I feel terribly sorry for those who eschew vices. Those who, in pursuit of a better life, deprive themselves of those very things which make life worth living. Who desperately cling to every second of every minute of every day in glaring sobriety.
There is little better in this world than a well-timed whiskey. As I write this, I am drinking a single-malt scotch-and-soda in a bar I have never been to before, and likely will never be in again. The customers, aside from me, are local regulars, all four of whom are engaged in an animated conversation with the bartender.
This scotch is the most wonderful thing I have had today, and my lunch was a meat pie.
They say you should never argue religion or politics. Case in point: the argument which brought me to this bar and its scotch. Somehow, my younger sister and I, in the midst of an otherwise congenial conversation, got onto the topic of America. This was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake from the moment I opened my mouth.
I do not consider myself conservative. If forced, I would probably describe myself as “centrist.” In broad strokes, economically right of center, socially left. I favor equal rights; support gay marriage and abortion. Think George W. Bush was quite possibly the worst president in history.
I also support the death penalty. In fact, I don’t think we use it enough. I think forcible rape and any sex act with a child under the age of ten should be a capital crime. Punishment for major crimes should be harsh; for lesser crimes, and especially those committed by youth, rehabilitation. College should be available to all, regardless of race or social status.
Gun control means using both hands.
In short, my politics are all over the board. I have described myself as a “liberal Republican” and a “conservative Democrat.” Time was, I considered the latter more true. Now, I lean closer to the former, if only because I find myself so thoroughly disgusted by much of the drivel that the Democrats have been pushing for. As my roommate often says, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the Democrats seem determined to make sure they’ve got the contract.
But I digress. As I sat in my sister’s studio apartment adjacent to downtown Seattle, one of us, God alone knows which one, brought up the subject of America. This, naturally, segued nicely into a screaming argument.
As I said, I am not conservative; but when compared to my sister, I might as well have been advocating for the suppression of unions with Pinkerton’s agents. She stated that there were countless countries better than this one, citing Canada as an example. I countered, saying that Canada only gets to be Canada because they don’t have to spend money on defense. That Canada, in a sense, is our spoiled little trust-fund kid.
She began talking about the unemployment rates, and the fact that many European countries provide much more financial support to the collegiate system. I pointed out that they accomplish this with a sixty percent income tax. She added that, as a socialist, she had no problem with a tax that steep.
This left me a little stunned. I knew that she was liberal, but a socialist? My own sister? Oh, the horror!
Switzerland came up, as a positive example of… something…. I pointed out that the Swiss had not allowed women to vote until the 1970s.
Her response was, “So?”
It was at this point that I realized exactly why one should never argue politics. Until that moment, the conversation had been one of point-counterpoint. But, like all faith-based debates, one of us was bound to eventually run out of cogent responses on a given topic and give the political equivalent of “because God did it.”
And so I found myself taking the only possible way out: I gave up. I stopped playing. I went back to my book and let her wind down. And she did, finishing with the parting shot that her country had, by her reckoning, never done a thing for her.
And I almost pointed out that the only reason she thought that was because it had never occurred to her that the one thing the country had given her was the ability to grow up and form opinions like that. I almost pointed that out, but I did the smart thing, the healthy thing, instead: I left to suck down a cigarette, and stopped to cool off with a little whiskey.
And now I find myself talking to a man who looks like Dick Chaney, but speaks at a million miles an hour. He’s an east-coaster in his mid-fifties, describing to me the realization he came to at forty-seven that led him to switch careers, marry a Thai woman, and father two children. He is a security guard and an amiable man, the sort that loves to talk. He hides surprisingly deep realizations behind salty language, a Brooklyn accent, and outdated, decidedly non-PC phrases like “the Orient.”
What brought us together? We both came in looking for a low-key joint to grab a drink and unwind. Two men, wildly disparate walks of life, such as would never spare each other a glance on the street. But over a drink or two, letting each other unwind in our own way, him talking, me listening, our lives, for a moment, intertwine. And, I hope, are left a little the richer for it.
Thank you, alcohol, for this. And thank you, Russ the Security Guy, for making my own point to me: “We don’t even realize how lucky we are here, man. Over in rural Thailand, they don’t got shit. Dirt floor, no furniture, and the outhouse is in a shed in the back. Don’t forget that, man: we don’t know how lucky we are.”