Fried Chicken Amen

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*I was hesitant to post this. People tend to jump over subtlety and substance by unforgivingly bringing their own observations to things unsaid.

On a recent Wednesday, in a town which can be found in several states across the South, I entered a local eatery to pass a bit of the time away from the blistering reach of the summer sun. I gladly surrendered in the fight against it. I could tell that the little place was a hub for all manner of necessary human activity: gas, small groceries, food, and tobacco. The place was packed with smiling faces, each focused on satisfying their hunger.

I went inside, ordered a bit of deliciousness, and sat down at one of the dozen rectangular white tables scattered on one side of the convenience store. It wasn’t my intention to get another bite to eat. I’d already had lunch across the street. Overcoming the scent of the food filling in the air, however, was impossible for a man of my age and girth. Bacon and butter are my beloved enemies.

I casually watched through the glass as a young mom ignored her little daughter as she strained to reach over into the ice cream case. Her short arm stretched, and her fingers moved like scurrying spiders in their attempt to reach the unattainable buckets of ice cream. Her brother watched from the opposite end of the case, undoubtedly anticipating that she’d either reach the ice cream or fall into it. They were all behind the ice cream case on the employee’s side. The mom looked up and noticed my gaze. Without hesitation, she turned and struck the little girl forcefully on the back. It seemed like an instinctive reaction to her guilt at being observed. The girl shrieked in a small voice, and the mom grabbed her by the nape of the neck. The scream died. I could tell it was a long-rehearsed dance between them. The young mom then looked to her right, toward a stern older woman with a scream of a ponytail at the other register. It turns out that the young mom was an off-duty employee of the store, there to feed her four children. The old lady with the austere ponytail was undoubtedly the young mom’s boss. I later observed the family huddled around one of the tables, each devouring their pieces of chicken as their fingers became increasingly greasy. Watching little kids lick their fingers in deep appreciation is one of the minor joys in life. The little girl didn’t seem to recall being hit like an approaching tennis ball. I silently hoped that the hits weren’t frequent. I could easily see how much the daughter loved her mom. I hoped she could maintain that love as she grew.

Atop the ice cream case was a placard, one of those telling the world that the owners love their god and country, stand for the flag, and for anyone who felt otherwise, they should use the door as quickly as possible. I had a feeling that many visitors of different customs or appearance had seen the placard through the years and winced, many of them understanding that they weren’t welcomed there and were simply tolerated for the purpose of commerce. There’s no nuance in such signs, even if the owners believe there is. It’s the equivalent of a harsh, angry shout; this world needs more whispers and gentle examples of encouragement.

It wasn’t until I noticed the placard that I questioned much of the content of my experience there. My eyes wandered around the store, finding confederate flags in more than one place. Such flags are not a guarantee of other sinister inclinations; their presence, though, tends to accompany such attitudes. People can fly confederate flags and be good people. I’ve learned that the combination seldom proves the exception, leaving those without prejudice to be lumped in and suffer with those who use the symbols as shortcuts for unforgiving opinions. It’s unfortunate and unfair for all of us. Each of us in our own private lives tends to embrace ambiguity and understand that people are a spectrum of conflicting ideas.

Inside the store, the air was thick with the scent of biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken. While I was inside, there was a constant, impatient line, slowly shuffling forward, and the tables were filled with people, each bubbling with a conversation. Unlike my adopted hometown, there were no faces of other color or snippets of foreign languages. There was no rainbow there and no spectrum of humanity. Once noticed, such absences are hard to unsee. There should have been other faces, though, because despite the small-town population, there were industries and occupations which were comprised of a majority of minorities. I was curious to know where those people enjoyed their lunch. I would describe the mood of everyone as happy and concentrated on their own bit of life.

Because of the recent tragedies, many of the conversations were about guns and violence. I could hear two distinct conversations ridiculing those who wanted things to change. The conversations merged into one, with the participant’s voices rising in volume. We all became involuntary listeners.

At the furthest table, a man in overalls and a plaid shirt leaned back and cocked his head toward the bulk of the tables and said, “Ain’t no one here going to disagree. Not in this town. We love our guns and those who don’t can leave.” Even though I was in a distant place, I laughed, the kind of raucous, loud laugh that makes my wife cringe sometimes. The speaker looked toward me with surprise, probably in an attempt to gauge my allegiance. Externally, I looked like them. Maybe my bright purple laptop case signaled a departure. Nothing else about me raised suspicion that I might differ strikingly from most of them.

The loud-voiced man’s false bravado revealed his temperament, one not accustomed to nuance or differing opinion. It’s a common affliction in places where the realm is small, and the courage to speak up is often swallowed to keep the peace. I doubt he was actually as harsh as the situation implied.

“You think they should take our guns away?” He challenged me. Several people turned their heads to look in my direction. I could see the owner standing next to the food counter, waiting to hear what foolishness would jump from my mouth.

