‘Can I help you sir?”

I turned toward the masked man standing in the aisle, surrounded by camouflage clothing and hunting gear. Apparently a firm believer in presentation over function, the thin layer of protection over his mouth and nose seemed so porous that he could drink through it. I suppose it was the image of snarling teeth that would turn whatever virus that might seek sanctuary in his sinus cavities.

“Looking for a dove vest in my size.”

“This one says one size fits all.” He held one up that I could have used for a bedspread.

“I guess it’ll fit, if hanging off my shoulders is the definition. Why is everything big enough to fit a gorilla?”

“Those are the ones we have left.”

“Why didn’t they order enough larges? There aren’t too many grown men who wear extra small.”

“It’s not my job. Here’s a large.” He flicked through hundreds of camo vests. “This one is our Everest Ascent.”

“I’m not climbing. Anything. I’m going to shoot dove.”

He patted the air with his hands.

“Don’t say that too loud. People get nervous when you say you’re going to shoot something.”

“This is the hunting aisle. We’re in a sporting goods store.” I pointed. “There are racks of shotguns and rifles right over there.”

“Shhhh.” He held a finger to the teeth printed on his mask. “We try not to talk about such things.”

Ignoring his building panic, I showed him the tag attached to the vest

“This thing is eighty dollars.”

“It’s one of our

best vests.”

The price tag fluttered.

“One of your most expensive, I’d say.”

“Well, that depends on how you define expensive.”

“Does a free three-day hunt come with that?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you don’t. How about a shell belt? Can I say that? Shell belt.”

“Of course.”

“Do you have one that’ll fit me?”

“There was one here a little while ago.” He dug around the bottom shelf where odds and ends were stuffed without ceremony or display. “How much were you thinking of spending?”

“Less than twenty bucks.”

He paused in his search.

“All you’ll get is something made cheap.”

“Maybe. Don’t want anything made in China, though.”

He stood.

“Well, that eliminates about nine-tenth’s of what we have here.”

“Where was that expensive vest made?”


“Anything made in India?”

“Of course!”

“How about something from the good old U.S. of A?”

Seemingly disappointed, he turned, holding a three-pocket belt, one on each side for shells, and a game pouch on the back. He read the label.

“This one is made here.”

“How much?”

“Twenty-three dollars.”

“I’d pay twice that.”

“You’re kidding!”

“It’s exactly what I’m looking for and it’s quality work and materials.”

He handed it over, trying to remain as far away as possible.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

I thought about it. I could use a case of twelve-gauge shells, a Mojo dove decoy and probably a new hat. After dealing with a couple of minor skin issues, I’ve taken to wearing a wide brim to protect my ears and my old camo hat was about worn out.

Then again, I could use a new pair of pants. Unfortunately, I prefer Bushlan camo, and they didn’t carry that pattern in this super-size sports store.

I looked around. Hunting gear hung on racks far overhead. Coolers costing almost as much as my first apartment’s monthly rent formed a wall at the far end of the aisle. Boots were next on my list. Boots I can hike and hunt in. Something that fits well.

I paused to think. My old Brownings were coming apart, the uppers and lowers separating on the left one. Thinking aloud, I glanced around.

“Well, losing my sole…”

“This place.” The associate interrupted, his eyes went sad and he took a long, deep breath through the thin material of his mask. He spread his arms as if offering the store to me. “Me too. I feel life is draining it right out of me.”

Instead of getting into a philosophical debate, I hung the shooting belt over my shoulder and spoke in a loud, clear voice.

“Now, I’m going to buy a shotgun.”

His eyes widened and he looked fearfully around.

“I can’t believe you’re so cavalier.”

“Hey, take a leap and join the world. Throw off those shackles of political correctness!”

Eyes alight, probably for the first time in years, he leaped for joy and ran down the aisle.

“Yes! I can say shotgun! Shooting! Hunting! I can be free and choose for myself!”

Wrong Willie came up beside me, camo clothes in hand.

“What’s that all about?”

I shrugged.

“Just another convert.”

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. 

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