Neighborhood

Bea and I stopped by Kroger this morning after we took Cora to school. I just realized I forgot to buy Nutella. I also purchased a package of frozen bean and cheese burritos when we already have an unopened package in the freezer at home. Why am I allowed to buy groceries? My incompetence has been proven repeatedly. At least I remembered the important things, like diapers and diet root beer.

Bea was pretty helpful and only dropped her tablet five times. Those engineers at Amazon know what they’re doing, because that sucker bounced and safely came to rest every single time with her device intact. She did give me a scare in the canned vegetable aisle when she launched into straining grunt mode. This usually means she’s laying something the size and consistency of a goose egg in her drawers.

“Are you pooping your pants?”

“No, I’m pooping in my diaper.”

“Don’t you want to use the potty like a big girl?”

“No.”

I checked her and she wasn’t even pooping. We have these false alarms from time to time. Maybe she’s confused by gas or cramps. I’m 38 and it still throws me for a loop. I know some of you guys are into intelligent design but you cannot convince me that someone sat down and decided we’d need to not only shit out our asses but be inconvenienced and confused by it. Wait, let me prepare your rebuttal for you. Adam and Eve didn’t have assholes until Eve bit the apple. There you are. We can hand-wave this and blame women all in one go.

As we rolled through the mostly-deserted aisles, populated only by grocery stockers, I found myself singing songs from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I can’t help but get a bit emotional when I do this. You guys can argue all day long about what Jesus would have thought about Trump, and I can’t really refute that shit. For every verse I could quote, there exists another that waits to be twisted against it by people with bad intentions. We have Fred Rogers on video, though. I don’t have to argue over the interpretation of texts when I can log onto YouTube and watch him passionately and successfully defend PBS funding against a hostile Senate committee¹.

I recently saw a guy “thank the LORD” that Fred Rogers wasn’t around to defend public television against those who seek to destroy it. It took under ten seconds of clicking to find out his political affiliation. I’ll give you three guesses.

I’m trying to remind myself that the folks who embrace musclebound capitalist Rambo Jesus are in the minority. I really am, and it’s silly, even, that I have to do this. The shitty militant atheist inside me reckons your vast and varied interpretations of the man are about as historically accurate as Robin Hood. I guess what gets me more riled is when folks have forty years of television to reference and access to multiple interviews where people ached to find some controversy (there was none), and still they discount one of the top five kindest people to breathe our polluted air.

PBS funding is about $445 million a year. Trump has cost taxpayers $10 million going to Mar-a-Lago this month. Add in Trump Tower, DC, and daily trips between all three. I’ll let you do the math, but suffice it to say there’s a way to budget Big Bird if we stop dropping that much money on Small Hands.

So, we rolled through Kroger while I sang my hymns. It is nice to be moved. I used to think something was wrong with me if I got verklempt, but I’ve realized what a wonderful thing it is to feel, especially when it’s brought on by song. I’m not a young man anymore or an old man yet, just a man, but I never had a good example of who or what I was supposed to be in this regard that wasn’t a problem. That is, except for Fred Rogers. I’ve cobbled together (sometimes conflicting) influences over the years, but he’s the head of my pantheon. Forgive me if I to go un-Rogerian lengths to defend him.

How the mighty have fallen.

My personal deities aside, it feels a bit weird to buy groceries where the Indian Mall² once stood. A decrepit Sears looms like a headstone over the grave of good times, but it too will soon feel the dozer blade. Babbage’s, later Game Stop, was in that patch of tall grass pictured above. I don’t know exactly how many hours I lingered and stared at their wall of PC games, but smashed together it must total something between a day and a week. I’d furrow my brow³ and pace back and forth as I decided what my computer would run and what I could afford. KB Toys was across the hall to the right. We purchased the first Final Fantasy game there, about a million years before Bain Capital took over the company and scrapped it. Apparently there was no hooker with a heart of gold to save that place from liquidation⁴.

Poltergeist potential or not, it’s a damned nice grocery store. As a trembling wad of clashing ideas, I often find myself admiring shiny new capitalist enterprises. I’m a landowner and a retail manager, so I might be the World’s Shittiest Space Communist, or at least the most hypocritical. If they can make a film about Dalton Trumbo, the vilified, vindicated and venerated rich Hollywood screenwriting communist, though, maybe I can pull it off without looking as ridiculous as the cabal of Reds in Hail, Caesar.

I tend to narrate everything I do when I’m with the kids, so when I picked out the aforementioned burritos, Bea was convinced I’d meant Doritos. I should have known, because she’s nuts about the latter, and she pronounces it like “burrito” despite my repeated corrections. I didn’t realize the discrepancy in our respective definitions of burrito until we’d arrived home and started unloading the van.

“We don’t have DO-ritos, Bea,” I said, “we have BU-rritos.”

“But I want burritos!”

“Bea. It’s Do-rito. Burritos are filled with beans. Do you like beans?”

“No.”

“Hey, how about a Fiber One bar?”

“Okay!”

Here’s some unsolicited advice to new parents: Misdirection is one of the most valuable tools in your bag.

“Are you ready to go potty now?” I asked.

“No. I don’t have to.”

“Come on, Bea, let’s give it a shot.”

“I don’t want a shot!”

It looks like we’re going to be buying size 6 diapers for a little while longer.


¹ I link to this weekly these days and I’ll never stop. I’ll probably do it more when they start dismantling public television and radio.

² If you aren’t from around here, yes, it was called the Indian Mall. It opened in 1968 and   was named after the Arkansas State University sports mascot.

³ I’m aware that I overuse the brow furrowing but guys, I furrow the shit out of my brow. I don’t know what else to tell you.

I really wanted to run with this Pretty Woman metaphor and draw some parallels between Mitt Romney, Richard Gere, and Jason Alexander, but I have readers who keep me honest and one of them would have pointed out that Mitt retired from Bain a year before they purchased KB. Chuck Palahniuk wouldn’t let this stop him. Hell, he wrote a book about a guy who travels through time and becomes his own grandfather by repeatedly getting rabies. Somehow I can suspend disbelief for the time travel but not the rabies. You get rabies once, and if it’s not treated immediately, you’re fucked. Once I based an entire essay on the notion that caterpillars turn into goo in their chrysalis before they emerge as a butterfly. One of my dutiful unpaid fact checkers let me know this is demonstrably false. I didn’t scrap it after it had been published, but I’m not going to be a terrible liar by doing it on purpose, no matter how sweet it feels.