All I could think to say was, “If you drink and can’t stop yourself from driving, you should lose the privilege of driving. But I don’t know who ‘they’ are.”

An older woman wearing a bright red shirt seated with two very young kids said, “That’s right!” as if she were in church and reciting a well-worn and enthusiastic “Amen.”

The original speaker abruptly leaned forward again in his chair as the conversations in the room went momentarily quiet. He wasn’t expecting a response to his oration, especially to encounter disagreement among his own tribe. Each table resumed speaking in subdued voices. I’m confident that several people were wondering how a traitor like me had entered their eating-place without being noticed. Truthfully, it gladdened me a little bit. I couldn’t get the smile of satisfaction off my face. The old lady who had invoked the informal amen smiled back at me and nodded.

Regardless of our individual opinions, each of us continued to eat our delicious food. Differences over guns seldom distract those with fried chicken on their plates.

A little later, I listened as the owner pulled up a chair and sat at a table nearby with one of his customers. He smiled and exuded friendliness. After a few seconds of listening to his conversation, I realized that the smile was a little forced. He had a lot to say about guns and the attitudes recently expressed in his eatery. I tuned him out. It’s unwise to strive to overhear words that you know will only serve to bait you toward a base response. We all vent, sometimes to the point of letting our mouths outrun our honest hearts. I’m afflicted with the tendency too. It would be unwise for me to paint him in a situation where one’s self-defense mechanism might override his ability to express himself honestly.

Not all the signs and symbols for these places are visible. That ideas and differences weren’t welcome somehow pervaded the room, though. The divisive placard on the ice cream case didn’t help much. Each of us loves our lives, our friends, and our families. Most of us appreciate our community. We don’t need code words or exclusion to feel like our lives are full. When I departed the store, I noted vehicles with confederate flags and harsh bumper stickers with rigid, us-vs.-them messages. Strangely, people don’t stop to think that at a certain level, we are all ‘them’ to other people.

The smell of fried chicken and gravy should be a sign of welcome for all those who appreciate a full stomach. Such a thing is a unifier, drawing us to places where each of us brings our differences and yet somehow joins in the spectacle of community.

If I could, I would ask the owners to remove their placard and relics of the confederacy. I’d ask them to instead let their smiles and kind words serve as both example and proof of their living creator flowing through them. The placard and things like it can only serve as whistles of perceived prejudices. Armed with love and fried chicken, it’s difficult to imagine a divided world. We preach our best sermons by example. I think that so many people feel cornered into a defensive position when the world stops seeing that everything is intertwined and complex. Except for love, few ideas worth fighting for can be encapsulated on a bumper sticker, placard, or t-shirt.

It is possible to love your religion and customs while also openly loving other people’s opportunity to do the same. Acknowledging their choices in no way denigrates your ability to live a good life in the way that you see fit. Only when we demand allegiance to our choices does our society suffer.

Let the chicken and gravy be sufficient to unite us.

We live in the United States of America, a place where all of us have an equal voice to be as proud or as ignorant as our own hearts require. There’s room for ignorance and intellect on all sides in this crowded room of togetherness. Let the best argument always prevail, though. Losing respect for the best ideas leads us all away from the truth and fried chicken.

All those in agreement say either “Amen,” or “Fried chicken and gravy.” They both come from the purest of hearts.
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Forgotten Days in Tontitown

 

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This picture is of my brother, me, mom, and dad. I’ve written before how ambivalent I am about this picture. On the one hand, I’m glad that the picture exists. On the other, it is horribly misleading because it might convince bystanders that we were a happy family.

Before highway 412 modernized us, we intimately knew highway 68. Before its expansion and encroachment all along the yards lining it, it was a typical narrow road passing through NWA. It was a vital artery connecting the small towns that dominated our corner of the state. It’s “Old 68” now, truncated and lost to failed bridges that isolate it from its replacement. I once knew parts of the old 68 with precision. There were many times I would ride back to our home with my drunken dad, praying to the silent god who presumably watched over idiots like him. On the other hand, I knew such hopes were truly childish because Dad had killed a cousin of mine in a DWI accident. This knowledge invalidated the whispers of hope I had. Sometimes I’d pray for a horrible crash to engulf us and put an end to the uncertainty; other times I’d wish to just get home in one piece.

The land over on the far side of Tontitown was simply beautiful. I find myself forgetting this at times. Rolling hills, thick trees, creeks crisscrossing where the land permitted, and open expanses of fields filled the area. For the most part, property owners weren’t aware of kids traversing their land. As long as we respected their property, those that were aware simply chose to ignore us as we did what kids do best. There were times where we’d set off walking and have no idea where we were heading. Chiggers, mosquitoes, and snakes often accompanied us. When you’re young, you assume that such things are a required tariff in order to enjoy life.

