Friday, August 12, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

The moral life


joes1 Truth is hard to come by it seems. What we see is shaped by so many factors that have nothing to do with what is actually in front of us. The problem ranges from an actual blind spot in our eye to the mind’s technique of filling in what we didn’t see with information as if we really did see. It’s why that old prosecutor used to tell me he preferred a bloody knife to an eye-witness to the murder. The bloody knife is the truth. And the eye-witness? A little more problematic.                

And not only is our perception of events of questionable value, we are fickle in our choices of what is true. We read in the evening news how assault rifles have no place but in war, and by morning we find a “teacher’s aide” on sale, today only, with a free ammunition magazine the size of a State-Fair zucchini. Really?             

OK, where do we find a bedrock in these shifting sands? On what can we hang our stocking cap? Where is our Weather Beacon in the storm?                

On the northwest side of Des Moines, flush with Douglas Avenue, is a small donut shop. The smiling man behind the counter is Al. Al is from New Delhi, India. Al, whose full name is Alok, is schooled in irony. That is not his chosen profession. He was trained in information technology, for which he came to Chicago in 1989. After a while, his work could be done more cheaply in India. And, you guessed it, his job in America was outsourced to his former country. Al was unemployed. See, irony.             

joes2With a wife and two kids and a mother and father who needed his care, he came to Des Moines looking for opportunity. Lo and behold, the Donut Hut opened up as a possibility. And Al hit the ground running. Before long, his spotless store with amazing donuts was filled with students, parents, teachers, construction workers, truckers and, most importantly, the church ladies from Holy Trinity. Check it out. An immigrant’s success story.                

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Ah, but of course there’s more.                

“I treat everyone at the shop as a family member,” Al said in his soft lilt.             

Well, you might like to know that Al’s definition of “family” includes his employees, you, me and that pierced kid coming in the door. Don’t believe it? Ask Al’s dad, who is in Des Moines on a visit.                

“My son understands people’s feelings heart to heart. Customers who get an ‘A’ in their schooling, he gives a free donut — that is a wonderful thing,” said Roy Oberoi.                

joes3Roy is of another time and another place. Soft-spoken, dapper, with a European twist to his scarf and a stoicism that leaves little room for facial movement.                

“I simply watch,” Roy said of his involvement in the business. But, watch he does.                

Donuts for A’s, did he say? Kitty-corner to the donut shop is an alternative high school. Al spoke with pride of the students who visit his shop.              

“The students have been very nice,” Al said. “Yes, they did mess up, what they did is not right, and they need to change. I’m proud of how they come to my shop and behave. They know the value of education. If they improve, they should be rewarded.”                

See, Al is your guardian angel.               

Al’s dad nodded with approval.             

“Perhaps he’s going beyond my expectations because he enjoys very much little ones — small children — he has come to their age,” Roy said.                

Is this all baloney? Does Al really “come to our age?”                

“I actually love this place,” Al said. “I can see satisfaction with customers. Achieving something, giving them some happiness, some respect. This is my way to do it. It comes from my heart.                

joes4“When people leave my shop, no matter how they walk in, they leave happy and with a smile on their face.”              

Roy imperceptibly nodded in agreement with his son.                

A father and his son. Practicing the moral life. A bedrock in the shifting sands. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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