In my town, it has a special name. It is not just the grocery story. It is not simply Kroger’s Food and Drug. It is….drumroll, please……Celebrity Kroger of Ashton Place. (You can check into it on Facebook by that name, so you know it’s real.)
I learned of the true name of this community hub when I moved back to Charleston, West Virginia, a decade ago. This is my home town, and I pride myself on being in the know. I realized in short order I was about as far out of the know as you can get my first weekend home. I wanted to go out for a beer, and it never crossed my mind to go downtown. I ended up in a strip mall where I saw a bartender open a Corona and then attempt to put the top back on and put it back in the cooler. I hadn’t gotten the news that my little town was all grown up. I laugh now picturing myself in that yucky dive when I could have been downtown at one of many lovely new hangouts that had blossomed since my departure.
Among the swanky new places to see and be seen was, apparently, the grocery story. I learned quickly that there was only one grocery in Charleston where you could see Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, the governor, Rockefellers, members of the legislature, coal barons’ wives and kids, school supers and fashion models.
Aside: If you really want to have some fun, dab on some Giorgio Beverly Hills cologne, do a chignon with your hair, wear high heels and fake fur and sport some Jackie O sunglasses from Target. Speed through Kroger like you are late for a Botox and watch the heads turn. This would not get a second glance in any major city (OK, you’d get called out for the stinky cologne), but you can cause a riot in Celebrity Kroger because YOU MIGHT BE SOMEONE.
In reality, there is only one SOMEONE I ever wanted to see at Celebrity Kroger of Ashton Place. His name is Mr. Lamanca.
At this point, I would appreciate if you would play the following video as soundtrack softy in the background for the remainder of my story.
For a full 10 years at least, Mr. Lamanca was like Keyser Söze to me, only cooler. I could not be in Kroger’s without someone coming on the intercom and paging, “Mr. Lamanca, Mr. Lamanca….please call line 2.” The name sounds great on the intercom, and it’s so clear that the man is Lord God King of Celebrity Kroger. Part of his glory is that he seems invisible. He rules all, yet from afar. No one else ever is mentioned on the intercom.
Who was this “Mr. Lamanca”? Was he real, or a hoax? Where was he, and how did he so effortlessly command the mothership from an undisclosed location?
Then one day, it happened.
I was walking through some aisle, I can’t remember which, when I looked up and there he was.
Joe Lamanca, third from left.
I just thought I would be asking a regular store employee how to find an item, and when I looked up I saw a name tag with the name, “Mr. Lamanca.”
I think I forgot how to breathe.
He said, “Hi, can I help you?”
I couldn’t speak. I kept staring from his shirt to his face and back again. I must have looked like an crazy person. He asked if he could help me again, this time with a little look of concern.
“I am so sorry,” I gasped. “It’s just that, you’re….do you know who you are? You’re….(I whispered it) Mr. Lamanca.”
He laughed, “Yes, yes I am.”
“I’ve wanted to meet you for years. I’m sorry if I’m freaking you out, you are just such a mystery, and this is really exciting. I am so happy to meet you! I love your store!” There was more, but I think you get the idea. I did everything except propose. It was hilarious, and I still hardly can believe it happened.
So all y’all who consider yourself all that and a bag of King Size Ruffles, Mr. Lamanca just took you to school. He IS Joe Quixote, the LORD of Lamanca, and though I’ve seen a few “celebrities” at Kroger over the years, they pale in comparison.
Next goal: Find a way to be allowed to page him over the intercom. Just once.
Do you think that’s too much? 😉