Because my family moved more often than a pack of unwanted nomads, I lived in Tontitown more than once in my youth. The first long stretch followed our trailer in City View Trailer Park in Springdale burning down, rendering both at least 100,000 cockroaches and us homeless. We moved to the western fringe of Tontitown, near the bend where the new 412 first veers away from the original 68. When 68 was rerouted and renamed 412, it cut across Road 852. Technically, it wasn’t and isn’t Tontitown – but everyone considered it to be so. It was not too far from the infamous and now-defunct Blue Hole swimming spot, home of the coldest water imaginable. When I was young, I didn’t even realize that Blue Hole Road was a real name.

We moved to Washington County Road 852 to stay with Leta, the widow of a paternal cousin. Dad had a penchant for sleeping with a variety of people, and choosing from the woodpile didn’t deter him. It took me several years to pinpoint precisely how Leta fit in the family tree. Her husband, my dad’s distant cousin, had died a few years prior. Leta had an interesting life, and despite all the other surrounding confusion, I now know that I would be fascinated if I could go back in time and have an adult conversation with her. She wasn’t a warm person; on the other hand, I didn’t understand how much of an interruption we might have been to her life.

I’ve written before about the place being the perfect alignment of isolation, anger, and addiction. Highway 68 ran across the north, leaving the land below it pristine and only accessible through a complex series of dirt roads. I was in 7th grade, and because of the fire, I had lost everything. The house was small, and even the so-called bedrooms were nothing more than imaginary boundaries inside the old house. We all shared one bathroom and a clawfoot bathtub. Ancient box fans provided most of the airflow into the house. The outside of the house was covered in tan brick-theme tar paper, similar to what was commonly found in the area where I was born. While we lived at Leta’s, Dad spent time filling the inside of the house with dark paneling. We shared one console television in the living, very close to the front door, connected to an old tv antenna outside.

My parents often fought, as they were prone to do regardless of the impermanence of their residence. My dad had several affairs, including the notorious relationship with Leta who owned the house. The adults around me drank more per capita than any household in Tontitown. The alcohol-fueled many days and nights of violence and terror. It also sometimes granted us too much freedom. At times, I forget that because Leta worked at the Venetian Inn at night and Mom worked split shifts and unusual hours at Southwestern Bell, our presence at the house overlapped in a crazy Venn diagram.

As much as I vilify the players in the drama in that period of my life, I am the first to admit that there were some spectacular adventures. The geography allowed for us to trek miles in several directions, to explode a ton of fireworks with a total disregard for human safety, fire a variety of pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and to escape the lunacy the adults brought to the table. I could go outside and climb on top of the barn past the gated fence, or if I was really ambitious, crawl up onto the roof of the house or clamber up one of the ten million trees. The house also had a simple covered front porch, bordered on one side by a massive pile of firewood. We dreaded the surprise announcements that we were going to have to help our Dad cut firewood. I have an entire book of stories about some of those mornings. I could sneak away across the barbed wire and read, as long as I could suffer the bugs and snakes inhabiting the area. It was at Leta’s that I found her copy of “Your Erroneous Zones” by self-help guru Wayne Dyer. It was a revelation and seemed to describe an attitude and life that seemed impossible. I could take my french horn down into a dense valley and sound like I was summoning the Valkyries. It was possible to walk and fill oneself with many grapes picked off the vines or find patches of blackberries thick with both briars and berries.

At night, the area seemed to revert to a time centuries ago. Dark was genuinely dark, and animals of all kinds inhabited every nook and cranny of the fields and forests. There was a couple of times that my Dad forced us to walk across the darkened fields and leave proof of our visits inside an abandoned house, once part of a now-forgotten community. My cousin Jimmy was unnaturally afraid of the dark and everything it might contain. We were more afraid of my Dad, though. One of those forced walks in the dark is now one of my most cherished memories. The house stands epically in my memory and its silhouette is still etched in my mind and often used as a comparison to measure foreboding. Had my parents been more normal, it could have been a paradise. My appreciation for the land of that area has only grown as I’ve aged. The land owes me no apology for the people who stained its beauty.

As much as I knew about the area, I knew much less than my brother who had more friends and didn’t hesitate to go out and work in the grapevines or tomato farms. When the trailer burned, it burned my connections to the friends I had at City View. Sometimes, though, old friends, especially my brother’s friends, would visit and the shenanigans would commence. There’s a reason we universally look back and hold dear those memories of such adventures. They encapsulate so much of the joy of being a boy and having the freedom to experience small pieces of the world.

We often had mega-barbeques, fish fries, and feasts. They were raucous affairs, of course, and many ended with fisticuffs, shouts, and blood-soaked shirts. On one occasion, the party ended because my dad threw an entire box of ammunition in the wood fireplace in the living room. I took advantage of those times by eating barrels of salad soaked in Viva Italian dressing, or bag after endless bag of Venetian Inn salad and rolls. Leta worked at the Venetian Inn and brought home a treasure of food from there each day she worked. I, of course, loved pasta. After eating several miles of it, though, I usually opted for endless salads. We would walk the long dirt road home, rain or shine, from the nearest school bus stop up near Mitchell’s service station. (Those walks home after school would dissuade anyone from choosing a large band instrument to learn.) I’d often eat a king’s meal of rolls, salad and sometimes 2 or more chicken breasts. I could make a pot of coffee and drink it all. I sampled a variety of wines, too. Leta didn’t mind. She knew that we were going to be unable to overcome our curiosity. Don’t be too concerned about the bit of wine. I had access to unlimited alcohol and a few drugs, which didn’t interest me.

