Sunday, October 23, 2011

Object Lessons

In an unsurprising move for me, I determined to practice work-avoidance (I have so much to do at work right now, I really am going to have to work tonight, Sunday, in order to have a prayer this week). 

Last weekend, I visited Aunt Shorty (aged 92), who had (in her usual effortless manner) whipped up home-made pulled pork bbq for me (in the crockpot).  I asked her how she did it and it really did sound simple.

So, in order to practice work-avoidance (and knowing that I would have to work very late every night this week, and being very tired of Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, Taco Cabana, and even Pei Wei and Popeye’s), I decided to see if I could accomplish some crock-pot bbq myself.  I reasoned, if I fix a big batch on Sunday, I can probably eat it for several days (till I’m sick of it) and neither cook nor go out (the microwave is your friend).

So, having listened to Aunt Shorty’s recipe and done a quick Google search, I set out for the local H-E-B to obtain food and supplies.

On Sunday.

What was I thinking?  It was, of course, packed. 

I won’t go to Wal-Mart in Houston.  Too big, too many people, too much of everything.  I go there about every 3 or 4 months and buy $200 worth of things like toothpaste, shaving cream, TP, paper towels, etc.  Those things really are cheaper there and if you buy them in big bulk and just store them, you limit your trips.

The local H-E-B has what I call the "International Bizarre” (spelling intentional) flavor to it.  Houston is a big melting pot of people from all over the world, and they flock to “my” H-E-B.  You’ll pass a gaggle of muslim women in their scarves, standing behind 3 or 4 Nigerians in full tribal-gear, who are waiting for the Korean family in front of them to move out of the way.  The store is tight and packed from top to bottom.

Every time I go in there, I vow mightily never to return.  It’s not necessarily the “international bizarre” aspect (I’ve found that women of all nationalities are equally adept at allowing their brats to scream bloody murder for no reason at all while Mom shops, oblivious), it’s the crowds.

You wouldn’t think that someone who’s attended as many sporting events as I have, and lived some of the places I have, would be bothered by crowds.  I’m finding that, as I age, that’s one of the things I tolerate less and less gracefully.  I won’t wait on line more than 15 minutes for ANY restaurant.  I cuss the traffic at all times.  I have no patience for long lines at the airport, nor for stupid people on the plane who hold up the whole shebangabang so they can angle for the perfect seat (pick one, sit in it, buckle up, and shut up).  I’m becoming, as my friend Keith says, a “crank”.  (The nicer word is “curmudgeon”).

So today, as I pushed my cart through the packed aisles at H-E-B, trying desperately to locate “Liquid Smoke” (it’s in the bbq sauce aisle, not the spice or baking aisle), digging around looking for dark brown sugar (you’d think there’d be lots, but they only had a few bags) and being shocked that they are all the way out of Duke’s Mayonnaise (if you’ve not tried it, do so; I’ve switched from my lifelong Hellman’s to Duke’s), I was pushed, prodded, shoved, and generally swarmed by the aforementioned muslim ladies, Nigerians (they wouldn’t get out of the way and had a whole aisle blocked with their carts and bodies; oblivious to the many people on both sides they were holding up), and garden-variety Mexicans (if they’re US Citizens, they’re “hispanic”, but if they’re Citizens of Mexico, they’re Mexicans), Americans (chocolate and vanilla varieties), and Asians of various origins, I was cursing steadily and non-stop under my breath.  “I will never, ever, ever set foot in this abomination of a store again,” swore I.  I utilized somewhat different vocabulary words for that, but that was the general drift.

Upon arrival at the checkout, the nice young African-American checker was a welcome relief (he speaks English as a native language; he’s polite and nice and southern).  Of course, he had no sacker, so he had to check the customer’s groceries, then sack them himself.

As I waited for him to finish with the nice hispanic lady in front of me, I leaned wearily on my cart (having gotten all my stuff onto the conveyor), and happened to glance up at the front of the store. 

Directly in front of me was the large American flag that adorns every H-E-B grocery store.  Surrounding it in huge letters were the words, “GOD BLESS AMERICA”.

And I’ve rarely been so embarrassed for myself. 

Here I am, lucky enough to have been born in the richest country in the history of humanity, during a time when it ruled the earth for most of my life.  America has always been “The Great Melting Pot”.  We’re from everywhere:  Germans, Swedes, French, African, Asian, English (my own family background); you name it, we’ve got it.  I’m rich by the standards of both 99% of the world’s current population AND my entire family tree.  Dad did well, as did his brothers and sisters and Mom’s brothers and sisters, but the great-grandparents were dirt farmers, all sides.  Mother and Dad told stories of outhouses and kerosene lamps (Dad’s family was rich, they had GASLIGHT).  The great-grandparents on all sides were poor dirt farmers with many children; uneducated, eking out an existence from the land, losing 3-4 children a generation to disease, living with 16 family members, multi-generational, in a clapboard shotgun shack on a farm in Arkansas with newspapers glued to the walls to keep the wind from howling through the cracks between the boards.  They were still better off than THEIR ancestors, who came from England (and a few from Germany) with the clothes on their backs from a Europe where constant war, starvation, hard work, and short lives were the norm.

And all these people I’d been cussing were here for the same reasons my family came here:  a better life for themselves and their children.  Hope for the future.  The American Promise, the American Dream.

Maybe next time, I’ll be a little more tolerant and a little more calm when someone from another country invades my personal space (because in their country of origin, personal space is a luxury no-one even dares to dream).



The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"




While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.


  1. Oh, and while there have been many wonderful versions of this song, none have ever been better.