I knew a guy. Good guy. Tall. Thin. A mane of white hair and an impressive always well-kept beard. He wore suits to work every day, and even though I was his employee he always told me I should call him by his first name. That wasn’t going to happen of course. He was thirty years older and had forgotten more about the business than I would ever know. He would go by “Mister” and “sir” until the day the Earth stopped spinning.
He was a Good Guy.
He was one of only three men I’ve ever met that I truly respected. I knew at my core that when he told me something that not only was it true but it was correct.
He was a Good Guy.
Not that I didn’t have some problems with him. Those of you who know to whom I referring know he had a bit of a temper. He did some things I didn’t agree with, but I’ve come to realize in time that he never did what he did out of malice or pettiness like some men in power I’ve known. He was never a politician in his dealings. He didn’t pander. He didn’t glad-hand. He didn’t manipulate. He didn’t crawfish when the public was offended. He was honest. And I respected him.
Perhaps I respected him most for one bit of advice he gave me back when I was about 23 years of age.
I published an engagement photo. Problem was the guy had his arms around the soon-to-be bride, and his hands were placed awkwardly at the top of her chest. I took the photo, which was snapped by a professional photographer and submitted by a sweet young couple of Minden twenty-somethings. Not a second glance or a thought more was given. Little did I know the tempest that was to come. What came next was what the Good Guy came to refer to as 2003’s great Boob-Gate scandal of Minden.
Oh, the phone calls that surrounded this innocuous photo. The weeping and gnashing of teeth was severe as was the accosting in the supermarket.
“How dare you,” a little old lady told me when I was just trying to buy Frosted Flakes on a Saturday morning. I was staring at Tony the Tiger when she came up to me. The encounter was not GREEEEEEAT.
I had never met her. Never seen her. That’s the problem with having your face in the public eye. Everyone knows who you are but you don’t know who everyone else is. She proceeded to tell me that her grandson saw that picture and she was so embarrassed. I’m surprised she wasn’t clutching a set of phantom pearls around her wrinkled and tanning bed stained neck. She used that old “I’m going to cancel my subscription” go to that was standard when someone found something offensive. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that over the years. No one ever did cancel though.
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ask her if her grandson watched movies with bullets flying and people being killed in all manner of ways or if he played Mortal Kombat or whatever video game was popular at the time. Simulated violence is no problem. A guy with his hands near the middle of a woman’s chest was a different story. But I didn’t ask that because I was a coward. So I just said “I’m sorry” and groveled a bit. I was different back then. Afraid of my own shadow. Thinking I was never good enough. Constantly worried about losing my job. Truthfully that was a fear I had up until recently. Always feeling like an imposter no matter what I did or how many times I proved failures were the exception rather than the rule. I’ve grown as a person since then and am still struggling to do so today.
The phone calls were worse. We all got it. The reporters. The ad sales team. The circulation department. The poor receptionist was on the front line. Everyone fielded the verbal assault. Much ado.
I was losing hair and developing an ulcer over Boob-Gate. I was even afraid to go to church because some Christians are the most vicious among us. As Gandhi said when asked about my religion, “I like your Christ but not your Christianity.” I am a very introverted person. People coming up to me and chewing me out over a picture was tough, and I knew at that point that my thin skin could never handle public office. If I had received the same at church, I never would have gone back.
So this Good Guy asks me to bring him the picture. He looks at it and then hands it back to me and asks if I see anything wrong with it. I hesitated and eventually said meekly “not really…maybe.” He scoffed and said mine was a politician’s answer.
“There’s something wrong with it or there isn’t.”
He asked again if I saw anything wrong with the picture. I told him no, I didn’t see anything wrong with the picture. He nodded and told me that he didn’t either.
And then he said that I was always going to have to deal with “stupid people.” His words. And the perpetually offended. My words. If I did nothing wrong then I should just say the hell with them and keep doing what needs to be done.
He told me to put Boob-Gate behind me and move on. It would be forgotten about soon. And it was.
A week later, after the sky didn’t fall and I wasn’t fired and I was no longer ambushed while buying breakfast treats, I laughed about it with him. He then told me a story about his younger days. Back in the era of segregation. Integration came along and so too did a delicate situation for newspapers. You can go back and read newspaper editorials from around the nation at that time. A lot of them were racist and pro-segregation. The papers and their writers are judged for their ignorance by history.
This Good Guy said integration was a good thing. Overdue. After all, we worship the same no matter the skin color. It doesn’t matter if you invite God in or you don’t. He’s there all the same. But this Good Guy wasn’t just one of these passive people who say “as long as it doesn’t affect me” or the worst kind – those who say one thing privately but never would say that same thing in the public for fear of being whipped with the world’s displeasure.
All of it came to a head for this Good Guy, ironically enough when you compare my tale to his, in the pages of the matrimony section.
He published wedding stories and engagement stories and the pictures that went with them all together. Black and white weddings were together. You see, what used to be the practice was to have pages for white weddings and then back in the back next to the ads for cleaning services and dog sales there would be the black weddings.
Good Guy changed that in Minden. And then he told me something I still repeat to this day when I speak of actually standing up for what is right even though you may suffer because of man’s ignorance.
“You don’t have black weddings and white weddings,” he said. That crisp navy suit making a stunning contrast to his white hair and white beard. “You just have weddings.”
This is simple and pretty well-known in today’s world. But back then, this move brought so much outrage from Minden that this Good Guy had to start carrying a handgun. And this wasn’t one of those guys carrying a gun nowadays in a show of defiance to the encroaching big government that’s stifling us. Nothing wrong with that by the way. I do the same thing. Ain’t nobody taking my guns, and the congregation said amen.
Good Guy carried a gun because he was getting death threats. And people were throwing bricks through windows at home and at work. It was a big deal in Minden. Much bigger than Boob-Gate. I never was worried about someone killing me. All I had to deal with were little old ladies griping at me in front of the Malt-O-Meals.
“Were you scared?” I asked him.
“Sure,” he said. “But it was the right thing to do.”
I’ve never forgotten that.
Doing what is right isn’t easy sometimes. It’s painful. It’s scary. It can make you not want to go out in the public eye. It can make you skip church. It can make you carry a gun. Doing what’s right isn’t easy. But someone must do it. Such is the price of a conscience.
Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to either reform, pause or reflect.” We all need to ask ourselves if we do what we do because it is right or because it is easy.
History remembers fondly the people who do what is right. History judges those who do what is easy.
I miss that Good Guy.
(Josh Beavers is a teacher and a writer. He has been recognized five times by the Louisiana Press Association for excellence in opinion writing.)