I’m only reminiscing because one day not too long ago, someone online answered a comment about that area and Brush Creek, which lies not too far away. Another commenter mentioned the massage parlors in the area. It made me laugh, reading the comments of those who claimed they were all fables and made-up urban legends. Where men walk, you can be assured that vice follows.

For those who don’t know, Tontitown once harbored several houses of ill repute, stills for moonshine, and a bit of weed for those wishing to find them. It’s topography made it ideal for concealment while also not being so far out of the way that it was prohibitive to find it. The hills and hollers made intrusion unlikely. Not too far from where I lived out on the dirt road, one of the residents had a decent plot for marijuana growing, with a water well off the road, powered by an illegal electric connection that was off the grid. He resembled the actor Brett Gelman if he never shaved. He also looked exactly like Leta’s son, who was the personification of an ex-Vietnam hippie. Leta’s son struck me as crazy, but he was always kind to me and talked to me like an adult. I remember once when we drove to Timbuktu to visit him, and he was in the front yard, totally naked, taking a shower under a hand-made system of water hoses. It was hilarious.

Even though the accusation will make some people defensive, many of these unsavory places were known to law enforcement. I’m not alleging conspiracy, of course. People do crazy things often enough with the necessity of making outrageous claims. Someone I know very well loves telling the story of her dad, who was a Springdale policeman at the time, giving protection to someone involved. My dad was known to payoff DWIs under the table, not to mention bribing people to look the other way. It was common. I’m not telling the story to paint someone negatively; it was just the way many things were done. Monroe County, the place where I was born, was a significant conduit for all manner of vice, too. Everyone knew it. Dad had a temperament and way of finding the most clever places to get into trouble. “Friends in low places” would describe his circle. Regardless, though involved in the shady businesses never interfered in other people’s business and expected reciprocity in return. Minding your own business granted every mutual safety.

The massage parlor sat near 68, hidden in plain sight in a nondescript tan trailer. There were, of course, no signs or indications that nefarious goings-on could be experienced within. I used to amuse myself by imagining that some industrious and brazen entrepreneur would put up a huge flashing neon sign indicating “Sex Shop” near the place. Google Streetview hasn’t visited the road in over ten years. I know that many people got lost looking for the massage parlor because I remember Leta and others telling stories about the faraway neighbors getting late-night knocks on their doors, demanding to be let in.

Because Dad would drink to excess, he would mouth off, often without realizing he was spilling the beans. One evening, he had driven by the trailer with his bottle of Evan Williams between his knees. “That place will make a man out of you,” he said, as he punched me on the side of the head. I don’t remember why I was in the cab of the truck with him. I would choose the bed of the pickup even during a lava storm to stay away from Dad when his mood could shift.

Sometime after, Dad had pulled in to the small driveway next to the trailer. I was surprised because I was in the back of the truck. Dad’s dog Duke and I remained in the back of the pickup. A little bit later, Dad came out and proudly drank some of his whiskey and coke and drove home. I overheard him talking about the place to more than a couple of people.

It took me a bit to connect the dots. There was a cookout at Leta’s one Sunday, and someone said something about the convenience of having a massage parlor up the road. Mom threw her cigarette at the person joking about it and then hurled her half-finished beer into dad’s face. She shouted her favorite “MoFo” curse repeatedly as she left. (Many get-togethers ended that way.) Dad didn’t rush after her as everyone expected. He drank until the sun descended into the valley before reminding Mom of how dangerous he was. I don’t remember whether I cowered out of sight or managed to escape outside and down the road or through the surrounding landscape.

There were times when Mom would drink and then decide to go hunt for my Dad. She’d drive by the Red Door and all the other usual places that might contain him. I think after finding out about Dad’s presence at the massage parlor that she always took a moment to look over the area around it in hopes of seeing his truck. I’m not sure how many times I was forced to prowl with Mom. I do know that she had no business driving most of the time.

Or being married, now that I think about it.

I’m not sure how long this particular massage parlor stayed in business. (Long enough to increase Dad’s chances of getting his head caved in, though.)

If you missed it in a previous post, we moved after Mom discovered that Dad and Leta had been having an affair for a long time. I found them together one night, which is why I can state with such certainty this isn’t a figment of my mom’s fabled anger and imagination. Weirdly enough, we moved to a place very close to where I now live, to a tiny trailer on the road that would one day become part of the Don Tyson Parkway. That place was indeed a crucible of violence. Mom knew that Dad was unfaithful. Proof of it, though, inevitably started a predetermined sequence of weekend tirades.

