This article originally appeared on Bluffton1.com in June, 2005. A local business owner and creator of Bluffton1.com, Jeff Urell was interested in a column from the New-Comers perspective. This was especially pertinent in 2005, as Bluffton was inside one of the fastest growing counties in the country. This was the second column in a series of three. (The link from that site is no longer available.)
Stores with fruit and I get along quite well. That’s why the story I am about to tell is so unsettling.
On a recent Sunday, while investigating the various colors, shapes, and textures available to the early-21st-Century shopper, a semi-threatening mumble from a nearby shopper abruptly pulled my attention from nature’s art museum.
“You steeped right ove my basket. Why? Why did you do it? You just stepped right over my basket?”
Having emigrated to this lovely hamlet from Chicago – a city with more than a few random mumblers – you would think I could easily negotiate this challenge made to my shopping skills. But this man is mad at me, and he is giving me the stink eye. I should definitely load up on garlic. No, wait…garlic is for vampires. Crap. I am just a poor Yankee who does not know these ways. I am bewildered by the level at which I have upset this man by merely stepping over his unattended hand-basket. Perhaps I have upset his fruits’ mojo. But he abandoned his basket. Why would he do so with such prized pickings?
He continues his complaints to my dear, lineman-sized other-half, and it quickly becomes somewhat resolved. We continue shopping, but this scene has disturbed me. As a newcomer (from a city with close to 10 million people representing every culture on the planet, no less), my last intention is to make enemies or defy local custom, especially if it is outside the mainstream. You see, I float against the currents of the mainstream naturally, and anyone I find along the tributaries, I consider a potential ally. I want to redeem my rude basket etiquette and find common ground with this man I have unintentionally offended.
I look for him in the parking lot, hoping to somehow make amends. And then it dawns on me: Maybe this is what happens to the disenfranchised lot in the South, of which I feel a part.Let’s face it: Mr. Mojo and I probably have much in common. Like me, chances are he is anti-Bush, not a member of any Christian church, and therefore, likely ostracized from the larger part of the community.
I can’t wait to discuss this with my Southern friends. Surely they will offer some insight. I will have them to dinner. Yes, a dinner party. They can explain to me how, at first, it is difficult being a progressive in the “Bible Belt”, but that after time, you find your way. Yes: A dinner party! I’ll invite Mr. Mojo, and understanding will be ours.
Then the ugly, but all too familiar, reality butts into my glorious daydream. It reminds me I have no friends here, progressive or otherwise. I have been looking, but fellow progressives are hard to find here. I must say I look for them everywhere I go: in parking lots (bumper sticker repositories), bookstores, bars, and restaurants, down alleys and around corners. But I always seem to come up empty-handed, which is as odd as it is unsettling. I am used to a city full of people clamoring to prove, in fact, just how progressive they are. Here, I am just a poor Yankee who does not know these ways, lost in a sea of cross-wearing, “W” sticker flaunters. And I have a dinner party to throw, damn it!
It is okay, though. I can always invite the many card-carrying GOP members I meet. Or all of the neighbors, salespeople, and potential employers who invariably say, “Your husband this” and “Your husband that,” assuming that the man I am standing next to and cohabitate with must be my husband. No one in Chicago had dared to make such impolite assumptions about one’s personal life. It’s simply not done.
Anyway, I may have the beginnings of a fantastic joke: Two Pentacostals, a Voodoo priest, and a couple of unsuspecting Yankees are at a dinner party…
Perhaps, if I can just make things right with Mr. Mojo, and step ever so carefully around fruits of every sort from here on out, this dinner party won’t be such a joke, after all.