American Anthem

And the workmen fantasize of home. One man tells the table that he’s going to take his son fishing when he gets back home. Another says he’s going to put in a swimming pool for his kids. Another will treat his wife to a Carnival cruise.

Athens, Alabama, 6:08 A.M.—there is a complimentary breakfast in the hotel lobby. At a table near me are men in neon reflective vests, work boots, and dusty jeans.

The menu: rubber eggs, plastic cheese, and sausage patties which taste like used Dr. Scholl’s orthotics.

A large television is tuned to sports news. The TV rolls footage of NFL football players, kneeling on sidelines during the national anthem.

The suits on TV are speaking in loud voices, waving hands at each other.

“THIS IS THE GREATEST CIVIL DISPUTE OF OUR TIME!” says one reporter.

The youngest workman—fortyish—isn’t watching TV. His black arm is wrapped in white bandages. The side of his face is scraped purple, and scabbed. He stares at his cellphone.

“Yesterday was my son’s birthday,” the young man announces to the table.

He holds up his cellphone.

“He’s eight,” the young man goes on. “My wife took him out for pizza, my boy loves pizza.”

A man with a long white beard and tattooed forearms removes his reading glasses. He stares at the phone.

“Cute kid,” Long Beard says. “I’ve missed ALL my kid’s birthdays working this job.”

“Me too,” says another. “I’s in Pennsylvania on an interstate overpass when my son graduated high school.”

The television is blaring. A commentator in a silk suit shouts at a pinstripe.

An older Mexican woman approaches the table. She is wearing a hotel uniform. She tops off coffees.

And the workmen fantasize of home. One man tells the table that he’s going to take his son fishing when he gets back home. Another says he’s going to put in a swimming pool for his kids. Another will treat his wife to a Carnival cruise.

The young man says, “What do I buy an eight-year-old for a birthday?”

Nobody answers.

The television is rolling footage of NFL players, politicians, insurance commercials, and pharmaceutical ads.

The young man says, “Man, missing my boy’s birthdays sucks.”

“You sorta get used to it,” says Long Beard. “It’s just part of the job.”

The blue-collar men finish breakfast in silence. They wipe tired faces, toss Styrofoam plates in trashcans, and rub sleep from their eyes.

The sun is getting stronger outside. It’s going to be another hot one in North Alabama.

The old Mexican woman says to the bandaged man, “Be very, very safe today, please.”

The young man removes his wallet and throws several bills on the table. Another does the same. Then another. All men leave dollars.

The old woman says, “You no gotta tip me, this just my job.”

Long Beard smiles. “We appreciate you.”

She thanks them, then gathers her bills. There must be twenty bucks on that table.

The men leave through sliding doors, their boots are loud on the tile floor.

It’s another American workday. The sun is brutal. Men and women will sweat and rupture their spines to earn meek livings for their families.

Some will eat hotel breakfasts, some will dangle from steel wires, some will miss important birthdays just to pay bills. And I respect them so much it hurts.

The hotel lobby is empty after the men leave. Nobody is watching the television.

The old woman finally turns the damn thing off.

46 comments

  1. Jan Hammac - September 26, 2017 2:30 pm

    One of your best!

    Reply
    • Bob Ellis - October 1, 2017 12:58 am

      If they do not come out and stand at any sport event, turn off TV or not attend and see how fast they start respecting our flag.

      Reply
  2. Lacy Dyar - September 26, 2017 2:33 pm

    I love your writing! Please tell me you’re up here to sign books or something fun. My mother-in-law adores you and I’d love to surprise her!
    – Huntsvillian fan 🙂

    Reply
  3. Becky - September 26, 2017 2:38 pm

    You put life into such an eloquent prospective. We are so busy worrying about a few high paid athletics that we forget what it takes to earn a living in the real world. Sure hope that gentleman gets his 8 year old a great gift. The gift of quality time with his son.

    Reply
  4. gary - September 26, 2017 2:40 pm

    Perfect pitch, sir! Nicely stated.

    Reply
  5. Catherine - September 26, 2017 2:45 pm

    For years my husband missed so much of our kids lives. It was hard on all of us. My work often takes me away from my children and grandchildren. Making a living away from loved ones is difficult. Thanks for telling our story.

    Reply
  6. Marion - September 26, 2017 2:46 pm

    This is perfect for today!

    Reply
  7. connie - September 26, 2017 2:55 pm

    Thank you for this. I’m so tired of hearing about spoiled millionaires when the rest of us are just trying to make a living. Bless you for really seeing people.