Now that I know so much more about Dad’s inability to behave like a normal husband, it would be interesting to know whether Mom would kill my Dad after learning the new information. The breadth of my Dad’s infidelity goes much deeper and further than I suspected – and that’s quite a feat.

I have several stories that I’ve never told. Some of my reluctance arises from the involvement of other people who still walk the earth. While it is my right to share these stories, I’ve not done so because some of the unflattering biographies aren’t entirely in my control.

I don’t have a great record of our time out there on the western edge of Tontitown. I’ve mentioned before that my family simply didn’t own a camera. We relied on others to document our lives. There are pictures of our time there, but very few.
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P.S. I wrote this story without stressing the storyline. I didn’t know how to create a central theme, so I didn’t. The story and words stand ‘as is;’ take from it that which you will.

 

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The picture is one I took in 2006 after the house in Tontitown burned. I haven’t lived there for almost 40 years. It’s an unimaginable and detached amount of time. The inset picture is of me from around the time I lived in the house.

 

 

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This picture is of Uncle Beb and my cousin Jimmy doing the Hambone dance. This picture shows the corner of the house that’s also in the picture of the house after it burned. You can see the wilderness near the road in the background.

 

 

 

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This picture captures a common activity: everyone armed and shooting. My Uncle Bed, Uncle Buck, dad, and my cousin Jimmy. In the right circumstances, these gatherings were joyous.

 

 

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The picture in the first comment is a picture one of my dad. He’s three sheets to the wind. He’d just rolled his beloved truck down into one of the deep hollers near our house late at night. He was oblivious that night. The aftermath and days after were violently unpleasant.

 

Walgreens: I’m a Suspect

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Sometimes, there are advantages of having a stupid name like X.

TLDR: Walgreens gave me someone else’s prescription and then told the other account holder that I’d somehow obtained their private information and gave it to Walgreens in order to get their prescription right before they came to pick it up.

Here’s an example of something that’s not ‘the world is on fire,’ but weirdly informative. I have a few Walgreens stories that I’ve not posted.

This time, it was her prescription that caused me the grief.

Dawn had another prescription ready, costing $4. After work, I drove by and waited in a long line of vehicles. When it was my turn, I pulled up, and the clerk asked me for a name. I said, “Last name T-E-R-I, first name, Dawn.” The clerk didn’t ask me for a DOB or an address. She was looking at her POS screen with all the information on it and said, “Found it.” She didn’t identify the prescription like is customarily done. Despite it being an ironclad requirement, they sometimes don’t. Sometimes they recognize us, sometimes they’re busy, and sometimes, they simply forget. It’s easy to spot a new employee because of their tendency to interrogate you like a German prisoner. Today, the clerk said, “$3.89 is the total.” Close enough. I pushed my debit card through and she processed it.

Because the store was busy, I put the prescription in the passenger seat and drove the short drive home.  I made us a great lunch. Afterward, Dawn ripped open the Walgreens bag and said, “What’s this?” They had given me someone else’s prescription. The names were similar in the sense that if you were drunk, they might sound the same if you’d never heard the English language before. Because I had this happen before, I dropped everything and went back up to the store, in case the woman in question somehow went to fill her prescription before I went back. I went inside and asked for the store manager instead of going to the pharmacy. I’ve learned to only explain myself once in these situations. I’ve also learned that not all techs appreciate an error being brought up, no matter how nicely it’s done. The woman who I thought was the manager told me that the woman whose prescription I had been erroneously given had, in fact, come to the store right after I left.  She told me that the clerk who gave me another person’s prescription thought she had verified the information with me. I wondered what the real conversation between the store staff and the other customer was really like.

We went to the back and I watched the purported store manager say something to the clerk who’d made the error. She turned to look at me. It felt like eye darts were coming out of her face to hit me in the forehead. I was polite because mistakes happen. I didn’t even care about a refund.  I knew that, for once, I had done nothing wrong. In a twist, the clerk made a dramatic and overt attempt to confirm my address and information this time. The irony didn’t escape me.

Arriving back home, Dawn agreed with me that I should call the other person whose prescription I had initially picked up. I googled her name and left a voicemail on what I thought was her answering machine. A little bit later, the woman’s husband called. It was a very interesting conversation. I told the husband a bit of backstory and what had happened at Walgreens. What he told me surprised me.

Walgreens had told them that immediately before they had come to pick up the wife’s prescription, that a man had driven up to the window and given them all of his wife’s information, including her full name, address, and date of birth. The couple left thinking that their information had been intercepted, hacked, or stolen. Walgreens staff further said that there would be an investigation and that the cameras would be reviewed!

It’s essential to keep in mind that when I had entered the store to bring back the wrong prescription, the person who I spoke with, the one who said she was the manager, had already talked to the couple whose medicine I had picked up.

