Once upon a time, one of my friends allowed a group of door-to-door missionaries into his home, and let them evangelize. He even let them arrange a series of follow-up appointments, and each time they’d bring more books, more pamphlets, and more missionaries than the time before. After the fourth of six scheduled meetings, they finally realized that my friend knew far more about their religion than they did (partly because he was a voracious student of theology), and that he was screwing with them (though he’d never admit that).
I was reminded of this yesterday. Whilst driving about, I happened across a truck with a decal advertising rapid-response paranormal investigations. I briefly thought about concocting some wild story about an apparition haunting my fireplace (or microwave, or ecto-containment grid, or whatever) just so I’d have the opportunity to see them at work. This thought was muscled aside by the thought of having con artists or lunatics–or worse, con lunatics–in my home.
It occurs to me upon editing this that it sounds like I’m equating religious missionaries with these paranormal investigators. That is not my intention. The missionaries generally aren’t charlatans trying to sell me something they know to be bovine scatology.
Not having eaten at a Waffle House in ages, I had a late lunch at one on the Far, Far West Side yesterday. There were two patrons sitting at the counter. Both were wearing NASCAR ball caps, but only the younger one wore an eyepatch. The elderly waitress who took my order had a leathery face and was missing her right arm below the elbow. I felt like I was on a hidden camera show and the producers were going to keep throwing stereotypes at me.
The waitress, in exactly the sort of Southern twang you’re imagining right this second, greeted me. I tried to be pleasant and asked, “How are you doing?” My accent was clearly out of place; she gave me a look that suggested my voice reminded her of them yankee boys that burned her great-grandpappy’s farm in the Late Unpleasantness. No other response.
I placed my order: ribeye medium, eggs scrambled, hash browns well-scattered (which the cook interpreted as scattered and well-done, i.e., nearly cremated), and hot tea. I listened as the other patrons, the waitress, and the cook complained about the recent cold weather (it’s been in the 40s here) and the possibility of putting chains on tires for driving in the snow. They kept looking over at me, possibly because I wasn’t a regular, possibly because my accent led them to expect I had something to say about driving in the snow. I didn’t; there’s not much to say aside from “slow down a little bit.”
Then the guy with the eyepatch changed the subject. He said he’d recently found a job, and was afraid of having to go back on unemployment because the price of groceries had gone up faster than unemployment insurance benefits had. It was now cheaper, he claimed, to eat out at the right restaurants every night of the week than to buy groceries. I thought that was a bit of a stretch, but at least it was a topic that piqued my interest.
The waitress responded that Social Security benefits hadn’t risen because inflation was flat, and there might’ve even been deflation, so there would be no cost-of-living adjustment this year. There might not even be one next year. Was he sure that prices had risen that much?
Eyepatch replied that there may have been no inflation according to SS, but grocery prices had risen. So had fuel prices, by more than a dollar on average in the last two years. And then (please believe me because I’m not making this up) he said that core inflation excluded food and fuel prices, so by some traditional measures like CPI, sure, it would look like there was no inflation. However, when he was on unemployment, the same-sized check bought less and less fuel and fewer and fewer groceries over time–hence, there was inflation that CPI didn’t register.
My jaw would’ve dropped if it weren’t busy chewing. This would’ve been the ideal time for the hidden cameras to pop out, and for Eyepatch to rip off his mask, revealing that he was in fact my thesis advisor, Dr. Shannon, who had faked his death years ago just to set me up for this moment.
No hidden cameras. Just thoughtful people having a thoughtful discussion, and me getting caught judging books by their covers. I finished my meal, paid, tipped, and left.