It is a little known fact that Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” edict was not a spontaneous outburst verbalizing his desire for independence but rather his demanding calling card.
According to historical scholars, Pat used that line all the time. When he went to the local market, he would say “give me bread or give me death.” When he went to the local tavern, he would bellow “give me ale or give me death.” When he went to the laundromat, he would bark “give me one-hour Martinizing or give me death.”
So when the subject of liberty came up, naturally, he used his mantra, inserting liberty in the appropriate spot. See, Patrick Henry was reportedly a very demanding fellow, ordering this, ordering that, always getting what he wanted, including liberty.
That’s where Patrick Henry and I differ — other than him being dead. I’m not very demanding. If I go somewhere and they ask me to wait, I wait. If they tell me they’re out of something, I say “OK” and get something else.
Rarely do I demand anything, rarely do I get in a huge fury when something doesn’t go my way. I simply accept the circumstances and move on.
But even the most patient of patients sometimes wears thin.
Recently, I found this out while visiting a fast-food restaurant while on the road to a ballgame.
We went in there for an early dinner, around 5:45 p.m. When we arrived, there were about 12 other people in the establishment, all sitting in booths, all peering anxiously toward the counter. This was one of those places where you order and you give a name, and they call your name when your order is ready. When they ask for my name, I always say something like “Geronimo” just to see the reaction when they shout “Geronimo, your order is ready.” My kids love it. My wife, not so much.
Anyway, after about 20 minutes of waiting, they had only called out two orders. I then joined the others peering anxiously toward the counter. I really don’t fault the folks working there. They seemed to be going as fast as they could. I think they were just ill-prepared for the dinnertime crowd. But then again, I had been at this particular restaurant before, and encountered the same phenomenon. As I sat there, counting the tiles on the floor, I wondered why this was so.
Restaurant worker No. 1: “Hey, you think all those people will be coming tonight to eat again?”
Restaurant worker No. 2: “I don’t know. They came yesterday and the day before and every day before that since I’ve worked here, but they may not show up today.”
Restaurant worker No. 1: “Well, we better not make any food in advance then. If they don’t come, then we’ll have all this food and nothing to do with it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Finally, after growing a beard, they called out “Geronimo” and I battled a cramp to pick up my food. I had remained patient, unlike some of my co-customers, and had refrained from complaining. These people were working and didn’t need my harassment.
“Can I have some of those ketchup packets with my meal, please?” I asked upon receiving my food.
“Sure,” the worker behind the counter said, dropping one in my hand.
“Excuse me,” I said meekly, looking down at the packet that would barely flavor two french fries. “I really enjoy ketchup. Can I have a lot of packets, as much as you can muster.”
“You want mustard? Sure,” the attendant said, looking under the counter for a mustard packet.
“No, no, just lots of ketchup packets, please,” I pleaded.
Confused, she reached down into the box of 5,000 ketchup packets and presented me with two. Two.
Even the non-demanding need to demand sometimes.
“Give me more ketchup or give me death,” I wailed.
The rest is history — the squeaky wheel gets the ketchup.
Len Robbins is editor and publisher of the Clinch County News in Homerville. His column appears weekly.