Something to think about…

One of the unwritten rules we follow and one I’m sure you’ll agree with, is never discuss politics or religion in a bar. It just makes sense. For veering into those red hot topics is dicey under normal circumstances, like tossing a match on a tinderbox, but add to the discourse whiskey and beer and before you know it you’re backing away from a bonfire. Especially in today’s climate. The poles of contention are too far apart, like the North Pole and the South Pole, and just as far removed from the Equator of compromise. So whenever I hear a conversation at the bar erupt as opposed to unfold, and politics is the issue, I immediately step in and try to tamp down the flames. To change the subject. “C’mon, guys,” I’ll jokingly drawl, to the patriots both Left and Right, “you know the fucking rules… no politics in bars! How ’bout we switch to sports or maybe Swiss cheese even?” And it usually works. In fact it has to work or we have a problem.

I remember a guy I had a while back who happened to have been an advisor to Dick Cheney. And was obviously quite proud of it. Well, given my own political leanings (somewhere to the left of middle if Sean Penn’s the middle), my mind was racing a mile a minute with points to make. I mean this was the mother lode for crying out loud! “Jesus, where do I begin?” I thought, when I found out who he was, then,” Nowhere,” I quickly decided knowing the outcome. Because it would’ve gotten ugly. So instead of saying what I wanted to say (“Dick Cheney belongs in prison!”) I reached out and grabbed the man’s hand and offered a truce. This preemptive peace strike.

“Sir,” I said, “you seem like a pretty nice guy so far so I better tell you up front that I’m a Democrat. What you might call a Kennedy Democrat. (He had already slammed Ted Kennedy earlier in the conversation.) That said, how about we talk about everything else but politics. You buy that?” And thankfully he did. He shook my hand, he smiled, and warmly agreed with me. In fact, so well did the rest of the evening go that I said as he was leaving to sum up the encounter, “I don’t care what anyone says, you’re not such a bad guy for a goddam Republican. Even a Dick Cheney Republican!” To which he replied, “And you’re not so goddam bad for a Kennedy Democrat!” End of story, point made.

But to further make the point of that story in keeping with the “unwritten law”… the law of banning politics and religion in bars (especially religion in this case)… I’d like to share a moment that happened last Friday. One beautiful moment. And if this doesn’t prove the point then nothing else will!

We had what I’d call a terrific Friday, the joint, to quote Fats Waller, was “really jumpin'”. My bar was packed, the tables were filled and half the room was singing along with the piano man. Which was great! From Billy Joel, to fifties doo wop, to Sinatra and Tony Bennett, not to mention Axl Rose’s “Sweet Child of Mine” for God’s sake, the man was covering a span ofΒ  some fifty years. He had a song for everyone. And as I leaned against the back bar observing this harmonious sight, a sight any bar would welcome if its aim was good cheer, my eye was drawn to a particular table of eight. They were, at least I surmised, all Middle Eastern. It was a birthday gathering.

Now forget the fact they were well-behaved, that obviously goes without saying, more important is the fact they were bathed in the glow of camaraderie. (Which can’t go without saying as you shall see here.) So out of curiosity, and because our waiter is Moroccan, I asked if he knew who they were and where they were from. He seemed to know them.

“Is table 10 from Morocco?” I asked, when I poured their next round.

“Some, yes,” he said with a smile, “and some no,” he said, smiling even broader.

“Oh yeah? Then where are the others from?” I pushed further.

“The rest they are Israeli… is beautiful, yes?”

“Is beautiful, hell yes,” I said with amazement.

And it really was beautiful. Damn, it was beautiful. And not because I’m some kind ofΒ  idiot who expected a border war to break out over the place settings, and was shocked that it didn’t, but simply because here in microcosm was how the world could be. Or how it should be. If only politics and religion didn’t fucking blind us! I mean here you had Muslims dining with Jews, I couldn’t tell one fromΒ  the other, and neither apparently could they where it really counted. They were all one. It was friendship they were here for… celebration of the human spirit come together in a birthday… and the only differences I saw were the drinks they were drinking. Which they handled perfectly.

So a little while later and after I’d pointed this out to a friend who was sitting at the bar with me, he filled me in on something I’d failed to notice. As I said, the place was really “jumpin”. This friend, who happens to be John Cassaday… the famous X-Men comic book artist who was just as impressed as I at what he was seeing… handed me a bev nap on which he’d scrawled the following.

The only other song they clapped for, besides “Happy Birthday”, was “God Bless America”.

“You’re kidding,” I said when I read it.

“Believe me I’m not,” he said, “isn’t that cool?” (Fucking way cool!) In fact I’m getting a chill right now as I type this. And I don’t mean to be corny.