    Reply
  8. Summer Hartzog - September 26, 2017 2:55 pm

    Thank you for being somebody who talks about the things that really matter, like 8 year olds spending birthdays without their daddies. And people who work dangerous, exhausting jobs to support their families and make life more doable for the rest of us. The world is full of folks who are lonely, homesick, hungry, hurting and dying. Like my widowed sister who lives there in Athens. She lost her husband nearly 3 years ago after nursing him through a grueling 4 years with oral cancer. She still doesn’t know how to do life without him. I can only imagine how she feels when she hears people ranting on the news and social media about who does and doesn’t kneel at a football game.

    Reply
  9. Laura - September 26, 2017 2:56 pm

    I missed my son’s first piano recital working as a nurse- yep- it sucks, but patients aren’t just sick when it is convenient and I made a commitment. It is sometimes more than just paying bills, though often it is just that. I guess that is why I get so angry when I see people thinking they are entitled to a free ride. And why seeing NFL players disrespect the national anthem and the country. And why I hate TV these days- so tired of the focus on things that, in the long run, mean nothing.

    Reply
    • Sharon Sanders - September 26, 2017 3:21 pm

      Yay Sean!!! Thank you for blowing away the smoke and mirrors every day so we can see each other! You are loved, appreciated and much needed.

      Reply
  10. Cato Younger - September 26, 2017 3:01 pm

    This may be your best one yet, and all your stuff is good..well, actually great. Thank yoU!

    Reply
  11. Cato Younger - September 26, 2017 3:02 pm

    On a side note, can we just get rid of TVs in every public space? When I go out to eat, I either eat alone, which means I want to, or I eat with someone else, which means I want to. What I’m not doing is being at home deciding to watch TV.

    Reply
    • Maxine - September 26, 2017 3:12 pm

      Cato, PREACH! TVs in restaurants are a huge pet peeve of mine. My son and I went into a really nice, new Mexican restaurant, custom everything, and I counted 20 large screen tvs. If they’re counting on my return, they’ll close tomorrow.

      Reply
  12. Richard Jones - September 26, 2017 3:04 pm

    That is real America,scabs,scars,hurts,regrets,and commitment.Sometimes commitment hurts but at the end of the day,you did something bigger than yourself and nobody cheers you on and you get up and do it again.Wasnt any crowds cheering on the guys who hit Normandy Beach but by George if it was not for them we would be living quite differently today.Thank the Lord for the working folks,they make this country great.

    Reply
  13. Joy Russell - September 26, 2017 3:05 pm

    As always thank you for your beautiful writing. You always hit the nail on the head. Thank you to the men and women who work long hard hours to support their family and this nation. If I may be so blunt. Who gives a damn about the NFL! I’m sick of it all. I love your stories Sean!

    Reply
  14. Maxine - September 26, 2017 3:09 pm

    I am loving your lessons on observing the human and our humanity.

    Reply
  15. Gary - September 26, 2017 3:36 pm

    AMEN,Another GOODEN !!!!

    Reply
  16. Patricia Byers - September 26, 2017 3:41 pm

    another good truism. a look at life the way it is. NOT from the mansion of a multi-millionaire athlete, who does not deserve that money. those men in the lunch room? they are the real heroes. that waitress? she and others like here are the heroes. and television? I am SO sick of television. And ‘news’. NEWS?, what it is is a disgrace. And we need to state our disgust of it. if we don’t speak up for OUR FLAG, it will soon be gone.

    Reply
  17. Tray Earnest - September 26, 2017 3:48 pm

    I spent alot of time living in hotels working out of town in my early days. It’s a crazy life and I hated it. I still have to travel some, but thankfully not for long spells. Every time I see those guys you are talking about I’m thankful for the little things that come with being at home, and for being there for birthdays and recitals and giving and getting extra hugs.

    Reply
  18. Barbara J Schweck - September 26, 2017 3:49 pm

    You said it all without saying it at all!!! We need to turn off the TV. Who really cares what NFL and other entertainers have to say about anything. Just go out and find somebody, some group of people, or some type of mission and go to work to help them out. Thattis the true way to fix thing. And by the way, I STAND with my HAND over my HEART !!
    Thank you, Sean

    Reply
  19. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - September 26, 2017 4:01 pm

    Point proven! If the media can succeed in getting us to hate each other THEY are in control. Glad to see proof they are wrong.

    Reply
  20. Danny Prater - September 26, 2017 4:16 pm

    Once again your words have blessed me. You are a gifted wordsmith. Blessings and I look forward to your words!

    Reply
  21. Peg - September 26, 2017 4:23 pm

    Good for HER! Some things are not worth watching! There IS a real world out there. Where people work hard to make ends meet and work hard to do the right thing by each other. God bless us ALL!

