All stories interest me, and some haunt me until I end up writing about them. Certain themes keep coming up: justice, violence, freedom, respect and loyalty. Since my earliest recollection as a student of Latin I've been intrigued with the words Semper Fidelis (always faithful). That's exactly what loyalty is — faithful to a trust, to an ideal, to a cause or to another.
Rudyard Kipling's “Thousandth Man” venerates the mere idea of loyalty. Loyalty is foundational to civilization. What the romances, tragedies and the statues celebrate, and the grim civic monuments remind us of, is humanity's understanding that loyalty is the purest of gold. That's worth writing about.
Loyalty is important to me. I work hard to teach my children the essence of the “Thousandth Man.” But you teach loyalty by being loyal.
The other day the girls and I were bopping down Angeles Crest Highway. We were singing along to Carly Rae Jepsen's “Call Me Maybe” when Simone exclaimed, “Daddy, you're about to run out of gas.” I looked at the gauge. She was right, we were flying on a wing and a prayer. Burning fumes, if you know what I mean.
“Daddy, pull into the new gas station. I want to get a Slurpee at that 7-Eleven,” Sabine said.
I gave her one of my ticked-off Bronx stares.
“Sabine, why in the love of Moses do we need two doggone 7-Elevens in La Cañada, within a mile of each other?”
It was a rhetorical question, but nevertheless I am baffled by even the slightest possibility of a logical answer.
“You know, what we really need is a good Italian delicatessen. If I were a young guy I'd open one up. It would be called Puglia's Delicatessen, a tradition of find foods since 1910,” I said.
“Dad, all I want is a Slurpee. Daddy, stop! You're running out of gas.”
“Sabine, I only buy gas at Charlie Kamar's station.”
“She found a hole in my argument and said, “What good will that do when you run out?”
“Simple. We'll walk.”
It's a small matter of loyalty, but virtue is founded upon attention to the small things rather than to the large things, to the everyday things nearest to us rather than to the things that are remote and uncommon.
I see things in black and white. “Sabine, loyalty is being someone's customer, not only when it is convenient.”
I don't think she got it.
I grew up as an indentured servant in Puglia's Deli. We sold the best Italian sandwiches in New York. Everything was imported from Italy. Most of our customers were loyal; their patronage to Puglia's was generational. We knew the grandparents, their children, and their children's children. Loyalty is not instantaneous; it takes time to ferment.
We were a “mom and pop” establishment. You came in for a prosciutto sandwich and you often left with a different view of who you were.
Loyalty can't be blueprinted. It can't be produced on an assembly line. Its origin is the human heart, the center of self-respect and human dignity. It's a force that evolves only when conditions are exactly right. It's also a force sensitive to betrayal.
Some social scientists say loyalty is dead. The statistics seem to bear them out. On average, U.S. corporations lose half their customers in five years. We are told that what people think of, relative to consumption is, how much that consumption costs.
I didn't sign on for that.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com. Visit his website at www.doctorjoe.us.