The piano man actually did sing that song, it somehow got thrown in the mix, and everyone did stand up and cheer at song’s end. That much I remember. I just didn’t know it was the only song, besides of course Happy Birthday, this group had applauded. And I thought it was terrific. But the more I ponder the significance of that, now a few days later, I’m wondering if this isn’t why that song had so moved them. See, America offers a space for these folks to live and love side by side… no borders either physical or spiritual… and maybe they were giving thanks for that common ground. That opportunity. A place for the ingredients of difference to mix in the “melting pot”. Oh, I know, we have our share of haters here, of Jews and Muslims in particular, but they’re just a tiny speck in the overall mix. Not enough to spoil the stew in that pot. Just as the hate-filled terrorists are a small part of their greater whole. So again, maybe what they were saying that night by applauding that rousing song, all of them, was gratitude for what that song represented. The chance to be. To be what they came here to be which is free Americans. And if that is indeed the case, if that’s why they were applauding, then let me applaud all of them and bid them all welcome.

From “sea to shining sea”… true end of story. And let politics be damned!!!

See ya’ next week-end.

26 Responses to “Something to think about…”

  1. 1 chris jones January 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    A special, good story to start the new year. Thanks for sharing, Scribbler!

  2. 2 scribbler50 January 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    chris jones: And thank you for reading, glad you enjoyed!

  3. 3 JSaw January 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Great story to begin 2011. That’s one reason I always like coming here. In most of my other on-line spaces, I can’t help myself from getting irate when I get political. But here, you can really focus on all the other things that exist in life and that we can all agree on.

  4. 4 JSaw January 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Oh, and Happy New Year, Scrib!

  5. 5 scribbler50 January 10, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks, JSaw, and Happy New Year to you.

  6. 6 Jirar January 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Buddy it was a verry good real story 20/20

  7. 7 scribbler50 January 10, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Thank you, Jirar, since you were there to witness it you should know!!!

  8. 8 Goosenyc January 10, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Great story scribblet…..thanks for sharing it.

    Happy New Year.

  9. 9 Pharm Sci Grad January 11, 2011 at 12:43 am

    I was worried today when I saw politics in your post… So glad I kept reading! πŸ™‚ Those are the moment when I’m proud to be an American. Thanks for sharing that one, and for the smile it brought me. Cheers!

  10. 10 scribbler50 January 11, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Goosenyc: Long time no hear, thanks for stopping by and you’re welcome.

    Pharm Sci Grad: Yeah, just like at the real bar, I don’t like getting into politics here in this bar. It’s not my bailiwick. Plus I’d rather prompt one of these πŸ™‚ instead of an argument. “Cheers” back at ya’!

  11. 11 Anonymoustache January 11, 2011 at 7:23 am

    A great post, Scrib50, and in light of recent events a highly relevant voice of reason. America indeed offers people a way to live without traditionally divisive borders and that is one of its greatest features and assets. I think that eventually even the current struggle of the tolerant against intolerant/fanatical forces will be won only by widespread practice of the simple, peaceful and joyous coexistence that you so beautifully portrayed.
    One of your best, dude, and at a perfect time too.

  12. 12 scribbler50 January 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Anonymoustache: Every time I see blind prejudice waged against our Muslim brothers and sisters, who are now Americans doing exactly what my ancestors did which was try and make a better life in a new land, I think of that moment when Colin Powell was being interviewed and he held up a picture of a Muslim woman leaning on her son’s headstone and weeping. Her Muslim son who gave up his life in Iraq. Rips your heart out.

    “… peaceful and joyous coexistence…” from your keyboard to God’s ears, my friend.

  13. 13 Ken January 11, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Hi Scrib:

    First: Happy New Year. Second: In a more innocent era (the later 1990s) the bartender at my favorite place, the one with the great windows overlooking the street that serves our big Ivy League School, was a genuine Lebanese Christian militia man. He was a charming guy, when he wanted to be, but his politics were slightly to the right of Heinrich Himmler.

    This is not a feel good story. (OR a feel bad one) It’s just that this bar was a gathering place for all the bartender’s friends up and down the East Coast. I knew they were serious when the conversation would switch to Arabic (or French). It was fascinating. He was some kind of officer, and quite openly coordinating people and operations from behind that bar. It was something to watch. Pre 9/11 it seemed kind of comical.

    He was there a couple of years. He was also a pretty good bartender, and could talk intelligently about baseball. We would talk politics on occassion, when it was just the two of us. He was a fascinating guy.

    I often wonder what strings, exactly, he was pulling while he was working behind the bar.

