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A Visit With Stumpy at Bubba-Doo’s

By Charles Qualls

I had a day off, so I went up the highway a bit. You may remember a previous (fictional) visit I took to Bubba-Doo’s in this column. It’s an old mom-pop gas station with a store that boasts the world’s best hamburger. I stop in now and then, even though I don’t really live there. I’ve come to know some of the regulars and they mostly trust me even though I’m not one of them.

On that day, the famous hamburger was on special. At least that’s what the store was advertising. The joke was on those who hadn’t yet done the math: you could get two of them for only double the price of one. Also on special was a new product the grill cook was trying out. They were serving for the very first time a vegetarian burger patty. Not surprisingly, they had had very few takers so far.

This may be for at least two reasons. First, folks there were pretty suspicious of the “fake burger.” That’s the nickname which had evolved already in its initial hours of existence. Second, there was a more vicious rumor that if you actually ordered the vegetarian patty you were declaring which political party you voted for and someone would follow you home to spy on you. No one was in a hurry for either of those possibilities.

Anywho, a regular there named Stumpy came over to me. “Hey there, how’re you doin’ preacher?” He knows that I actually hate it when anyone refers to me that way, so he does it just to goad me. You’d need to know that Stumpy is the most cantankerous of the folks who hang out at Bubba-Doo’s. OK, he’s downright mean and everyone knows it. So, his rare attempts at humor bring a fair amount of pain with them. They usually arrive in the form of back-handed compliments or as off-colored assaults on something real in your life.

“I’m good, Stumpy. How’re you doing?” I replied.

“Well, not too good. This hurricane is about to hit down in Louisiana. That’s gonna be rough. That damn president’s got us doin’ everyone wrong over in Afghanistan. The price of gas is still up, no one wants to work and kids these days just don’t live right. Liberals are ruining this country and you just appear to be as happy as ever. If you preachers would do your jobs better, we might not be in this fix.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you’re doing about as well as ever,” I said. Because everyone tells me the best thing to do is to not sweat Stumpy. If he gets under your skin, he’s got you where he wants you, they say. “Preacher, I’m serious. Why don’t you take this stuff more seriously?” he asked.

I said, “Well, Stumpy, I’m sorry I’m just not as miserable as you seem to say. I’m sorry that I haven’t lost sight yet of the good that life throws in with the bad.” Then, I sat back to see how we would react.

Someone who Stumpy actually respects told me one time, “That old man is going to die one of these days. When he does, he’ll go to the grave angry at the world.” That’s coming from someone Stumpy actually likes. The person also explained to me that really, Stumpy has a close family member who is living in ways that Stumpy just doesn’t approve of. He believes they’re living in sin. A person once wisely said, “I sat with my anger long enough that she finally told me her real name was grief.” Stumpy’s stuck in clinical grief and is the only one who doesn’t realize it.

He said, “So you’re OK with the way things are?” I replied, “No of course I’m not. But I wish I had an ounce of the power that your blaming me assumes I have. I wish I thought that calling everyone a sinner would fix things. I might consider doing it. But it just won’t, Stumpy.”

Then is when a thing that will never happen again — happened. Stumpy looked at me. He dabbed at a tear in his eye and whispered, “You’re right.” I stammered out, “What did you say?” He whispered, “You’re right — but if you say I said that, I’ll say you’re a liar.” As he stood up he said, “Thanks for being my honest friend.” Then he walked out. And I just sat there smiling and staring at my vegetarian burger.