I like the idea of celebrating our country on July 4th but I do not enjoy the local residents exploding monstrous fireworks near our house. These bombs go off late into the night and some houses have even had small fires on their rooftops when roman candles land on them. Happened to my house one July 4th.
If people want to see fireworks they can go to the parks or to the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn and have themselves a ball watching real professionals light up the night skies.
At 6:30 AM on this July 4th I went to my local supermarket to get some cold cuts for the day. Usually at 6:30 there aren’t many people – or any people – in the store, but today at the deli counter there were three people, a elderly woman in the process of ordering, a gray-haired old guy, and a short guy of maybe 40 years old waiting patiently.
I stood next to the short guy. We nodded at each other.
Behind the counter was Fred Laconic, who was the opposite of the meaning of his last name, and something of a pain in the ass if you were in a hurry. He would regale you with his ideas from the many “important” books he had read.
“Do you know people are idiots?” he once asked me as I was waiting to get my cheese. “Complete and utter idiots?”
“Ah,” I said. I have mentioned the sound “ah” before. It is an utterance that can be used to stop a conversation or at least one’s participation in a conversation. When it is used properly it merely means you heard the person talking but you had no real response. It usually works well. But with Fred? Not so much.
“I am going to kill my older brother!”
The elderly woman who was ordering walked down the counter. “Could I have a taste of that ham please?”
Fred cut her a small slice of ham and gave it to her dangling on a plastic fork.
“Not so good,” she said wolfing down the meat. I can’t stand the supermarket nibblers who think they are entitled to samples of everything. You even see them in the fruit and vegetable aisles grabbing loads of produce and shoveling them into their gaping mouths.
“Good morning,” said the short-guy to me after he had nodded his hello. “A great day, the 4th of July isn’t it? The celebration of the greatest country of all time.”
I nodded. Please, please, don’t get Fred involved in….
“Don’t give me that crap!” said Fred Laconic. “This country isn’t the greatest country of all time. We’re a face with a lot of pimples; religious nuts and conservatives of all types. You want a great democracy go to ancient Greece!”
“Let me taste some of your Swiss cheese,” said the elderly woman.
He slowly sliced her a small piece of Swiss cheese, handed it to her on another plastic fork. She smelled it as if it were an expensive wine and then gobbled it down. “I’ll take an eighth of a pound of that,” she said. He started slicing it for her when she waved her hand. “No, no, I changed my mind. I’ll have an eighth of a pound of white American cheese.”
“To celebrate the 4th!” said the old guy in front of the short guy.
“You think we have a free country?” said Fred. “We don’t. Just about everyone is brain washed and has been for centuries. We had slavery for crying out loud. Our so-called founding fathers had slaves. That’s some free country, ha!”
Well, his ancient Greece had slavery too – probably the majority of the population of those Greek city-states did not allow women or the salves to vote. Some of those states had more slaves than citizens. But I wasn’t getting involved in that conversation. Picking out the faults of the United States is easy. But I always think of such talk to be the equivalent of looking at some pimples on an otherwise good-looking face.
Allowing slavery was the worst decision our founders made. I sometimes flirt with the idea that those geniuses who formed our nation should have just told the South and anyone else in our land practicing slavery that such would not be allowed in our new union.
Maybe we shouldn’t have broken away from England? Maybe. After all England outlawed slavery in 1833 without a Civil War. I wonder if that thought is sinful for an American to ponder, that maybe our country started on the wrong foot – a shackled foot for some of the population?
I don’t know the answers to almost every question I’ve ever asked myself. That’s how it is with me.
“We are ruled by the ad agencies!” Fred said forcefully. “We have no free will!”
Fred looked right at me. “You’ve read all the great modern day atheists. I know that.” He then started naming the authors, “Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan,,,”
I held up my hand to stop him. You see I had once made the mistake of having a conversation with him one morning about the group known as the “new atheists” and that conversation made him always regale me with his new atheist ideas. I really don’t want to be harangued so early in the morning even though I have read all the “new atheists.”
The elderly woman pointed to the baloney, “You are ignoring me,” she said to Fred, who looked at her as if she were a worm.
