I’m everything that’s wrong with society. Perhaps that’s too strong a statement. I’m not everything wrong with society. I haven’t incited ethnic genocide. I don’t text and drive (only because I don’t have a cell phone). I’ve done absolutely nothing to encourage the likes of Taylor Swift. Let’s just say I’m a thing wrong with society and leave it at that.
A few weeks ago, I won a barbecue from the local IGA. It’s Stanstead’s only grocery store. Over the years, my family has shopped there faithfully, even though we live next door to Vermont. People look at us like we’re crazy when we tell them we never shop in the States. But I’ve always felt there’s something suspect about American food, meats in particular, something I can’t quite put my finger on, like maybe the meat is actually “meat,” or that someone really has put their finger on it.
Given my nationalist food prejudices and my loyalty to the local IGA, not to mention the thousands of dollars we’ve spent there over the years, I should have no qualms about winning the barbecue. One might even say my family earned it, much like the bag boys earn their tip every time they cart our groceries to the car. That’s right: our store still has bag boys who carry your groceries. Why the Town of Stanstead isn’t actively marketing this to encourage fresh settlers is beyond me.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been able to quietly slip into the store, claim the barbecue and disappear into the night. But this is a small town, and people keep asking me, “Enjoying your new barbecue? How’s that new barbecue working out?” I heard it was even in the paper, but I didn’t see it. I sure hope when they referred to me they used the word “beloved” and not “nimrod,” like usual.
It didn’t help my case that we rattled the assembled barbecue out of the store and across the parking lot, thinking it would fit in the hatch of our Tucson with the seats folded down, which it almost did. It fit just enough that if I crawled in, faced backwards and held onto the blanket that we’d looped around the barbecue lid to keep it from flopping open, we could drive it home hanging out with the hatch door up, slowly, with the flashers on. That might have made the paper too, but I’m not sure.
And because it’s a small town, I can’t really lie. When people ask, “How do you like your new barbecue?” I can’t say, “Fine,” because the truth is I haven’t used it. The truth is my wife had just bought me a brand new barbecue for Father’s Day. I had used it twice when the store called to say I had won. Because it’s a small town, people will learn this eventually, so I have to tell the truth. Plus, it makes a good story, don’t you think? Everyone loves irony.
You know what else people love? Free stuff. And that’s where I’m a thing wrong with society. I didn’t need this free stuff. When I learned I had won the barbecue, I should have called the store back and said, “Look, thanks, but I just got a brand new barbecue. You should pick another name.” That’s what a beloved person would do.
But no. This free thing had been thrown in my lap (very nearly so, what with the bumpy ride home in the Tucson). Why should I let someone else have it? I had earned it. I had written my name on a piece of paper and answered a skill-testing math question (even though I’m quite sure that if I had had trouble with the question, the clerk would have leaned over and whispered, “20…”).
Now I have two barbecues. I have the Father’s Day barbecue, which I’m transforming with shocking speed into a charred mess, and the IGA barbecue, which is in the garage until I decide what to do with it: sell it, give it away to a charity, bequeath it to my children or just have it on hand for when I run my Father’s Day barbecue into the ground, which at this rate will be by September.
I felt entitled to my free barbecue, but it has made me no better off. If anything, it’s added complication and clutter to my life and my garage. I’m as bad as the audience of “Ellen” when they all get new televisions, and they scream and scream like they’ve just learned that science has finally made men obsolete.
The difference is that, with two barbecues, if I wanted to, I could grill a butt-load of beef.
Canadian, of course.