Getting your values by the pound
In the grocery store, they got the cheap hamburger, the good hamburger and the ground sirloin.
I come from a ground sirloin family. If we were eating the good hamburger, or (shame of all shame) the cheap hamburger, it meant my father was out of work. By the time I was 11, my father had traded the nightlife thrills and uncertain income of the side street bartender for a suit-and-tie corporate job, and ground sirloin was all we ate.
Still, even on the nickel-and-dime tips of a bartender in a place where whiskey went for a half-buck a shot, my father believed in ground sirloin. Even if you had to buy less of it than you really needed, you bought the best, was my mother and father's theory.
So, while other families on our street of rented wood-frame houses dined on the cheap hamburger, we formed our ground sirloin into patties and ate one each, even though we could have bought the cheap stuff and eaten two burgers each.
The domestic notions of the mid-1960s stuck with me. I didn't want to elect Donald Trump because the man is the cheap hamburger, greasy and sold in a tight plastic tube. Hillary Clinton was at least the good hamburger, and, if she wasn't ground sirloin, she was at least the kind of hamburger that wouldn't, as my Depression-baby mother would say, "give you worms."
I never had worms, so Ma must have been right. But the whole country has 'em now, worms of hatred and fascism, worms of Russian-fueled conspiracy crawling alive on Facebook, and worms coming from the belly of dead Kurdish children left too long in the street.
And I'm shopping, making my way down the meat case of candidates lined up at the debate, walking resolutely past the cheap hamburger, looking closely at the good hamburger, peering around for the ground sirloin.
Sometimes, I take the money out of my pocket to see what I can afford. Can I have free health insurance? Can I afford to cancel student loan debt?
Only a man without pride counts his money inside a store, bar or restaurant.
"You don't count your money at the table in a restaurant," Pop used to say. "People think you don't know if you can pay. Count it out in the street, before you go in the place."