Why Walgreens told the couple such a story is subject to interpretation. Likely, they didn’t want to initially admit that they had violated all their own rules. They could have said anything but chose to go that far out on a limb.

The husband and I spoke for several minutes. He and his wife had been very concerned about their information being taken. I allayed all his concerns in that regard. We compared notes and stories. He wasn’t happy about the possibility of people getting the wrong medications and couldn’t understand why Walgreens had told him the story about someone driving up to the window and giving all his wife’s information, especially since it was utterly untrue. For my part, it was a little disconcerting hearing someone tell me that Walgreens staff had slandered me instead of merely addressing the issue directly.

I’m happy I called the other prescription holder. I think he was, too. He knew Walgreens wasn’t making sense but didn’t know how to figure it out. Until I called.

After that call, I called the store to speak to the manager. Surprisingly, a man identified himself as the manager, saying he’d been in a meeting. I went over the story with him and told him that I had been understanding and kind about the entire incident. I emphatically told him that I had spelled my wife’s name but that the clerk did not ask for any more data points or do the diligence required of her. I let him know that I had allayed the other account holder’s privacy fears. I did tell him that I was a little bent out of shape about his staff telling other customers that I had driven up and given another person’s identifying information and implying that I had fraudulently bypassed Walgreen’s protocols. Even though I didn’t need to say it, I let him know that some customers would cry “Slander” and cause a literal uproar about it.

He was apologetic and said he’d look into it. I reminded him that in addition to looking into it, he might advise staff to limit their commentary to things they knew to be true. No, lightning did not strike me, in case you’re wondering.

 

Momentary Humanity

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As I drove home, I did my best to expunge the workday from my thoughts. So much of my day had been packed with banal, lifeless exchanges. I listened in fascination as Janet Mock talked about her early life in an interview on NPR. On a whim, I quickly turned into the drive of a convenience store.

I entered the convenience store to fulfill one of modern man’s biggest follies: buy lottery tickets. Ahead of me, a young black man was struggling with a pre-loaded card and a card swipe in an attempt to buy gas. I conducted my business with the pleasant cashier and stepped to the left. Another couple of customers finished their purchases and I stepped over to the other side as I pulled out my wallet to stuff the new ticket into its confines.

“I’m so sorry to waste your time. Thank you,” the young man told the clerk. She smiled and said, “No problem. Have a good day.” The look on his face was one I well recognized. He probably didn’t have enough gas to get much of anywhere.

I watched as he peered through the window at his tall friend outside. He was standing between the pumps and a tan Oldsmobile, waiting for the pump to authorize the gas. The man inside the store stopped as I held up my hand and said, “Wait.” Expecting something even more upsetting, his eyes looked up at mine. I handed him the cash from my wallet and said, “Didn’t you say you need some gas?”  He looked at the money, then back at me. “Thanks, sir. Jeez. I don’t know what to say.” Because I’m a master of wit and conversation, I told him, “Have a great afternoon.” He turned back toward the cashier, a smile spreading across his face.

I went outside, got inside my car, and turned on the ignition as a blast of cold air hit my face and the sound of Terry Gross delving back into the life of Janet Mock.

Although I usually don’t stick around to witness the aftermath of my moments, I looked down at my phone until the man inside the store had exited. I then watched him using my mirrors. He excitedly held his hands up and shouted something to his friend at the pumps. While I couldn’t quite discern the words, his glee was apparent.

I drove away, leaving the man’s story behind me.

In return, my heart was lighter, my day forgotten.

 

 

 

