That was the view out the front door earlier this morning; seems last week’s moderating temperatures and dry, sunny days were just a tease. Figures. My erstwhile home state of Tennessee has had a rough winter, I understand. (Vermonters feel your pain after one of the coldest winters on record here.)
But this post is not about the weather. It’s about the human condition. As different as the weather may be in the two states, people are the same wherever you go. That conventional wisdom is the truth.
Last week I went into a particular big box store that shall go unnamed except to say that it rhymes with small fart. I detest going there–in Tennessee, in Vermont, or any other state. I go for the same reason most people do–for bargains on necessaries. On a good day I can overlook store filth and disinterested staff; on a bad one I feel like I need a bodyguard. Last week I witnessed a new low among lowest common denominators, if that is even possible.
I tried to ignore the portentous screaming child who was leaving the store as I was going in. I am talking blood-curdling and hair-raising, like a kid in genuine distress. But then I saw him walking next to the shopping cart his mom was pushing into the parking lot, younger sibling in tow, mom angrily shouting there would be no television for the rest of the day. She looked tired and harangued. I’ve been there; I have no idea what the kid did to get himself into his pickle; I silently thanked the universe those days are over for me, and sent up a little offering of strength to the mom, that her resolve would not weaken as the evening wore on. You go, mama.
It gets worse. I had been inside the store taking care of business for maybe a nanosecond when a woman walked past me and farted. Loud and long and without shame. Standing right next to me. No small fart here. Neither she nor her (presumed) husband batted an eye. They just kept on gabbing and walking. And I got the heck out of the way, to avoid, you know. The word miscreant popped into my head, along with underbelly of society, and other uncharitable phrases I will not quote here.
I know: I am a princess, right? The last time I was in this particular store I was shopping for a pair of readers for Handsome Chef Boyfriend so he would not have to keep toting his home pair to work with him. I was scrutinizing the spartan offerings of the Small Fart pharmacy and at some point grew marginally aware of a disturbance somewhere in my periphery. The noise ballooned until neither I (nor anyone) could ignore it. Swearing. Lots of it, no filters, angry (nay, hostile–almost delusional), coming from a man pushing his toddler in a cart and ranting about why medicine costs so much to his (presumed) wife, who did not say anything. The child was taking it all in, as children do. Every. Single. Word. I could go on about this bully and his captive audience, but I’ve said enough.
At one point people joked about a particular Small Fart location in Tennessee where it was said the store kept impossibly late hours so that unwed teenage mothers and their infant children could come in and shop. It’s not really very funny. Last week I started thinking of this establishment corporately as a microcosm–or as a petri dish of sorts–for the American culture of poverty. It’s not the poverty, of course, that is most reprehensible; nobody really sets out to be poor. It’s the ignorance. And of course the two are inseparable. And the most terrifying corollary to this axiom: ignorance begets ignorance.
I’m not observing anything here that has not been observed a million times before by minds far greater than my own. I’ve just had my nose rubbed in it a few times lately.
My daily commute takes me right past Robert Frost’s home, a stone house sitting close to the highway, beautiful in its simplicity. And for a moment I think about Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, written at that house. I can hear my eleventh-grade English teacher using the Socratic method to draw answers out of us about its meanings, and later a college professor attempting the same. I see the beautiful hardcover copy of the book that was a favorite of my young son, pored over scores of times from the comfort and security of his clean bedsheets at the end of the day, or being held and rocked in the lap of a loving parent. I thought about it again this morning, looking out the window, dismayed as I was that it was snowing. Again. Did anybody read that poem to the angry man swearing out loud in front of his listening child? (Did anybody ever read anything out loud to him, and if they did, when did things begin to turn south?)
Maybe the human condition after all is one of suffering, which would be our undoing but for a single, beautiful, four-letter word: hope.
Back to Small Fart. I propose a coporate change. The greeter (you know the ones–they wear blue vests and offer you a shopping cart when you walk in) is your redemption, dear corporate shirts: they are people of civility and charity. In the new utopian big box retail experience the greeter is entrusted not only with shopping carts, but with the policing of manners and deportment. Give them some executive power to, you know, ask people not to fart out loud or curse in front of their kids in the store. (And maybe a vest made of kevlar.) The Small Fart greeter: America’s hope for the future.