My wife and I recently moved from South Florida to Raleigh, North Carolina to unload the giant house in which we raised out three children and to be closer to our oldest who hopefully will crank out a grandchild one of these days. Originally we lived in New Jersey and like most people living in the New York span of influence, had developed a thick skin and a slightly prickly way of dealing with all of the rest of the jerks among us.
My grandmother was born in New York and moved with her family to Newark, New Jersey as an adolescent to “get out of the rough urban stink of the inner city.” It was probably like our move to Coral Springs, Florida in Broward County. We were west of Ft. Lauderdale, south of Palm Beach and North of Miami. This tri-county area is pretty much the sixth borough of New York. It was pleasant at first, with less horn blowing, but eventually became nearly as obnoxious as North Jersey.
I was checking out my new area in Raleigh. I had just left my water aerobics class at the YMCA. I had originally joined the “Y” to play basketball, but quickly found that while my spirit was 25 years old, my knees were 59. Pleasantly, I found that water aerobics was populated by nearly exclusively women who read. I brought my books and sold half a dozen. I left the gym and headed to the Library to find out about getting my books in there as well.
While pulling into my parking spot, I noticed the car in the next space had a vanity license plate that said UNC-PHD. Instantly, my snarly New Jersey sensibilities kicked in and I decided to take a picture of the plate and send it to some select friends with an appropriate caption. Well, maybe not so appropriate. I knew that this particular group of friends (including my children) would all agree that anyone getting this sort of license plate was obviously a narcissistic blowhard, who we had every right to make the object of our derision.
These friends included Tyrone and Joe. I spoke to Tyrone a day earlier and he told me about a good deed that he had done. When I complimented him on his actions, he told me that he was doing a good deed in case he needed to come down and slap some sense into a couple who had rejected our offer on the house they were selling. I explained that he may be using the principles of karma incorrectly.
I’ll admit that this was not my best bit, but to the right audience, a picture of this license plate accompanied by my caption of DCHE-BAG was guaranteed to get at least a chuckle. As a matter of fact, when relating this story to each of them, they all laughed. Here’s the problem. As I lifted my phone to take the photo of the plate, a woman walked up to me and asked why I was taking a picture of her car. Being the quick thinker that I am, I immediately came up with a credible lie. I told her that my son-in-law was finishing his PhD at the University of North Carolina and I thought he’d like to see the plate.
Technically this was not really a lie as he actually is in his last year of his PhD studies, but I’m not so low as to cheat at karma like say, Tyrone. The crazy thing is that the woman began talking to me and may have been the nicest and sweetest person on the planet. I even ended up giving her a copy of one of my bookmarks when she told me how much she enjoyed blogs. After she departed, I was left standing in the parking lot, holding my phone with the picture of her plate wondering, “Who is the DCHE-BAG now?”
As I walked into the library, I thought about this at a deeper level. I wondered if the people here were so nice, that they wouldn’t even get the joke about condescending and demeaning someone’s vanity plate choice. The might even be so nice as to not be narcissistic at all. Could this be possible?
After the library, I called Joe, who also happens to be a Buddhist. He did laugh at the bit, but also gave me a primer in karma to pass on to Tyrone. What was really crazy was that a half hour later, while going into a bookstore, I saw the license plate KARMAH, as though I needed a reminder to consider my evil New Jersey ways.
The testing continues as later that day, I walked into a thrift store and saw a record album prominently displayed on the top of a pile of LPs. It was by The George Mitchell Minstrels, and was actually by a barbershop style group of Caucasian singers who perform in, yes, you guessed it…blackface! The album cover depicted a cartoon drawing of a fellow with a cane, striped jacket and panama hat in actual blackface.
Granted, the album was old and the group from England, but still! I’d like to think that a responsible store owner would forgo the dollar, even for charity, to avoid offending the hyper-sensitive population of today. This seemed no less offensive than finding Josef Goebbels Greatest Hits on the shelf.
In any case, I’m obviously going to have to approach my new home and neighbors with a bit more caution than I might in New Jersey or South Florida. I’m clearly not in Kansas anymore, although, that might be less of an adjustment for a DCHE-BAG like me.