On our way home from the farmers market this morning, H. said we needed more potting soil. We swung into the parking lot of our local big chain home improvement store, where the world's best hot dogs sell from a white truck. (Which features a giant metal hot dog on its roof.) It was hot, as it's been all weekend -- hot for the season, and hot for our heat waves. We stepped to the side of the truck to order, and hotter air blasted out from its interior as the owner leaned forward toward us.
"Good morning!" he bellowed to me in a thick accent I couldn't quite place -- it could have been Mexican, but based on the man's features was more likely Croatian. "Hello, my friend, how are you?" he said, recognizing H. (who has clearly been enjoying lunch there quite often!). "Hello, my man! How are you? Give me five! All right! You are my man!" he said to Luke, laughing.
As I was putting the condiments on the hot dog for Luke, another man approached the window to ask why his food was taking so long. The owner explained that he was cooking chicken on the grill, and had to wait for that to be done before putting meat on. "I cook it fresh every day," he said. "No yesterday. It's all done same day. So, there's nothing I can do, and I'm sorry. The chicken will be done soon, and then I do your food." The other man quickly softened and very pleasantly said he understood, it was no problem.
While H. went to get the potting soil, Luke and I said in the shade with the hot dog and a bottle of water. I listened as the man greeted every customer with the same level of enthusiasm, kindness and respect. It seemed genuine, not a sales pitch, not desperate--far from desperate, in fact: he had a nearly regal air about him that was simultaneously humble. How often do we see that? This man, older man, is selling hot dogs, tacos, soda and water outside a home improvement store to, let's face it, countless fat jerks in SUVs who think they are IT because they can fix a garbage disposal or whatever--today, in the blazing heat. Not angry that he's not doing something else, not humiliated because he's serving food from a truck, and with more self-respect and generosity than most people you rub elbows with every day.
I've been working in the corporate world for 4 years now, and it's changed me. Mostly for the better--that's a list for another day--but also in a couple of ways that make me less than proud. In particular, my awareness of status. It's useful, here and there, to be able to mimic the behaviors of those with societal/organizational status. A tool is a tool, after all. But having been exposed to that world every day for the last thousand days or so, I find myself childishly upset over my unattractive 12-year-old car (which has never really given me a day's trouble and gets good gas mileage), my salary (which seems not to expand with my material desires--must talk to someone about this), my kitchen (which was last decorated sometime around 1975), and the like. And obviously that's a slippery slope. I find it disappointingly difficult to resist, and that is frustrating. I spend hours in frank discussion with myself, either fending off or volleying working-class disgust, among other varieties, from and at myself.
Observing this man today, though, I was able to simply step away from all of the tail-chasing. Isn't that the beauty of simplicity sometimes? The solution is not to talk myself out of materialism: it is to focus on what is important. Respect, kindness. Which really means love. Love, again. The solution is always love.