We All Have Our Jar of Snake Oil

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The Quackery Commentary Inhibition: an individual’s reluctance to honestly share his or her derisive opinion about another person’s ridiculous beliefs, usually under the mistaken assumption that our own views are beyond reproach. Each of us wears clown shoes in some sense.
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It’s a treacherous path when you wish to express your opinion about some topics. People’s interests, beliefs, and attitudes overlap to a degree based on tribe, religion, or geography. Each of us has our crazy tangents, however, ones which often trigger a disproportionate defense mechanism when someone brushes against them, either accidentally or in mockery.
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If you’re going to put your foot in your mouth, it’s easier if you’re not wearing clown shoes when the opportunity arises.
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The fact that we convince ourselves we need to tread lightly is in itself a powerful demonstration of how unattached we are from reason and logic. It’s a certainty that many of our friends and family silently mock some of the things we follow or believe. Anyone claiming that their beliefs perfectly match those of all their family and friends is in a cult, not a society; even then, I doubt it’s possible.
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“Truth is not flavored by opinion.”
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That may be true – but opinion often throws a left jab into truth’s teeth.
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With the goal of not slaughtering any sacred cows, I’ll ignore the overall question of religion, which is the most glaring example of personal beliefs that shape people’s otherwise logical framework of living. Anyone paying attention can see that the disagreements caused by religious differences are a constant source of irritation, anger, and amusement among people. Any framework demanding certainty is already saddled with an inherent disregard for the next guy’s version of the same.
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I have my own blind spots, many of which aren’t logical or defensible. I’ve learned to recognize their fragility when I feel irritation when given contradictory information. No one likes to eat a hamburger carved from their own sacred cow. If you are going to do so, though, you might as well break out the mustard and pickles and figure out an easier way to swallow it.
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In the last few years, I’ve been astounded to learn that I was wrong about a few things, ones which seemed set in stone before. Among them were cornerstones of liberalism. Facts did not support them. My insistence sufficiently silenced the contradictions until a new truth materialized. Given that some truths have given way to others, it is only logical to conclude that I have other blind spots which impede me.
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Horoscopes, ________________ , homeopathy, psychic phenomenon, Bigfoot, ghosts, ESP, witchcraft, MLM schemes of all sorts (yes, even the one you’re thinking of), and other subjects are prone to evoke a snort of derision from me. Each of them presents an opportunity to examine their veracity, as well as a reciprocal reminder to consider what lunacy I might believe in.
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*I’m not making an equivalency argument here regarding the mentioned subjects. One of the defects of listing such topics is that people will immediately and erroneously make that incorrect assumption.
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People reading this are already jumping to a mental defense of one or more of the subjects mentioned above, their intellect turned to the purpose of hurling denials back at me. Their time would be better suited by simply ignoring whatever I have to say. Echo chambers at least offer a safe haven, even as they stunt growth. It’s impossible to reason someone out of a belief they didn’t reason themselves into. Most adherence to such belief systems is self-fortifying and tends to radicalize when a perceived contradiction is introduced. A while ago, I wrote about an acquaintance who believes that all cancer is mental. It’s not just ignorance – it’s dangerous and demeaning to those who suffer as a result of disease. Challenging the acquaintance on his stupidity will only cement his mistaken ideas.
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A symptom of whether I place any credence in a particular belief is how I respond to humor or satire involving the subject. The faster I laugh, the more likely it is that I find the entire issue to be ridiculous or subjectively impossible to be sure of. I’ve also become a fervent believer in the fact that those who noticeably lack a sense of humor about a particular subject are indicating cognitive dissonance in its regard. If they otherwise have a definite sense of humor and yet belligerently respond to any commentary or critique of their particular belief, it’s a certainty that it is a belief that can’t withstand scrutiny. This observation applies to me, too; if I find myself mentally lashing out, it’s a sign that I’ve hit the crossroads between belief and sustainability.
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Irritation becomes the carpet under which unsupported beliefs are swept.
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The problem arises when we share our disbelief with people around us, especially people full of humor and intellect. Throwing a dart at their dubious reverence invariably causes a medical condition known as “pissing them off.” More dangerous than the Carpet Viper is the angry intellectual. Even more fatal than the fierce intellectual is the knuckle-dragger. There are few people enlightened enough to look the other way without anger if their beliefs are challenged.
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When we don’t or can’t share our disagreement, it infects other areas of our lives and makes us less authentic. We become avatars and shadows on a stage, playing roles which deny what motivates us. Over time, we lose the real connection we have to one another, even if the link reveals profound differences in belief. If I can’t make a face every time you throw salt over your shoulder or claim to have seen a ghost, neither of us is getting a real connection from one another.
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It’s a fool’s errand to apologize in advance if I’ve stepped on toes. In honesty, there’s no way that you don’t listen to me or read some of my posts and think, “That guy is missing a few bolts.” It’s hypocrisy to wish to shout me down and simultaneously refuse to agree that you do the same thing, even if you don’t want to get caught in the act.
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All of us, each day, roll our eyes at the idiocy our cohorts believe. To simulate this experience, watch a couple of hours of Daystar television.
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Everyone should take a moment and find the Wikipedia pages for Donald Gary Young, Daniel David Palmer, or the Barnum/Forer Effect, among others. Regardless of the modern incarnation of whatever it is you might find worthwhile about a particular subject, many of the things I mentioned find their genesis in doubtful science. Whether they’ve evolved is subject to opinion. The people involved were not the type of people I would find myself agreeing with, nor their beliefs compelling.
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I could be wrong.
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Can you?
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More importantly, can you tell me you think some of my subjective beliefs are wrong?
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I won’t get too bent out of shape about it if you do – but don’t expect me to go to a chiropractor for the bend if you do.
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A Eulogy For December Moments

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I’m holding my breath and waiting for his swan song. Though the stanzas of our lives are numerous, some of us race with abandon toward the long silence. He’s among those. Even if we cover our ears to drown out the notes, the subdued and reduced scales will still flow and ebb all around us, whether injurious or nostalgic.

There will be no melodic crescendo nor applause-laden curtain call, of that I’m sure. His symphony will abruptly cease, and the echoes of his efforts will radiate quickly into oblivion. I can feel the tempo and its accelerando, racing impatiently toward the inevitable.

