me seriously. I adjust his catheter line which has sprung loose from the little clips holding it in place, last thing I need is that catheter getting yanked loose and emptying his bag all over the goddamned floor. Why can’t they make a little plastic clip that keeps the damned hose?

“Just in case what?” I say, kneeling down and fixing the hose in place.

Just as I snap the little clip back to the edge of his seat he’s off again. I chase him all the way to the sporting goods section where he directs me to grab him several little red plastic canisters designed for keeping matches and tinder dry for camping.

“Whaddaya need these for?” I wrinkle my nose.

“Doan worry … about it,” he smiles, “I like ‘em, … OK?”

“OK, shit.”

Then he wants cookies, so we fly back across the store at top speed. Amazingly, people are agile enough to escape his manic onrush and then we’re examining all the cookies, package by package. He’s comparing ingredients and calories, while I hold up each brand for him to study. Finally, he decides he wants me to choose.

“What? These are your cookies!”

“I know … maaan … but I want … you to have some,” he nods at me, his bright blue eyes piercing.

“Shit, man, I like all of em,” I grab a bag of Pepperidge Farms chocolate chips.

“Get a couple … of those, … and uh … those Fig Newtons.”


At the register he suddenly kind of wakes up to the fact that it’s his turn in line, and he directs me to an envelop I had not noticed pinned under his left elbow. I take the envelop and find in it several one-hundred dollar bills, one of which I give to the cashier.

“Do me … a favor … and put those … in my wallet,” he then directs me to the wallet in his knapsack, hanging off the back of his chair. I do so, of course, and collect the change and we’re out in the cold again, he flying too fast around the parking lot. The headlights of vehicles all searching for the closer parking spot make me jerk my head around and hope Kurt’s actually looking both ways as he darts out onto the tarmac. He pauses at the back of his van, parked in the handicapped spot. I push the cart up behind him and start loading the soda and cookies into the van.

I turn around and deploy the lift, making sure the door doesn’t get in the way, the stupid edge of it still wants to impact the plastic, and scrape it, and the stick we use to keep the lifter arm straight is already in place.

Once he’s in, Kurt’s pretty good at aiming his chair at the restraining clip that holds it in the back of the van. I stow the lift, slam the doors shut, and jump into the driver’s seat.

“Let’s … smoke a pipe,” he suggests.

“I wanna move the van first, I doan wanna do that right here in front of everyone.”

“Do you … really think … anyone … is watching us? … no one looks … at a … quaddy.”

I ignore this and move the van, drive to the end of the Walmart parking lot and turn the classic rock up a bit, and pull the shades down.

Kurt just grins at me. I reach into his backpack, tipping the back seat next to him all the way back so I can access his shit. I find the little plastic box and extract the baggie of weed.

“When we finish up, … I wanna put … all that weed … into those match … containers.”

Ah, so that’s what those were for. I find his little wooden pipe kit, and slide the top back and the pipe springs out. I jam it into the weed already in the compartment. This little bit of varnished wood, with a Buddha on it, some kid’s shop project from the 70s, still extant in our day and age.

“Who made this thing?” I chuckle, I’ve seen it dozens of times, but never thought to ask.

I did.” he smiles.

“Shit, what were you sixteen?”

“Ha ha ha! … More like … fourteen!”

“Man, I don’t think anything I did at that age is still in my life.”

I stick the pipe in his mouth and locate the lighter, flick flick, get him sucking on the tube. He gets a good lungful and nods so that I take the pipe away from him. He sits for a bit just vegging out, pot molecules reaching pot molecule receivers. I locate the towel he likes to exhale into. He doesn’t want the whole van to stink of pot.

“That was … goo-ooo-ood … perfect pack,” he nods.

My pipe stuffing skills perfected. We repeat and then just sit listening to the radio. Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps” is blaring and Kurt is trying to sing along.

I put his weed into the orange match containers and then repackage it into the ziplock and push all the air out and repack it into the case camouflaged as a CD box. The rest of the gear goes back into the famous manicure kit that no one dares touch. A daunting nail finishing job that the lazy health care staff avoid.

My back is killing me as I lean next to him and try to get the kits back into his knapsack, the space is limited and the reach is awkward, but I don’t dare talk to him about my bad back.

“You know, … ha ha ha …” he nods his head, eyes gleaming at me.

“Yeah, I know.”

He’s pot-stupid now, falling asleep. Looks like a silver-haired Rasputin. I’ll get him back to his dorm room. I’ll have to drive his chair, and then he’ll be out like a light.