"Merry Christmas," the guy says.
He's wearing camoflauge pants, a Ghostbusters t-shirt and a stringy beard. He's wearing mirrored sunglasses. Inside Wal-Mart.
"Merry Christmas to you." I go back to look at the beer. He's in the wine section. I'm thinking of getting--
"How you doing?" he asks.
"Good. How are you?"
"Doing just fine, buddy. How are you?"
Okay. I just answered that, but okay. "I fine."
"How's your mother?" he asks.
Okay, this is where it starts going off the tracks. I don't know this guy. If I did, he wouldn't know my mother. And she's doing fine, always has been, so there would never be any reason to ask. But I'm in Wal-Mart. Maybe he's looking for a friend. I'm looking for milk and beer.
"She's good," I say. "You have yourself a Merry Christmas, all right, my friend?"
He says, with a smile, "Hey, you, too. Buddy."
And then he comes in for it. He's an isle away, but he comes with his arms out. He's coming hard and I'm cornered between packages of Budweiser and Miller Lite. I'm about to get shanked in Wal-Mart. But he wraps his arms around me, he says, "You have a Merry Christmas, buddy."
I give him a pat on the back. There are no cameras. No one watching. Just one guy hugging another in the beer isle of Wal-Mart. Because it's Christmas.
It's Christmas, buddy. Relax.