That’s just the way it is
This song is thirty years old this year. In it, Hornsby sings about things that were twenty years in the past when the song became a hit.
A local church has posted a “Black Lives Matter” banner. It has been stolen or vandalized six times since it was posted. Sometimes in bars, talking about the politics of the day, people tell me about “black on black” crime. I joked to a Texas friend who lives in Virginia now that I have no idea how black people who lived around here would even find any other black people to commit a crime against.
The racial composition of my county, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
My SIL lives in a different county where the percentage of “white alone” is more like 96 percent. Her best friend has mixed race grandchildren. When we’re at a basketball game, SIL makes sure that the little girls have a place to sit next to us.
“I’m worried they don’t have anyone to talk to,” she explains. “I don’t want them to feel left out.”
My dad bought the land our house stands on from a farmer in the mid-1960s. The farmer’s house was on the corner. For the longest time it was us on the far edge of a cornfield, just in front of a swampy wooded area that he owned but did not farm. As time passed, the farmer sold off corners of his field along the road, and other houses popped up, bit by bit. Mom planted trees like crazy to block us off from the neighbors.
Then the farmer died and his daughter inherited the farm and she turned it into a riding stable. Then she retired, moved to the swampy wooded area in the back of our house. and sold the lot on the corner. Someone put up a building where the horse barn had been and different businesses rotated in and out until about ten years ago, when a Mexican restaurant moved in. There are now two restaurants in town and both are owned and operated by Mexican families.
We like the restaurant on the corner and I like the owner, Oscar, who’s from Guanajuato. He listens very patiently when dad retells his story about how this place used to be a horse’s stall. Also, I know that Oscar has driven dad home a few times when he’s had too much to drink and it’s too cold outside to walk. And he and I like to joke about why he won’t put pozole or birría on his menu. It took me a while to convince him that I’d even been to Guanajuato.
Flower refuses to set foot in the place. I try not to speculate about why.
A few weeks ago she didn’t want to go out Friday night and dad I went there.
Oscar said, “Hi, I haven’t seen you for a while!” He and dad are on a first name basis.
Dad says, “You weren’t here the last few times I was here either.”
I say, “They’re opening a new restaurant in the city.”
Dad says, “Oh, yeah, business is that good? That’s great!”
“Yeah, we’re really happy,” Oscar says. “A lot going on, busy, busy.”
Dad says, “But you’re not going to go to work at that restaurant, right, you’re going to stay here? You live in our town, don’t you?”
“We’re trying,” Oscar says.
In the late 1990s, when dad was on the town zoning board and I was temping for a lawyer in the city, a lot of the farmers whose families had been here for a century and had big land holdings sold out, and our house was gradually enveloped by middle class homes. I got paid $11 an hour to fill in the deeds with legal descriptions for the lawyers while the zoning board did its best to limit the development.
Flower bought one of those homes, about a decade after that.
Luckily, the trees were in place by then, and we have five acres, whereas everyone else has a fraction of an acre, so we can ignore what’s going on around us.
“There are lots of houses for sale in our little town,” I say.
“Yeah,” Oscar says, “We wanted one close to the restaurant and we made an offer on one two weeks ago.”
“That’s great,” I say, because there’s no way this family got turned down to buy a house. They have two restaurants and are opening a third.
“Not so great,” Oscar says. “We passed the credit check and everything and made an offer and it wasn’t accepted.”
“Huh,” I say, “House prices going up that fast?” The schools here have a much better reputation than when I was a kid, and the town does now — oddly, in comparison to the past — have a reputation for exclusivity.
“No,” Oscar says. “The lady who owned it told me I wasn’t the right buyer for her house.”
Oscar and I look at each other uneasily. I know what he means.
“Which house?” Dad says.
Oscar tells us where and I think I know who he’s talking about. It’s someone who goes to dad’s church and who hasn’t lived here all that long herself.
“I don’t think that’s legal,” I say.
“I told my wife,” Oscar says, “Maybe we are getting an attorney. But she doesn’t want to.”
“If I see any signs go up,” I say, “I’ll let you know right away. I’d love to have you next door.”
“I don’t think it’s legal either,” Dad says. “Plus, it’s nothing unusual. When the kids were little everyone here was white but there are all kinds of Mexicans living here now.”
“Yeah, if you see anything,” Oscar says, “that would be great. We need four bedrooms.”
“What’s in it for me?” Dad says. “Will you bring us some tacos?” He laughs uproariously.
Oscar slaps dad on the back and says, “Yes, sir, I will make sure you have your tacos.” He smiles faintly, but he doesn’t laugh.
I double the tip when we leave.
“Why shouldn’t they live on our road?” Dad says, as we drive home. “If they can afford the house.”
Forty percent of the workforce on Wisconsin dairy farms is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Naturally, many of them are undocumented. The farmers are so worried they will leave that they even give them paid days off to lobby.
It’s another one of dad’s refrains: no one around here wants to milk anymore. They’re too good to milk for the wages on offer.
He hates cows, himself.
Two weeks ago, I’m sitting in my local café overhearing three male high school students doing their social studies homework on the presidential campaign.
“Hillary is such a bitch,” one of them observes, and the other two nod. “If she’s elected, the country’s going into the crapper.”
“That bitch,” another one of them echoes. The third nods, seriously.
Kids don’t usually speak this violently unless they are emulating an example. It’s confusing to figure out how to be an adult and sometimes it’s easiest to try on other people’s opinions — just to see how they sound. Also, I’ve spent enough time with eighteen-year-old males to know that many of them are working through Oedipal issues at this point.
But I wonder who has told them this.
A friend tells me that her daughter came home and reported that her classroom teacher told the class that Donald Trump is not a womanizer or a misogynist.
Her daughter attends sixth grade in a local public school.
There are Jews in the city, but not many.
My best friend from high school posts a cartoon about how the little guy doesn’t have to put up with certain things anymore. In the image, a group of men with hooked noses, glasses, funny eyes and stubble are seated around a circular table staring at a pile of dollars in the middle. Under the table are dozens of dead bodies.
I comment, “You know this is an anti-Semitic cartoon, right?”
She replies, “Yeah, but it’s so true.”
Three people we went to high school “like” her reply.
Her mother is dying now, so I leave it alone.
I report the post to Facebook.
Within three hours Facebook decides the cartoon does not violate community standards and recommends that I block my best friend from high school.