The Right Question

So I was walking right behind this guy, following him into Longs. Bam. He went directly to the nearest cashier, jumped up on the counter, pulled out a gun, and shouted at the top of his lungs, “This is a stick-up, nobody move.”

He handed the elderly woman a bag and yelled, “Fill it up with everything in the register.”

While she did this, he screamed all kinds of things, like, “If anybody moves I’ll shoot,” and, “You over there, stop moving or I’ll shoot,” and, “If I see anyone using a phone to call someone, or to text someone, or to video this, I’m gonna shoot.”

So finally the woman had dumped everything in the bag, and the guy jumped over to the next register — there were three open registers. He yelled at the guy at this register to put everything in the bag as well.

Now, I’m very close to the exit still, and I’m wondering if I should try to slowly back out and call the cops. Just as I’m thinking this, like he’s psychic, he pivots around and says to me, “If you try to go out that door, not only am I going to shoot you, but I’m going to shoot Mary Ann, too.”

This froze me in my tracks. So to speak. I hadn’t been walking. I was already frozen in my tracks. What I should say is that what he said froze my thinking about making tracks out the door.

“How do you know about Mary Ann?” I asked.

He laughed like a lunatic and said, “Well, you moron, who wouldn’t know about Mary Ann?”

Now the way he said that bothered me. I thought about doing a quick survey of everyone in the store to see who did know about Mary Ann, but it didn’t seem like a good time.

“How do you mean that?” I asked.

“How do I mean that you’re a moron, or how do I mean that everyone would know about Mary Ann?”

“Yes, right, how everyone would know about Mary Ann.”

“Well how do you think I mean it?” he asked, sneering like a real jerk.

I said, “You’re making it sound very sleazy, like everyone might know her in the Biblical sense.”

“Hah! Who the hell says that anymore?” he said laughing, moving on to the last register. “Well now, I bet you wouldn’t like to think that, would you?”

“No, definitely, I would not like to think that at all,” I said, shaking my head emphatically. “That is the exact opposite of what I’d like to think.”

“The exact opposite?” he asked, sneering some more. “What exactly is the exact opposite of that?”

I didn’t want this exchange to devolve into some heavy linguistic or philosophical inquiry, so I simply said, “The exact opposite is that they would know her in a non-Biblical way.”

“So what the hell does that mean?” he yelled, waving his gun around.

“As friends. It means as a friend, or as an acquaintance.”

“Hah hah hah,” he laughed like a maniac, and I could tell he was not done toying with me. “If I meant that, don’t you think I’d-a said that? I’d-a said, ‘Who doesn’t know Mary Ann as a friend or as an acquaintance?’ Geez! Who says stuff like that? I can’t imagine anybody saying that in a real-life conversation with anyone, at any time, in any place.”

I said, “Well, so what did you mean?”

The last cashier was done. The robber jumped down off the counter and walked over to me.

“Think about it, you moron,” he said, pushing me out of his way. “You know, you really gotta learn how to ask the right questions.”

And with that, he dashed out the door. I ran after him, still wondering wildly how he knew Mary Ann. But I couldn’t catch him. Also, I didn’t want him shooting me. Or her.

Instead of going back to the store, I called Mary Ann.

“So how do you think this guy knows you?” I asked.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” she said. “Especially since you don’t know who he is.”

“According to him, it could be any man. He pretty much said there wasn’t a man out there who wouldn’t know you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Mary Ann. “You don’t believe that, do you?”

“Well, no, no. Of course not. What I really don’t believe, however, is that this random robber, out of the blue, knew who the heck I was. He wore no mask, and I didn’t recognize his face. But he threatened to shoot both me and you if I tried to escape out that door.”

“That does seem so random,” she said. “It’s quite a mystery.”

All the way home I pondered this omniscient robber, and even though I told her I’d not believed him, I stewed about how everyone might know Mary Ann and just exactly in what sense.

I came up the walkway, and Mary Ann opened the door. Looking at me, her mouth dropped open, and she pointed at my chest, laughing.

“Look,” she said, “your shirt.”

I looked down at the front of my shirt. Of course. I was wearing the T-shirt with the photo of the two of us on the front that we’d had made on the street in New York City. The caption read “I,” with a heart symbol, “Mary Ann.”

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