The line at the cash register in the Macy's men's department was four-people deep. I was number four, standing there with my soon-to-be-purchased (I hoped) pants hanging over my arm. But "soon" didn't look to be in the cards.
The guy at the head of the line had a big stack of stuff — two pairs of jeans, a Calvin Klein shirt, a couple pairs of socks, and a belt. He was a smallish black guy, maybe a teenager, maybe a little older. He was dressed in baggy, low-rider pants, an oversize T-shirt, shiny white tennis shoes, and a new baseball cap with a stiff brim turned sideways on his head.
In short, he looked like the classic urban hip-hop stereotype. He and the sales clerk were engaged in a rather involved conversation. As they continued to chat, those of us in line began to get restless. The guy in front of me let out a sigh — a very audible "this-is-so-Memphis" sigh.
Then a funny thing happened. The guy in front of him joined in the conversation at the checkout.
I heard him ask the kid, "So, when are you going back?"
"In a month," he said. "I'm getting this stuff because I'm tired of wearing that uniform all the time." He smiled as he said it. A big warm smile.
Turns out that the "kid" was in the U.S. Army. He was going back to Iraq for his second tour of duty in December. Suddenly, those of us in line weren't in a hurry anymore. Everyone started talking to the kid, asking him how it was going over there, how was morale, etc.
"Pretty good," he said. "I won't say I'm looking forward to going back. But you gotta do what you gotta do. It's the Army, man."
The clerk finished ringing up the young man's items and put them in a sack. As she handed them to him, she said, "God bless you, child. You be careful."
The rest of us in line shook his hand and said thank you and be careful and thank you again. He smiled from underneath his tilted ball cap, thanked us, and walked away.
Reality, one. Stereotype, zero.