A Little Respect

I remember when the word “Feast” in “Italian Feast” could be taken literally. As a little boy, playing in my music teacher's band with my Baritone Horn at a local feast, I was always in awe of the respect and gratitude of the vendors. We never had to pay for anything. People would bring us cold cups of water. At any stand, a song was all it took for a glass of wine or a sausage and pepper hero. Afterwards, we'd sometimes hit a local backyard where one of the residents supplied even more food. Requests for specific tunes were honored and honoring those requests was appreciated.

Twenty-four years later, some things have changed. Marching through the streets of Brooklyn, it's not uncommon to pass a house with a table out front, where water, tea, or cookies await famished musicians and members of the procession. At feasts on Long Island, the practice of vendors giving out free food and drink for songs has almost vanished, although at least one event does boast a stand that gives us free beer. None of us are looking for handouts, but I guess we're so used to the generosity of the past that the change is noticeable. Just this past Sunday, we played a procession in Brooklyn, depositing the people and their statue at a local church for a mass while we caught our breath for an hour. The band leader directed us to the air conditioned sanctuary of a club across the street, and told us that we'd have to donate at least a dollar to the club owner if we took a bagel or cup of coffee. On principal, at least one drummer opted to buy his own bottle of water from a nearby deli. Inside the club, we serenaded the members with two songs, and he didn't think it was right for them to “charge” us, noticing that the police chaperoning the job weren't being asked for donations. Maybe we needed to carry guns as well as instruments.

After our break, we resumed the procession, winding down additional streets in our journey to return the statue from another club where we'd started early in the morning. We stopped outside a house, where the crowd moved inside for drinks. I noted the mob mentality, the way the young pushed the old aside, and the way everyone pushed the band aside. Animals. I waited patiently, inching toward the door, occasionally waving older people ahead of me. The line lead through the living room of the small house into the kitchen, where I snagged the last 2 bottles of water, one for myself and another for my father. The owner of the house entered from the backyard, carrying another four bottles for some of the grumbling musicians behind us, very apologetic that she didn't have more. It was a very hot day, but as hot as it was for people to walk, it was even tougher to walk and play a metal instrument. No one seemed to care.

I guess times change, and human nature isn't what it used to be. I can certainly understand some of the changing trends in a difficult economy, that people can't afford to be as generous as they used to be. I have a harder time with the mobs of people pushing and shoving and squeezing through doors like a Three Stooges routine rather than forming a line or letting others go first. I see this behavior often in church, with people getting on line for communion before the pews in front of them have even started to empty out. There's a growing distance between the notion of waiting one's turn and our population.

After a busy weekend, I took Monday off to relax. Between a movie on Friday, a barbecue on Saturday, and an art exhibit on Sunday after the feast, I felt like I'd done more for myself than for my parents this weekend. I asked my dad if there was anything I could help with, and he told me he'd planned to check the brakes on my mom's car and replace them if needed. I've been trying to learn more about car repair and as he continues to get his strength back after his Winter medical ordeal, I don't want him doing a lot of heavy work anyway. He already did the brakes on his own car last week while I was uselessly at work. And so I set about jacking up the car at various points and removing tires one at a time.

The back brakes and rotors were good, but the ones in the front were a little worn. We headed down to the local parts store, and my dad told the man behind the counter what he needed, after asking where someone named “Mike” was.

“That's the owner,” explained my dad, gesturing to the man who headed into the back to get the parts after looking them up on the computer and telling us it would cost over $100.00. “He doesn't give you a break except on tax. Mike gives me a better discount.”

The owner brought back the parts as another man entered the store, Mike returning from his break. The owner let Mike take over as he returned to his office. My dad checked the brake pads, noting with dismay that they were a cheaper brand. “Give me the good ones, Mike,” he said, “I'd rather spend a little more.”

Mike nodded, and took the box away while we checked the rotors, which were satisfactory. He returned with the better brake pads.

“$105.00, even.” he said, a lower price than the owner had quoted for the cheaper brand. My dad questioned this.

“How long have you been coming in here?” asked Mike, “You been coming here since before I was born! We'll never charge you full price!”

A few other customers in the store who all seemed to know who my dad was nodded and smiled in assent. As I carried the parts out to the car, I couldn't help smiling myself at the respect my dad got, and at the decency of the people in the store. My dad was a regular customer there, probably for most of his life, and they honored it. Even the owner was going to give him somewhat of a deal. After all these years, even in this economy, they were capable of doing not just what they had to do, but what was nice to do. There's still hope for humanity, after all. There's still a few people out there who see hard workers, and offer a little respect.


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