  14. 14 Scicurious January 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Scrib!!! Thanks for writing something “political” that will make me smile. πŸ™‚ It’s about time someone did that.

  15. 15 d-a-p January 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    ….really well said and a great story to ponder after the tragic events in arizona..

  16. 16 Petro January 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Glad you’re back, Scrib, and good story. Happy New Year.

    One thing, though – as one who has zero interest in sports, weather, Swiss cheese or other small-talk, it seems I’d be quickly banned from your bar, as politics and “religion” are two of the top conversations that I enjoy in such a setting. Sure, it gets hot sometimes, but that’s entertainment!

    (I’ve never been banned for this, and believe me I stirred it up down there in Phoenix, lonely territory it be for progressive thought. I think the bartenders were amused, plus it helps that I have a pretty good sense of potential trouble, and quickly switch to disarm mode when egos or feelings are being hurt. But I do loves to mix it up!)

    My TMI comment for the day. πŸ™‚

  17. 17 Donna B. January 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit this, but after you eliminated politics and religion as conversation topics, I thought, “Well, then… sex is all that’s left!”

    Sports, and especially swiss cheese, didn’t cross my mind. Although I am thrilled TCU won the Rose Bowl.


  18. 18 scribbler50 January 12, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Ken: Wow, sounds like the makings of a movie. Intriguing guy indeed. I’m always fascinated too when out of nowhere (but for some specific reason) people switch to their native tongue and then back again. And given your man’s background here, God only knows what he was up to.
    An interesting comment as always, Ken, and happy a new year to you.

    Scicurious: Glad I made you smile, my friend, that’s what bars are REALLY for, no? πŸ™‚

    d-a-p: That wasn’t the intention given that what I saw was on Friday which is when I decided to write it, sadly it just dovetailed that way. Appreciate the kind words as always, bro.

    Petro: Why am I not surprised that you talk politics in a bar? Oh, I know. I’ve been to your web site!!! Listen, I don’t “ban” people for talking that stuff in my bar, I just try to keep it friendly and under control, that’s all. And hey, some bars welcome the heat as obviously yours does and that’s great. It’s just not my cup of tea, or should I say firewater! And finally, I hope you know the “Swiss cheese” thing was a joke. If I wanted to switch to cheese it would be the the first part of the compound word “cheesecake”!
    Later, pal.

    Donna B.: Don’t be embarrassed because you’re absolutely right, “sex” is definitely the next thing on the agenda. That’s what I meant above by “cheesecake”!
    Hey, a big congrats, Donna, on the Rose Bowl!

  19. 19 Petro January 12, 2011 at 3:18 am

    Understand. No hard feelings!

  20. 20 Jennifer January 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

    What a lovely welcome back post. You’re a gentleman and a scholar, Scrib.

  21. 21 scribbler50 January 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Thank you, Jennifer, and it’s good to be back. All the best!

  22. 22 mvpalex January 13, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Well I guess I can’t start my “Sean Penn for President” campaign at your bar.

  23. 23 scribbler50 January 13, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Hey there, Alex, knowing your political leanings I FIGURED you’d jump on that, but just for the record, my friend, that was really an exaggeration, an attempt at humor to make the point of how far removed I was from the Dick Cheney guy. Which I think you know. But I’m glad you checked in because our friendship makes the point of this whole post. And here’s why…

    Remember way back when I first sat down at your bar and we discovered right off the bat our political differences? That you were a Rep and I was a Dem and how we decided right then to avoid that arena? To leave politics out of our future bullshit?? Well look what happened as a result… a mutual respect and friendship for over two years.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have Alec Baldwin on hold, I gotta run. πŸ™‚

  24. 24 Belvoir January 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    So great to see you back Scrib, and with such a heartening tale. God bless America, and God’s blessed New York epecially, I think. That sort of human camaraderie and connection.. not unique to the city, just so delightfully common. Everyday miracles there. So beautiful to read, thank you.

  25. 25 Pieter B January 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Happy New Year, Scribbler. Great story.

    It used to be that I could sit in a saloon with my conservative friends and argue politics all night, part friends, and come back the following week to do it again. Those days are gone, a couple of decades at least.

    I think it’s because politics has become a professional sport, in which your “team” winning is the only thing that matters to most people. It’s sad.

  26. 26 scribbler50 January 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Belvoir: And thank you so very much for your heartfelt comment. There are everyday miracles if we know where to look and we keep our eyes open. Thanks again.

    Pieter B.: I couldn’t agree more, man, it really is ugly out there and ideology not logic rules the day. It’s great that you had those sessions back then but I fear they’re gone forever, I know it is with me and some friends of mine. Sad indeed!
    And happy new year to you.

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