Small Town Life
Virginia Beach has a population of about 460,000. That makes this a medium-sized city, I suppose. Smaller than New York or Washington. Way bigger than the town of about 1,800 where I grew up.
So why does the Beach sometimes feel no bigger than Mayberry? You can’t go to the mall, the fish market or the gastroenterologist without seeing someone you know.
This is especially true if you’re not wearing makeup, hungover and look like a dog’s dinner.
After a number of embarrassing encounters, I vowed a few years ago to try to make myself more presentable before leaving the house.
Lip gloss and clean clothes are now a must. So is underwear. Spanx whenever possible.
Like most writers, I work from home. My weekday clothes are indistinguishable from workout wear. In winter it’s yoga pants and sweatshirts. In summer it's Nike shorts and T-shirts. My favorite warm weather top is a faded lime-green cotton tank.
I love that shirt.
I bought it at least 15 years ago and after hundreds of washings it’s developed dime-sized holes around the seams. I can’t find another like it so I wear it anyway. The company I bought it from no longer carries this model. I've asked.
As it happens, I was wearing that comfy, vintage top on a steamy day last week when I had an endless list of errands to run. I put on lipstick, glanced at my reflection as I walked out the door and decided that despite the ratty shirt I would not be mistaken for a homeless person - especially if anyone saw me getting out of my just-waxed 12-year-old used Mercedes.
But after about three hours of jumping in and out of the car in the 96-degree heat, I felt my energy flag. So I ran into a convenience store for one of those iced coffee drinks loaded with sugar and caffeine.
I slid behind the wheel and did something incredibly stupid: I shook the can before popping the cap.
Iced coffee cascaded down the front of my favorite shirt.
Suddenly, I was wearing a stained, frayed tank top. And there was no denying that I looked like a hobo. Not even my car could save me.
A dilemma: Did I complete my final errand - picking up chicken salad at a little grocery store where I always bump into friends - looking a mess, or did I drive home, change my clothes and go back?
It was so hot. The streets were clogged with tourists. I wanted to go to my house and stay there.
As I drank what was left in the can, I studied the coffee stains, which were in a more or less linear pattern down the front of my shirt. I realized that if I held my rectangular purse at an angle over my chest I could cover the muddy river.
In fact, if I kept it tightly in place I could hide every inch of the still-wet stain.
As soon as I entered the store, I spied a woman from my neighborhood. One of those super-friendly, eternally well-dressed ladies. She was headed toward the deli (where I needed to go) so I detoured to the nut aisle, my purse firmly affixed to my chest.
She left without seeing me.
As soon as the coast was clear I sprinted for my chicken salad and headed to the checkout.
But a guy from my gym was already in line.
I backtracked and rambled through the wine section, waiting for him to leave. My purse glued to my stain the entire time.
Once he paid, I peered out of the chardonnay aisle and saw no familiar faces. Best of all, the lone cashier was waiting for customers.
I had just dropped my chicken salad on the conveyer belt and was struggling to extract my wallet without dislodging my purse when I heard a friendly voice behind me.
“Hey, Kerry,” called a woman from my yoga class. “Let me see your puppy.”