A life will have ended. Each of us who knew him will have our own arrangement, filled with annotations, corrections, and commentary.

As is often the case, many will have reached conclusions and coda without understanding that his life filled with the burden of secrecy. Lives, like harmonies, often gain depth through filter and perspective.

Our facades conceal our secrets; they also conceal us.

We can only make decisions with the information we have. I tried. I failed. But it’s not my failure to own.

I don’t hold myself to accountability, either, in part because his addiction demanded secrecy, anger, and retribution for those peeking inside the fortress of denial.

It’s difficult to stand near the fire without wincing in pain – even in December moments. We draw close to the light for warmth. As we walk away, the warmed fabric which protects us burns.

Life will go on. We’ll claim to have learned our lessons from his exaggerated example. We’ll reflect, hope, and dedicate ourselves to avoiding the same mistakes.

We’ll make them, however. Our humanity requires an ignorant allegiance to forgetfulness. Collectively, we have only a few vices, ones which we ceaselessly abuse to our own detriment.

We’ll recall his presence. Perhaps, in time, even as it fills us with fondness. His melody will be a problematic reminiscence.

Those who lose their arguments with their lesser selves tend to bequeath a series of discordant and minor shards of broken glass for us to decipher.

Walk among them at your own peril.

To he, to him, to me, to we, to us, to you.

Love, X

Government Dress Codes Are Not Democratic

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Another post from another social media site. This one drew commentary, mainly from people who said they’d never thought about the issue in this way before.

 

 

Before I begin, I’m assuming you understand that I’m discussing normal, everyday people and the prevailing mode of dress. It’s important that I remove arguments toward the exception from the conversation before I elaborate.

Forgive my tone and insistence.

Though I might be wrong and you might not agree, the older I become, the more I find this issue to be a problem for me.

If you are in a public governmental space and anyone demands that you dress formally, you can be certain that the forces behind it aren’t interested in democratic representation and equality; title and formality do nothing except to distance us from those who work for us. Beggar, plumber, and lawyer alike are equal where the government is concerned.

All requirements of dress are artificial ways to insist that there are hierarchical distinctions between those served and those serving: servant and master, or at minimum, superior and inferior. In the governance of a democracy, no such distinction should exist.

All government officials work for us, even judges and senators. They are our employees, appointed or chosen based on qualification of résumé rather than worth. In a democracy, we are all equal, even to those who would claim elevated status. While it tends to be a more conservative point, almost all government officials are our employees or representatives; hired, chosen, or assigned to perform a job.

Observing so much of the process and methodology of our government, I’m always surprised that citizens grant illusory privilege to those we choose to govern or judge our disagreements. That we extend this privilege in such a manner that allows them to feel able to sanction us for our clothing is arrogance on their part and idiocy on ours. Whether it’s a judge who irately demands that you put on a tie or never wear open-toed shoes or a senator who won’t allow you to speak to your representatives because you’re wearing mechanic’s coveralls, it’s wrong and wrong-minded.

We owe our respect and allegiance to our collective agreement of justice and equity, not to the fallible men and women who often forget that they serve for us rather than over us. The title or robe do not bring reverence, and if you demand it, you are not worthy of either the robe or the title. I can think of no practical reason to demand that fellow citizens follow a dress code in the presence of the operation of any facet of governance or judicial determination.

Whether I wear a tie, slacks, or dress shoes in no way determines my attitude regarding the service rendered. If the place holds no intrinsic honor and the title is assignable based on qualification, to whom then do we bow to when we acquiesce to the unreasonable and undemocratic demand that we conform our appearance to an arbitrary standard they choose.

Fashion and attire are subjective; they are not factors any reputable government servant should weigh, much less censure. It’s not your job to demand conformity in attire or ours to fear your displeasure.

Simply put, sir or madam, I’ve given up the pretense. If you insist that my attire doesn’t do justice to the place you were appointed or chosen to work, it is you who needs to be removed or sanctioned. We are human beings in the presence of government officials, seeking that you do your job as assigned. Our reverence is toward the law and our democracy, not those who imperfectly bend it to human caprice or avarice.

If you choose to elevate yourself through requirements of attire, please be aware that we as voters can and should pass laws to require you to wear common clothing of our choosing.

Those who fear the mob or accountability to the masses know that dress codes are almost always motivated by a misguided demand to be honored, whether deserved or not.

In the presence of the execution of any government duty, no one should take into consideration the garments on the citizen’s back. This is especially true where our individual interests can be harmed or infringed.

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I Deserve An Award

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Social media has its moments.

I laughed until I almost cried when I noticed an acquaintance had posted one of those mind-numbing memes mocking parents who forget their children are in the back seat of their vehicles.

One afternoon long ago, my acquaintance got in her van and drove away. Her child was in a carrier on the hood of the van. (Yes, in front of her.)

I’d like a moment of silence to commemorate my ability to control my urge to post a seriously snarky comment on her meme.