    Reply
  22. Elaine H. Walizer - September 26, 2017 4:28 pm

    Wow, Sean. Sorry to hear you know what a Dr. Scholl’s orthotic insert tastes like!!

    Reply
  23. Beth Bryant - September 26, 2017 5:13 pm

    Good one!!!!!!!

    Reply
  24. Jan - September 26, 2017 5:15 pm

    Oh Sean, You live in the real world which can be breathtakingly sad or breathtakingly joyful … sometimes all at the same time! Those people on television, for the most part, live in a make believe world where things that don’t really matter to the rest of us are of utmost importance to them … and they don’t even know it!

    Reply
  25. Lori Lee Bennett - September 26, 2017 5:26 pm

    Thank you for using your gift of words. One of the first things my mama and I say in our morning phone call is, “Have you read Sean yet?” Your musings bind us a little tighter and make us appreciate our rural Georgia life a little more.

    Reply
    • lavenderlady - September 26, 2017 9:29 pm

      I live in the Pacific Northwest, but was raised in the Oklahoma Panhandle. I keep telling folks I know about Sean of the South. He just know what to say.

      Reply
  26. Tyler - September 26, 2017 5:33 pm

    Thank you. If only everyone could see and appreciate what real people do everyday. Sure, professional athletes have free speech rights, but it would be nice if they did it on their own nickel, not that of the fans, who pay dearly to watch the game, not to watch a bunch of pampered millionaires complain.

    Reply
  27. Beverly Pennel - September 26, 2017 7:51 pm

    Amen and Amen. There are SO many bigger fish to fry. Thanks again for perspective properly focused.

    Reply
  28. Jack Quanstrum - September 26, 2017 8:20 pm

    Glad she turned the dam thing off. Great finish, a wonderful story. Your focus on these men, their hard work, missing birthday’s because of it, really hit home for me. What’s going on with them and 75 percent of the country like them is the real story about the USA. Not the NFL. and not the kneeling. Hallelujah! You hit a grand slam with this one. Peace be with you!

    Reply
  29. Beth - September 26, 2017 8:21 pm

    Well said, Sean!

    Reply
  30. Janet Lee - September 26, 2017 8:39 pm

    You expressed my exact sentiment so well!! Not much else to say but thank you!!

    Reply
  31. Lee Taylor - September 26, 2017 9:16 pm

    Exactly!

    Reply
  32. Pamela McEachern - September 26, 2017 11:27 pm

    Well said our friend! You make us all want to be better people. Don’t worry…..it isn’t a lost cause, the comments from everyone helps me know we have some wonderful people surrounding us all.
    Go Sean Go!!! Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  33. Scott Reynolds - September 27, 2017 2:34 am

    Amen, Amen, Amen.

    Reply
  34. Lindsey B. - September 27, 2017 3:42 am

    Well said.
    If I’d known you were in town this morning, I’d have said hello. Stay awhile. There’s an Athens Grease (yes, you read it right) Festival this weekend.
    Good to have you, Sean.

    Reply
  35. David Helms - September 27, 2017 4:57 pm

    Thanks for writing this, Sean of the South. Signed, Dave of the Damned

    Reply
  36. Marsha - September 27, 2017 11:34 pm

    More people need to turn off the damn tv. We gave ours away two years ago and now we don’t know when we had the time or inclination to watch the damn idiot box.

    Reply
  37. Melanie Tighe - September 28, 2017 3:01 am

    Spot on Sean. Thank you.

    Reply
  38. Janette McCollum - September 28, 2017 12:36 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  39. Melodie - September 28, 2017 5:27 pm

    ♫ Proud to be an American…♫ Thank you to all the blue collar workers and any other color, as well. I thank all the linemen from all different states in this great nation for coming to our aid in Fla., after Hurricane Irma. In fact, the trucks that were on our street, were mostly from Kentucky! I hope all of you are Blessed from the rubbery breakfast, to the sincere gratitude of others.

    ….and….Thank YOU, Sean, for your wonderful, eye-opening stories about every day life, that so much of us miss.

    Reply
  40. Annette H. Bailey - October 1, 2017 9:37 am

    Sounds like my Dad was in this story. With 6 of us, he worked all the time. Either driving a big rig, on construction, then finally…the L&N Railroad. He’d always smile when he came home and we’d run to greet him out the back door. He danced with me at my wedding. Mom told me how much he enjoyed dancing when he was younger. I’m glad he and I had that dance……thanks Sean. The memories are wonderful sir.

    Reply
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