If you chop up the stuff you put in the compost pile, it disintegrates faster. I’m pretty sure this applies to human cultures too. How many ways can we divide people up? Black vs. white? Male vs. female? I guess the barriers are nothing new. Buffalo Springfield sang a long time ago about “battle lines being drawn.” And there’s sure enough been some rapid decay.
A while back, I saw it pretty vividly in the beating heart of middle America, the package pick-up department at Sears. A man’s T-shirt dug a fetid trench with its picture of two voluptuous blondes in bikinis perched on the sides of a boat. A caption praised the boatmaker’s “twin screws” and opined that “Two screws are better than one.” Next to the man stood his little daughter, about three or four years old.
Feeling rather sick, I turned my eyes to the lone clerk on duty, who was having a tough time with customers who didn’t quite grasp the system. He asked a woman about her vehicle, and she stared blankly. “Car? Truck?” he said. “Something to carry your purchase in?” Finally, she caught on and led him out the door.
On his return, he walked around the room and asked the rest of us for our receipts. He got another blank stare from a man standing near the warehouse door. The man finally said he didn’t have a receipt, but he was here to pick something up and that his wife had talked to a lady. Was there a lady in there? The clerk explained that he was the only one around, and he could not bring any goods out without a receipt. The customer was sure he didn’t need one. He wanted to talk to “the lady.” The clerk repeated the necessity of a receipt. Finally, the customer exploded in profanity. “Ah, ____ it!” he shouted. “I tried to get the ____ing thing Thursday,” and on and on. He complained and cursed his way out the door. As the clerk backed through the warehouse door, he looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Some people.”
Soon he reappeared with my picnic table on a dolly and rolled it out to my waiting van. He was working hard, and drenched with sweat. As he hefted the table, I tried to think of a way to encourage him. Brows crinkled in sympathy, I said, “I’m not mad at you.”
He burst out laughing and nudged my arm. “That guy sounded like that rapper, that Tupac Shakur.” He was still laughing as he returned to the store. I was left to ponder some facts. The man with the filthy T-shirt was white, maybe late thirties. The man with the nasty mouth was white, probably in his fifties. The clerk was young and black. And even-tempered. And wise. A middle-aged white lady, I admired him for seeming to recognize that the dividing lines here were drawn not between black and white, male and female, young and old, but between decent and indecent, mannerly and crude, considerate and selfish— one might even say human and anti-human. I was happy to think that we both had rejected the foul and degrading and stood on the side of God’s law: Love your neighbor as yourself. Maybe more of us could give it a try.