A television is playing in a Pensacola bar. The talking head is shouting politics. Most folks in this joint are below thirty, and aren’t even watching TV. They’re transfixed to glowing smartphones.
The bartender looks thirteen. He stares at the screen and says something under his breath. Something awful.
“This country sucks, man.”
I know he probably doesn’t mean it, but it stings just the same, and I wish he wouldn’t say such things.
Even so, it’s not his fault. I don’t know what his story is, but perhaps this boy has missed a few blessings in his accumulated years of harrowed wisdom.
Maybe he’s never seen things like big azaleas—bright enough to give you trouble breathing.
Those don’t suck.
Neither do the Waffle Houses lining the Interstates. I’ve never had a bad meal at such an establishment, nor bad service. And no matter which time of year I visit one, it is always cold enough inside to hang meat.
The Everglades at sunrise, no sucking there. The Suwannee. The fat-bottomed cypress trees. Spanish moss. My bartender needs to see these things.
And he ought to eat supper with men who plant peanuts and cotton. Fellas who live in trailers parked on a thousand acres. Who raise red Angus, and Herefords. Who still use cattle dogs for herding. Real people. Real callouses.
If you ask me, the boy needs to ride a riverboat, watch shrimp trawlers, or hear stories from men who farm oyster beds.
And he needs hog ribs from Kendall’s Barbecue, in Georgiana. Food that comes out of that tin shack is worth crying over.
County fairs, livestock exhibitions, and kids with prize-winning show hogs.
String bands. Gospel music with Hammond organs. Or music from the the bayou played by men with white hair.
He deserves a trip to Defuniak Springs, Florala, Kinston, Brantley, or Luverne. And for just one afternoon, I’d like to show him a ball game in Paxton. That would cure anyone.
He needs to hold a Case knife in his hand. And he ought to own at least one Stetson, to keep the sun out of his eyes.
I wish I could take him to a chapel. Not the elaborate churches found in cities, but the kind that back up to hayfields.
And I’d like to carry him to a funeral. Like my grandfather’s. When twenty-one men in uniform fired rifles. When they draped the colors of our ancestry over a pinewood box, then saluted.
When a string of a hundred cars drove with headlights on. When a solo trumpet made my mama cry.
I don’t care what the suits on television say, kid. Don’t believe them. The sod cabins, the longleaf forests, the farmland of our granddaddies. The nurses, EMT’s, teachers, janitors. That’s us.
America doesn’t suck.
Your television does.