“Let me have a piece of that baloney over there,” she pointed. Fred sliced a piece of baloney for her and then he continued with his baloney. “There is no God; anyone who is intelligent knows that. But the society has been trained to believe in fairy tales. It keeps them quiet and controlled. We are all just subatomic particles working ourselves out. We are not conscious. We just think we are.” Isn’t the saying, “I think therefore I am.” (Or was it, “I doubt therefore I am.”)
“A small slice of cheddar please,” said the elderly woman.
The short guy turned to me and said, “Isn’t she full by now? She’s had her breakfast right here.”
The other guy left. It was now just the elderly woman, the short guy and me. And of course Fred, demonstrably waving his arm in the air, “I find myself disgusted with people. They are fools!”
“Let me have an eighth of a pound of salami, the cheapest one,” said the elderly woman. “Let me have a little nibble of that too.”
“Jesus Christ,” said the short guy.
“Jesus Christ,” said Fred. “He’s a joke.”
Fred obligingly did as requested for the elderly woman. He then slid over the small amount she had bought.
“Thank God it is over,” said the short guy as the woman started to move away from the deli counter.
“Oh, crap,” said Fred, “I forgot to put on the number sheets for customers to take.” He flipped a switch and the light went over the machine that gave out tickets to tell you what place you were in line. The short guy has just ordered something so he didn’t have to get a ticket.
I strolled over to the machine to take a ticket but this skinny guy of about 70-years-old practically sprinted to it and grabbed a ticket before I could reach the machine to get mine. I took the ticket after his.
“What numbers do you guys have?” asked Fred.
“My number is seventy-four,” said the skinny guy.
“I’m seventy-five,” I smiled. “But I should go next since I have been waiting while that woman tasted everything in the case,” I smiled again. I figured the skinny guy would let me go ahead of him because I had been there long before him. I was also being very friendly.
“No,” he said. “My number is lower than your number so I go ahead of you.” Then he took out a sheet of paper with eight-trillion things on it that he was ordering. Remember this was, of course, July 4th and he was stocking up for whatever the hell he was doing to celebrate the day.
“But I have been waiting here for over fifteen minutes,” I said.
“That’s right,” said the short guy. “We had a long wait.”
“So I really am next,” I said.
“The rule is,” said the skinny guy pontifically. “The lower number goes before the higher number. That, sir, is the rule in case you didn’t know.”
“Look,” I said, almost beggingly, “I have to get one thing, one thing. That’s all. Some Swiss Cheese.”
“I have the ticket that’s ahead of yours, sir,” said the skinny man, now looking up and down his monstrous list of items.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” It was that elderly woman again. “Egg salad. Can I have a taste of egg salad to see if I want to buy it?”
“Lady,” said the skinny guy, “I am next after this guy,” he pointed to the short guy. “You have to wait your turn just like everyone else.”
“Fred, hey Fred,” I said. “Aren’t I before this guy?”
“I never interfere with customers,” said Fred. “Work it out among yourselves.”
“Lady,” said the skinny guy. “You aren’t getting ahead of me.” And he gave her the thumb to get away from the counter.
“Well, I never!” she remonstrated and walked off in a huff.
The short guy got his order and turned to the skinny guy and said, “He’s next (meaning me), and you should let him go next.”
“I have the lower number,” he said.
I haven’t had a fight in fifty years. But now I was ready to re-enter the arena.
Could I take this skinny guy? Maybe. You never know. He could be in great shape as opposed to the whale-like condition I’m in. He could be some MMA kind of guy but he didn’t look anything like that. He looked as if he smoked. The fight wouldn’t last long if I did the usual routine. Left jab! Right cross! And a powerful left hook! One swiftly after the other. I might be able to knock this piece of dung on his ass, get my Swiss Cheese and leave the store.
So I looked at him and I was truly ready to fight him in the deli section of my local supermarket.
We stared at each. I said in my scary voice, “I’m going next.” Just then, the elderly woman came back with the store manager. “I was ahead of these gentlemen,” she said. “But they wouldn’t let me order my two pounds of egg salad. They were totally disrespectful. You are going to lose a lot of business if you allow people such as these men with no manners to get ahead of an old woman.”
The store manager looked at us and made his pronouncement. “The woman is next.”
I looked at the elderly woman. I looked at Fred who was ignoring all of this. I looked at the skinny guy. Then I turned and walked out of the store.
The last I heard was the elderly woman saying, “I’d like a taste of the potato salad.”
I’ll save my return to the ring for some other time.
Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.