Montgomery, Alabama—the meat department. I stood behind them. They were Mexican. Maybe fourteen. Faded caps. Ratty jeans. Clothes covered in dirt and mortar. Skinny as a flock of number-two pencils.
They ordered a half-pound of beef.
The butcher handed them enough wrapped packages to sink the U.S.S. Alabama.
One kid remarked, “What this? we only ask for half pound.”
The butcher said, “Aw, it’s free. I have to get rid of it. Expiration date’s today. Freeze it, it’ll last for years.”
The boys looked like they’d just discovered teeth.
One said, “God bless joo, sir.”
Pensacola, Florida—Cracker Barrel parking lot. I saw a man with his wife. Maybe it was his girlfriend. She was in a wheelchair. She had blonde hair. She couldn’t stop twitching.
He rolled her into the restaurant. She dropped her purse. He picked it up.
She moaned, “I’m so sorry, honey.”
He kissed her. “Don’t ever apologize to me, silly.”
Macon, Georgia— Walmart. A man and his kids stood in the checkout lane. They had a basket with a few things. He swiped his card. It wouldn’t go.
The cashier said, “Sorry sir, this card’s denied.”
His face changed. He turned to leave.
The lady behind him stepped forward, removed her wallet, and said, “How much?” She paid for his groceries.
He thanked her.
She answered matter-of-factly, “I’m a single mother, I know what it’s like being broke.”
How about this one:
Defuniak Springs, Florida—I saw an elderly man with car trouble at the gas station. The clerk—in her mid-twenties—rushed outside to help. She got his car started. The man tipped her ten bucks.
The clerk took the money and said, “You have NO idea how bad I needed this today.”
So he dug into his pocket and gave her more bills. Handfuls.
Listen, while I write this the news is playing on television. The announcer reads headlines. Shootings, stabbings, rapes, racism, pressure-cooker bombs. He’s using a polished, monotone voice.
Then: more footage from the recent presidential debates, various missile launches, a Brad Pitt divorce, mushroom clouds. And in case you fell asleep, candidate polls.
I’m a nobody from nowhere. Admittedly, I drink warm beer, and I have nary a credential to my hillbilly name. I have no right to tell anyone how to do their job. Truth told, I have a hard enough time just emptying the dishwasher.
But if I may, I’d like to say something to the broadcast journalists who dredge up shocking headlines every day.
Brothers and sisters…
You’re looking in all the wrong damn places.
Try the meat department.