On my way in to Wal Mart this morning to buy paper towels for my office bathroom, the greeter Sean cried out, “Good morning, Sir” as if I were his commanding officer. He refrained from saluting. I would not know how to stand him down since I was never in the military. I know, that’s a shocker for long time readers who know my issues with authority and general lack of seriousness. I greeted him back and wandered through produce and baked goods, knowing precisely where the paper towels were displayed against the back wall, a full acre away. I picked up a goat cheese/walnut salad and some chocolate croissants because I could imagine that the good of the first would cancel out the evil of the second. This sort of counter logical thinking is done by older citizens who are fully aware of their fragile mortality. When I was younger, I would have mindlessly added other sweet and fattening items to my non list and plowed on with my day. Triglycerides and cholesterol were foreign concepts to me then, like moons around Pluto. I wasn’t going there so why bother worrying about them?
On my way out of the self check corral, Sentry Sean caught me again. “Goodbye, Sir. Have a great day.”
“Thanks. You too.” I wanted to say his name and let him know he was doing a super job of greeting despite the slow traffic and dismal weather outside. “Sean, one day you are gonna be managing this warehouse, Son. You have that management aura. You dress and act the part. Well done, my boy.” But I did not. I just pondered the sirness of his greeting. Over the past 15 years I’ve gotten more sirs than ever before. I realize that sir equals old without being explicit about the verbal substitution. Old means weak, feeble, and dunderheaded. I know I was taught to say sir and ma’am out of respect for my elders back in my pre-elder days. And I did, but now on the other end of the “respect” arrow it doesn’t feel like respect. It feels like pre-dementia code, as if the next thing out of Sean’s mouth might be, “Can I get you a golf cart, sir?” meaning “Don’t buy the green bananas, old man, or stock up on soap and paper products. Think of your heirs and the mess they will have disposing of it all after you are… you know, gone.”
Perhaps I was going too far too fast in my associations. I have a tendency to do that. But that three letter moniker SIR itched like a finely curled hair in my ear. I had to pull it out before a field of ear hairs sprouted up dandelionishly, driving me madly to the State Mental Hospital even sooner than my wife had planned. At my competency hearing I did not want to explain that it all began with a simple “Sir” at the door to Wal Mart on a damp spring Wednesday morning. I’d be afraid that I’d launch into Cat Stevens’ version of “Morning Has Broken”, and then I’d likely riff on the lyrics until I had firmly convinced the mental health advocate and attorney that I needed more lock down time.
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird, Sean, has spoken like the first bird
Praise for his greeting Praise for his pure heart
Praise for him calling me “Sir, a golf cart?”
Sweet the fresh croissants, and the goat cheese salad
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the moist choc’late
And towels absorbant where my hands pass
Mine is the Wal Mart In the damp morning
Born of the one light Sam Walton saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry low price
Sam’s re-creation of the new day
Morning has broken Amen.
Yeah, I’d give myself an extra six months on that mash up alone. Not only had morning broken but it had come unglued. “His reality seems to fall like snow flakes in a blizzard, drifting where ever the wind blows”, the chart note would read. “Do not release him.”
Once I drove out of the parking lot, it dawned on me that we have several three letter words that designate concepts/relationships throughout our lives. Kid was the first one that came to mind. Growing up in the cookie cutter suburbs of northern Virginia in the 1960’s, there were so many Baby Boom children running loose that adults couldn’t possibly know everyone’s name. “Hey, kid…” was not an unusual call. In my case it was often followed by “…knock it off” or “quit it” or “I’m gonna tell your parents”.
Folks who were not so distant might call you Son. “Now Son, the window is broken because you and Timmy were playing Army with real rocks.” Or “Son, I’m loading this gun with rock salt so I don’t kill you.” Or “Son, I told you about cutting through my yard.”
Then there is the intimate, endearing three letter term Bud, as in “How are you, Bud?” “I’ll have another Bud or Bud Light.” Bud light may actually be the on ramp to deeper friendship. You are a bud until you hatch out into a truly vetted friend. “So how is your bud Sam?” “Sam is a forever friend now; thanks for asking.” A certain familiarity is implied in Bud. The Brits call their buds Mates. Perhaps that only muddles the discussion, though, since in the U.S. mating with buds is frowned upon, as in England budding with mates is likewise discouraged.
My most dreaded three letter handle of all is Pop. I can’t imagine being comfortable with younger folks, familiar or strange, calling me Pop or Pops. I know how I feel when I am stuck behind Pops in a big American made car turning slowly in the left lane of Route 30. “Come on, Pops!” I exclaim to the inside of my windshield. “Can I get you a golf cart?”