There’s an old friend, George, who I run into from time to time. Since retiring — heck even before that — George has been the epitome of the backyard inventor. From self-watering flower pots to ab busters, George has claimed to have “thought of it first.”

Now I’m not saying it’s not possible that George might have entertained these million-dollar ideas, but I’ve yet to see him register a patent or provide evidence of any compensation for his moments of brilliance.

Just this past week, I met George at McCaffrey’s at the Princeton Shopping Center and, as usual, the conversation quickly steered toward a new innovation when he saw my cart with the wiggly wheel.

“You know, Lily,” he began, “I have an idea that would fix all these carts once and for all.”

Knowing better than to encourage him, yet intrigued by the notion of not having to grind my teeth while forcing an uncooperative cart through the store, I relented to my curiosity by uttering a simple, “Oh?”

“Inflatable tires,” he said, and then proceeded to describe some doohickey or other that would prevent the wheels from becoming stuck in one direction.

“And bumpers, so if the cart gets loose in the parking lot, it won’t damage your car.”

I was liking this idea, but of course, I had to throw a wrench in the works.

“What if the cart gets a flat tire?” I asked.

George scrunched up his face.

My imagination drifted to thoughts of the store manager calling for, “Tire repair, aisle 6, tire repair needed in aisle 6.” To which a store employee whose sole responsibility would be acting as the triple A of shopping carts would arrive in a miniature emergency vehicle with flashing lights. Upon assessing the situation, he’d then procure a tiny jack and a spare to get you on your way again. Heck, maybe they’d even give you a loaner cart and help transfer your groceries to it. I wondered, would there be much paperwork involved? Would you have to join the Shopping Cart Club of America?

Tires aside, I asked, “What are you making the bumpers out of? Are they like little air bags?”

Again the face scrunch.

“Actually, I was thinking Styrofoam pads made from recycled peanuts. Just for the corners of the cart. This is where the impact mostly occurs.”

“And you’d be advocating being green,” I said.

“Green?”

“The recycled peanuts?” I reminded him. “Though I’m not sure Styrofoam is really good for the environment to start with. I’d stay away from plastic, too.”

His face fell for a brief moment. “How about cotton padding?” he asked. “With snaps. You could just attach it to carts currently in use.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of carts with inflatable tires? I thought you were designing a whole new product?”

George scratched his head. Could I throw a wrench or what?

“Well, I better go,” I said. I could feel my abs contracting as I tried to move my cart along. I may even have grunted a little. And my feet hurt.

I turned around and said, “Hey, George. Maybe you shouldn’t worry about changing the carts. Maybe you should come up with an idea for supermarket conveyor belts that bring the food to the customer. Like luggage at the airport.” Oh God, did I really just say that?

George’s eyebrows shot up. I could see the wheels in his head turning, moving in unison in a new direction. Unlike my shopping cart.

Chelle Martin belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, and she’s currently working on a humorous mystery novel.

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