It's not something that I think about all too often, but it's probably better if I did cause it might be classified as a form of empathy. Today, at a Wal-Mart for the first time in months and months - since a few days before Christmas and still without a tree, knowing that it might be the last place to find some scraps amongst the aisles because it's only there where there's never a shortage - a van full of rounder women were loading into a clunker of a minivan in need of countless repairs even to the naked eye. They'd just purchased everything they needed at least for the week, if not longer.
Before the doors had closed or slid shut, two of them were already ripping the wrappers off of grab bags of potato chips and king size candy bars. I was walking close enough to the vehicle to smell a stench of rotten and stale cigarette smoke get thrust in my direction with the shutting of the doors. A belly flap hung over the steering wheel and I wondered what they were going to be doing next, to what kind of a home they were going to, whether or not they were happy and if they had anything to look forward to tomorrow or if it was just going to be more of the same old junk.
There I was thinking depressing thoughts, the answer to all the questions was the worst answer possible - all no's and doubt its - and the wretched lives of the southern characters that Mr. Patterson Hood builds all of his creativity around started making themselves evident. They are the people who fear the bank and all of the suits, fear the government and all of its laws, hate having to put ties on and last calls. They are people who love suffocating their sorrows in lethal amounts of alcohol, who wear cracked boots nearly everywhere they go and are some of the most tried and true, loyal people that anyone could ever meet. Their blood runs thicker and hotter than most and they care about family before they care about manners and tact. They have rusty, broken down cars on their property and they never miss a chance to hug, kiss or fish if the hugging, kissing or fishing are good. They fight fairly and they get loud when they have to, spitting a mouthful of tobacco juice out of the side of their face before getting too riled up that it would get messy.
These are people with guts and people with thick skin who still turn red at times and they are people who feel things with their whole bodies and not just their pinky fingers. They get nervous about where the next paycheck is coming from and also about pregnancies some of the time. Their hands are clean, but not too clean and they are the ones who know what really goes on at the end of the gravel road out in the middle of four fields where there are no streetlights. They are people who know what they're about, but so few others do, kind of like those women at the Wal-Mart. They'll live their lives the way they do and they answer to themselves at the end of the day. It's sad and it's just the way it is. There are still these complexities to their simple lives that make better tales than those of the men and women of silver spoons and sleek autos.
When you're around a Patterson Hood song, your nose automatically smells gasoline and your ears detect a flame getting struck in the shadows somewhere, indicating that shit's going to get all fucked up. You don't run for the hills though. You wait to see just how fucked up. You wait to see who else will take on the collateral damage of the explosion. You wait to see who's alive at the end of them and you wait around to feel all of the emotional carnage that's bound to escort every last one involved in the telling of these stories.
*Essay originally published August, 2009