I swear, you meet the strangest people at Wal-Mart
In the book Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, Ralph Richard Banks explores the causes and effects of the decline of marriage within the African American community, particularly among Black women. The reasons for this decline are not foreign to most of us.
• Black women are less likely to date or marry outside the race than Black men, lowering the pool of men from which to draw.
• Black women continue to outpace their male counterparts in obtaining a higher education, increasing the class gap between them.
• As a culture, Black people tend to value marriage less than other cultures.
What Mr. Banks purports is that for the same root causes affecting Black women, marriage in America is on the decline across all racial groups, and that the experience of the Black woman may in time become the experience of the majority of women in the population.
As the child of divorced parents, I have gone into adulthood viewing marriage suspiciously. Although I sincerely do not want it to, I would not be surprised if my marriage failed. After all, that’s what marriages in my community do: they fail at some point. I can only think of three couples in my family who have held fast to their “‘til death do us part” vow, and they are well into their 60s and 70s. With the examples of marriage I’ve seen around me, from close friends to work acquaintances, it seems far more natural to throw in the towel when things get uncomfortable and declare the union over. Why stay put in a situation that makes both of you miserable – that whole making a promise before God and man thing notwithstanding, of course. At the very least, we can give these couples some credit for trying.
I was standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart yesterday when I found myself sandwiched between a number of strange individuals. The couple in front of me was joking with the cashier, threatening violence for some infraction that had recently overcome. The trendy brown-skinned woman with locks and a Chinese tattoo on her left shoulder proclaimed was about to go H.A.M. on the side of the road.
“You’ll be going H.A.M. all by yourself,” her mate snickered.
The cashier chuckled and was about to wrap up the transaction when the man asked for $100 in cash back. I sighed when the cashier announced that she didn’t have any 20 dollar bills to give him, and he would not take a hundred dollar note. As she counted $100 in tens, fives and twenties, a jarring techno based ringtone distracted me from the debacle that was unfolding in front of me.
“Huh-lo? I’m in the checkout line! Stop trippin’ nuh!”
The owner of the voice was a stout Black man with milk chocolate colored skin. He was wearing a black Eddie Long-esque t-shirt and khaki shorts. He looked at the phone in disgust and began to yell at the couple ahead me.
“Say mehn! She say she wanna get married! I don’t wanna get married folk!” he sniggered.
“Whaat?” said the other man in courteous surprise.
This only encouraged the brash loud talker to talk even louder.
“I already done tol’ her I ain’t getting married!”
He proceeded to yell something unintelligible to the couple ahead of me who were still waiting to get their cash.
“We ain’t married,” said the dreadlocked woman. “We act like it though, but we ain’t married.”
The man ignored her and spoke directly to her mate.
“’Ey mehn! Don’t do it!” he chuckled wickedly.
At this point, the couple walked off, waving goodbye to the very obvious bachelor and still bickering about going H.A.M. on something or someone. I was left with the congenial cashier and the boisterous customer. I set my items on the conveyor belt eager to get out of there; however, the idiot behind me would not give me that courtesy. He continued to gab on about his objections to marriage.
“I ain’t never getting’ married,” he proclaimed assuredly. “A dude like me, I’m a commodity.”
He began to list all the reasons why he was such a catch, pointing to his finger on each item.
“I’m single. I got a job. I got a house. I’m not in jail. I’m non-gay…”
At the mention of the word “gay” I turned around.
“Did you say you were gay?” I queried. Why would anyone want to marry you if you were gay?
“No,” he replied. “I said I’m NON-gay.”
“Oh. Can you split my payments?” I asked the cashier.
“Yes,” she said sweetly. She was trying her best to focus on giving me good service, but the man was proving a formidable hindrance.
“You wanna get married?” he asked her, interrupting my transaction.
She shook her head and squeezed her face, as though she had smelled something foul. I was dismayed at what I was seeing! Once you get past the rough patch at years two and three, marriage is pretty fun!
“Well mine married me, and we are quite happy!” I said in defense of the institution.
“Like I said, I’m a commodity,” he repeated. He went down his (short) list again about what made him such a hot item on the market: his job and his being “non-gay”…which we call “straight” in the rest of normal society. And if you see the world in terms of “gay and non-gay”, how not gay are you really? I was certain our hero had homosexual tendencies he was surpresssing. He interrupted my thoughts by announcing that if a woman wanted to marry HIM, SHE would have to get down on one knee and propose to HIM with a diamond ring.
It took me a while, but in time I recognized what was going on. This speech had been rehearsed by our boy in the barber shop, and had clearly been well received previously by ‘men’ who had failed in helping him to aspire to anything greater. Thinking himself witty (and right) on the topic, this half-wit thought it wise to make his declarations in public. Barbershop talk has no place in polite, intelligent society. But then, it was Wal-Mart.
Eventually I made it out of the line, informing the cashier and the man that marriage is not for everyone.
“You certainly don’t want to get stuck with a problem,” I said nodding in his direction. “It’s more trouble than it’s worth in the end if you don’t marry the right one.”
The cashier agreed with me, nodding her pretty dark face. The man looked away from her and turned his attention to me.
“’Ey! Well all I got to say to you is: Ippy skippy!” he cackled lifting his jeweled hands in mock surrender.
WTF does that mean? Is that some sort of brainless 45 year old bachelor talk??
I kept walking, as though he had never spoken.
When I got home and replayed the entire event over in my head, I wish I had done things a little differently. Lacking the foresight to join another line aside, I wish I had given the man a priceless piece of advice.
“Dump your girl tonight,” I should have said. “If you’re just planning on stringing her along, the least you could is just dump her. She’s not going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly not want to be married.”
Of course, he would respond by saying he was providing the female population a service and that it would be dishonorable to leave her without companionship.
The sad thing is, this man is not alone in thinking his few credentials make him a catch. I mean come on! Suddenly having a job and being straight are the epitome of eligibility? Even Donald Trump with all his millions has never required a woman to propose to him and give him a ring…then YOU? Haba!
I would have had a few choice words for the couple in front of me as well. Why do people feel so comfortable pretending to be married, as though it carries no consequences? There is a reason that the term “lawfully wedded” was coined and conceptualized. There is a vetting process that one must (or ought to) go through before they get married.
How would you feel if your doctor had never completed his course in medicine before performing surgery? Would the excuse “Well, I felt accomplished and educated enough in my heart and spirit” suffice for you? How about if your local firehouse was staffed with men who had never been through training, but confidently donned their uniforms, and rode out to face the flames of an imposing building set ablaze. Tell me, what do you believe their expected end would be? Tragedy of course! Why then do we accept when grown-ups play house with the explanation that they feel “married spiritually”? What nonsense. At best it’s posing, and at worst it’s fraud.
The crux of the matter is certain people- like our ‘hero’ – have no business getting married. The humor is in their misguided understanding in the reasons why not. Marriage is not for the faint of heart, a fact that people like Mr. Black t-shirt exemplifies with stunning adeptness.