I would carry you on my shoulders
Across the muddy river
Texas feels like Mexico
She reminds me of my mother
— the prophet Alejandro Escovedo
Char gives me her prescriptions. She’s almost 90 and has a fracture in her spine, so she has turned to the hard stuff. Lactaid cottage cheese. Del Monte fruit cups. No syrup, no juice. Neat. And the big guns — Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. Chocolate. Mint chocolate. Double chocolate. Keep ’em coming, barkeep.
In our neighborhood, there’s only one place that sells this stuff over the counter, no questions asked — Walmart.
I long ago gave up my deep aversion to shopping at Walmart. The world is going to hell with or without a company forcing everyone else out of business. And it’s next to a Wendy’s, meaning I get a Medium Chocolate Frosty when I go there. If it comes down to saving the world or getting a Frosty, the world is in big trouble.
I walk into the store and experience the same weird feeling I always get here. The place is always nearly empty. Maybe it’s because everyone in Scottsdale is rich and doesn’t need to watch their budget. Maybe there are too many stores around here. Maybe everyone gets distracted by Wendy’s. That’s OK. I wander down the aisles, wondering what it would be like to be crammed into a store packed with people doing their back-to-school shopping.
It’s funny how life changes these days. You have these places you go to without giving much thought. Schools. Churches. Bars. Walmarts. You always think “It would never happen here.” Until it happens here.
I’m trying to find McCafe coffee — decaf, medium roast, pre-ground. Did I ever mention Char is sort of picky? Luckily, a woman is stocking coffee nearby. I ask her. She gives me a frightened look. Her eyes widen. She says nothing.
It occurs to me she must not speak English, in the same way I don’t speak Spanish unless I’m called on to say that “my Uncle Boni plays in the orchestra” or “I will ride up the hill on my bicycle,” the only phrases that have stayed with me from seventh grade Spanish.
What must life be like for her today, working in a Walmart, the member of a minority that increasingly has become a target for no reason other than that some people are filled with an unspeakable evil? A store that would sell you a rifle, tell you to have a nice day, and then duck when you walk back in with it? I thought I was going to crack up last night while editing page after page of heartbreaking stories for the El Paso newspaper. But I made my deadline and turned off my computer. She can’t.
In a previous life, I spent a lot of time in El Paso. I was always more of a west side Sunland Park Mall kind of guy, but I loved the city so much. The history, the people, the architecture, the gritty feeling of realness. The art. Chico’s Tacos. The Kentucky Club and the open market in Juarez. Standing there looking across the river at the little shacks, wishing life could be more fair. The way the lights twinkle at night. That mountain. I still drive through it a lot going to San Angelo and back. It always makes me smile. Always.
As a journalist, I know the drill too well. Day 1 massacre, day 2 outrage, day 3 mourning, day 4 what next, day 5 on to something else what is that wacky Garfield up to today. But this one was different for me. I know these people. Simple, good folks trying to make a better life for their families. Gunned down by a maniac whose manifesto sounded eerily familiar to one presidential candidate’s 2020 campaign strategy.
The woman and I stand there awkwardly. I finally say, “oh well people shouldn’t drink decaf anyhow” and thank her. She doesn’t make eye contact and keeps stocking her shelves.
I pick up the cookies and fruit cups. I check out with the help of a guy who reminds me so much of our dear friend at the Corpus Christi grocery store who had no car but possessed the biggest heart I’ll ever come across. It’s not his country? Texas is just a Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo away from being Mexico. In the same way that Native Americans are the only True Americans, people of Mexican descent are the only True Texans. Or in the words of my friend CJ, fuck you.
I put my stuff in my Texas H-E-B bag and walk out of the store. Nobody shoots me.
I’m a white guy.
I come home and open the white chocolate macadamia cookies I bought while I was there. Because sometimes a broken heart is not unlike a broken spine. You need the hard stuff.
Life is funny …
I just can’t imagine how you edit day in and day out. Heart breaking stories everywhere. Some of us just put our sneakers on and try to block everything out. Hoping if along our ways we say hi to everyone we see it will make a difference. Ugh.
Please pass the Brussels.