"You know why COVID is killing everybody in India?" the guy said to me, taking his attention off the ballgame for a minute, turning toward me on his bar stool.
I don't like baseball, so I was willing to talk.
"Why?" I said.
"Because all the Indian doctors are over here," he said.
On the screen, a player who grew up shoeless in the Dominican Republic hit a double.
I go to bars for these one-sentence moments of incorrect clarity. I have whisky at home, but the quotes are better in the bars.
While India isn't generally a subject of conversation in the saloons of America, India has helped me my whole life.
In 1964, a year when it snowed a lot, my bartender father was coming home with skinny tips because people weren't going out as much. Instead of one pork chop apiece, and a couple extra, there was one pork chop apiece and all the white bread I wanted. I complained to my mother.
"There are kids in India who'd love to eat like you eat," my mother said.
What we knew about India was that kids were hungry and everyone knew how to charm a snake. We learned the hungry part from our mothers. The snake charming part we got from cartoons. Hell, the snakes were probably hungry in India. If you're hungry enough, you'll dance to any tune.
Of course, there were hungry kids in India. There were also hungry kids two miles from our house, where our working class neighborhood slid into ghetto. My mother never mentioned those hungry kids because, if you were hungry in America, it was because your parents were drunken bums.
COVID-19 is going through India right now the way a hungry rabbit goes through a vegetable garden. Once again, India sets a standard of misery that makes America feel better. Thank you, India, where your people rattle their last breaths so America won't look so bad.
In America, we are taught that one pork chop is better than no pork chop, and we need people with no pork chop to prove the rule. People who have six pork chops we do not mention, not even if they live next door. In America, we believe that Americans who have no pork chop at all are bums, while people in other countries who have no pork chop are saintly sufferers, walking examples of the fact that, if you have any ambition at all, you get born in America.
It's a pretty useful lie when you're sawing through the gristle of the one pork chop given to you by skinny tips and Jesus. Have some more bread.
When I was a kid, you couldn't buy Indian food where we lived, but you can buy Indian food where I live now. And I often want to ask a waiter with an Indian accent if he had enough to eat when he was a kid, but I'm pretty sure that would be insulting. I'm not going to ask my Indian-American doctor that, either, at least not while he's putting a glove on one of his hands.
And anyway, what if the waiter told me did all right when he was a kid, except one year when the monsoon was particularly bad and his bartender father was coming home with skinny tips, and there was just enough tandoori chicken to go around the table once, no seconds? If he says that, I may have to face some hard facts about skinny tips and America.
It is my greatest hope to run into an Indian immigrant in a bar. Whisky makes any question answerable.
"So, you go hungry much as a kid?" I'll say as the bar's television shows a slow motion repeat of a Russian heavyweight landing a ferocious left hook to score the knockout.
He might not get mad. When I'm drinking, I'm the kind of conversationalist who could charm the scales off a snake.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in the Ashes of America." It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Kindle, Nook, GooglePlay and iBooks.
Photo credit: musthaqsms at Pixabay