Thursday, January 8, 2015

Robbing Oxygen

A few weeks back I was in a Cracker Barrel restaurant south of Atlanta, Georgia. The place seemed crowded for a Monday lunch, but it was the week following Xmas.

Our family waited in line. Kids were antsy. Traffic had been bad. We weren't expecting to wait for seating. April and the kids fidgeted. I stood still to take in the surroundings, eventually studying the party behind us in line. They knew a person from the party ahead of us. All locals. Their familiarity belied them. Their accents were spot-on. Their uniforms commingled golf shirts and real tree.

They spoke of the holidays, family health problems, trivial frustrations. Then, they spoke of politics. Libya and Russia, something or other.

"Well, he ain't my president."

"He ain't MY president, either!"

The first, and older, protestor then told a story I couldn't make out. I heard only bits about monkeys throwing each other on the train tracks followed by a reference to our President. As a monkey.

Relating this later to April at our lunch table she was appalled. She hadn't heard any of it. Thankfully.

I watched the table of men across from us. They were unconnected to our line studies. I observed their interactions with the African-American waitress serving them and us. I noted their tone with her. No quintessential "southern courtesy." No lilting 'ma'ams' or 'why, yes pleases' or any other stereotypical southernisms we glorify and prop up in our cultural rhetoric.

Come to think of it, I only witnessed those 'isms' as a young person, and we now only see those interactions in movies and such, occurring between white people.

In fact, I witnessed among those three fellows a restrained, yet wholehearted, lack of civility in the face of what was clearly a hellish day at a restaurant with ill-equipped management. In the faces of these white men, bodies bedecked in ridiculous modern garb glorifying golf, camouflage, and their agribusiness employer, I instead saw the faces of entitled gentry marooned on a tract of land over two centuries ago. The reassurance of dominion and sovereignty fresh from the mouths of their forebears ebbing their domineering arrogance.

I felt a slight twinge of shame I hadn't spoken to the good ole boys behind me in line earlier. But I remembered I would not have had the restraint to be civil. And civility is paramount, in the South, even when one speaks of racism, sedition, or hypocrisy.

Picking battles. Saving energy. Like not wasting air on oxygen thieves.

At the table, as our family endured the longest wait for our food, I had plenty of time to look around. At the multiple black families. At biracial couples and kids. At the table of eight that included an extended family of Asians, including grandma including small children. I studied this scene. I thought about the men in line.

I concluded my silence meant nothing. Because the ultimate reality would correct the situation. In due course and given time.

The reality frightening these small-minded relics is not even new. It is not a result of moral decline, a departure from precepts, or some prophesied nonsense. The reality is reality. It has been happening all along. Centuries long.

People exist, and love, hate, kill, and fuck. And live and have to go on. Color and religion and class don't matter so much as circumstance.

My South, my home, you are the hallows of ancient circumstance on our nation's shores. By god, you have so much to learn, so far to go.

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