Hell in a hand basket

Image: Bryan Burgos

This country’s going to hell in a hand basket,” I heard him say.

His voice was only slightly muffled by my headphones, which I wear — often without even turning the music on — when I’m writing at coffee shops so people don’t try to talk to me (yes, I’m that guy).

He was in his mid-sixties. Had a blue Nevada sweater on. His chrome gray hair was slicked back as if to resemble a hawk or some other type of warring bird.

He was on the phone with an old buddy. On his laptop, the Yahoo home page was up, revealing the leading stock clickbait headline of the moment — something that had to do with immigration and how we’re being infiltrated, etc.

I listened in (yes, I’m that guy too). What I found peculiar was that, although he opened the conversation with a tone of outrage, his anger morphed into exhilaration.

He had his buddy going. There they were, a couple warriors from the old guard, standing in solidarity over a common enemy, as foggy and ephemeral as it may be.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before it all goes down. Ha! Goddamn it, yes! Get ’em all outta here, I say. Ha! Yep. Okay, buddy. Talk soon. Yep…”

I turned on Spotify and went about my work. Occasionally, I’d glance over and see him stew over some new headline or YouTube video that was designed to do exactly what it was doing with his cooperation — generate ad dollars from each clickety-click of his finger.

As I wrapped up my work and packed up my belongings, I made eye contact with him. I nodded. He nodded.

Right there, he knew he had me. So did I.

Damn it…

I could tell right away what he was thinking — all of it flashing through his mind a split-second before he spoke:

Hmmm, he’s kinda young. But maybe not too young. He could be a Hilary/Bernie guy. But he’s clean-cut and respectful enough, so maybe he’s a conservative like me. F*ck it, I’ll give it a shot.

He went into it…

“Say, you know what I just read on the internet? 900 illegals. They let 900 illegal immigrants into the US who are from countries that are against us. Terrorists.”

He paused to gauge my reaction. I nodded as dispassionately as I could. It was a delicate dance — show him the respect of listening to him without engaging an argument (or rolling over and agreeing with him).

I pulled it off. He continued…

“I swear, these people are against us. They’re trying to bring this country down. It’s like a plane that the wings have fallen off of. I’ve never seen it so bad. And I’ve been around for a long time.”

I listened. Then, respectively bid him farewell after saying something generic like, “Whelp, keep on keepin’ on…”

Coffee shops tell us so much about human nature.

Now I know why some of the best writers of all time frequent them.

It’s funny… Old guys around the world (young guys too, but I think this is mainly an older guy thing, stereotypically speaking) have been gathering in coffeeshops, barber shops, and watering holes complaining about the news for centuries.

I remember my dad and my grandpa doing just this, throughout my entire life.

Economic booms and busts came and went. Presidents got elected, re-elected, and impeached. Things got bad and good again, in a general sense.

But it was always on the verge of collapse, as far as the news — and their conversations — were concerned. They lived with this undertone of being on the defense against the attackers of the moment their entire lives.

Meanwhile, life went on. As it always has.

Sure, I know people who’ve claimed to have been negatively affected by these monumental twists and turns in world affairs.

But the ones I like to keep my eye on are those who’ve managed to largely ignore the news, live healthy lives, and thrive. Year in and year out.

They’ve called the news’ bluff and have figured out that every day, that sun will come up no matter what the headlines say. Things will always happen. Someone will get sick or go broke or say/do something hurtful. When this happens, they handle it with grace and poise. But during the moments in-between, they go on living with a positive affect, giving and providing what they can to build a life that works for them and everyone in them.

Because no matter what the news says, they know this is something that they have full control over.

To me, it sure beats buying into the misery and finding enjoyment in the company it brings.

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