By Max Fontaine | Beacon participant journalist
Clarence “Crumbles” Gravel stood in the boxed dinner aisle at the I-Shop out on Out-on-the-Highway Road Monday night and stared at pictures of what he might be eating for the next week.
Gravel, 54, was trying to decide between a type of macaroni with a powdered cheese sauce or a spaghetti product with a can of meat sauce.
“I like the powdered cheese cause I can use half of it for dinner and then put the rest in my coffee in the morning,” Gravel said. “It’s basically creamer, cheddar-flavored creamer. I like it.”
And so Gravel shopped. Alone. As always. But this night, as summer solstice celebrations played out around Bass Lake, Gravel and a handful other lonely middle-aged men were not cheering the longest day of the year. They were lamenting the inevitable coming of winter when the sun’s taillights are all you see and the single place setting at the dining room table holds the promise of another silent repast.
Lonely Middle-Aged Man Shopping Night, a tradition of local retailers, is an attempt to brighten the spirits of men who have alienated most of the people in their lives. Their ex-wives have moved on. Their children no longer call. All their pets are dead.
“I used to eat lots of cherries,” Gravel said. “But that was when other people lived in the house to help eat them. There’s no way I can eat two pounds of cherries by myself before they turn. I’d never leave the bathroom.”
An estimated 145 middle-aged men live alone in the Bass Lake and Nearbytown regions. There is likely way more than that in Michiana. At least one local health official considers the situation an epidemic.
“For the most part, these lonely middle-aged men have no clue about how to take care of themselves,” said Kreb Dooley, regional director of the Regional Directors for Lonely Middle-Aged Men. “Studies show a good portion of the men who die alone in their homes have been lonely for at least part of the time. And that’s just sad.”
But does Lonely Middle-Aged Man Shopping Night help? Gravel seems to think so.
“Sure it helps,” he said. “I bumped into old-man Johansensons and was able to pry the five bucks he owes me out of his twisted fingers. Never would’ve seen that again if it wasn’t for this event.”