5.07.2009

Politics and Cocktails

Originally written and published in November 2003 somewhere in the backwaters of the internets. Just found it again and liked it enough to republish it. Not a short story per se, more like a slightly extended scene.

Late one night, after exhausting himself painting yet another large canvass of emotional reds and swirled blacks, a turning out of his emotional state, Ian was just about to flop down and pass out when he heard a gentle knock on his door. For some reason he knew it would be Astrid and when he opened the door he smiled to her and for knowing it would be her. He liked moments when he felt like he could see what was going to happen next.
"Are you still up, Ian?" she asked as she pushed by him and entered his cluttered living room that was more studio than living space.
"Almost, you got me just as I was about to sack out, what time is it anyway?"
"Three thirty or so," she said over her shoulder while she looked at his fresh canvas leaning against the wall after losing the battle to his paintbrush. "Are you in a bad mood?"
"No, not at all, why do you ask?"
"This painting," she pointed a delicate finger at the large and newly completed oil, "It's very dark, brooding and makes me feel sort of a raging something from you or am I misinterpreting it?"
"No, I guess I hadn't thought of it like that. Its less of a rage thing and more of a venting, lots of internal demons and they always seem to want to come out as reds and blacks. I've gotta at least try to live up to the suffering artist persona I've been slavishly cultivating since college," he tried to make light her question even while he shifted uneasily on the balls of his feet, feeling the heat of her scrutiny on both him and the painting. He knew that the painting was really a reflection of how she made him feel, an impotent rage that he railed against but couldn't battle through. But he was also nowhere near tired enough, drunk enough (he normally drank a bottle or two of wine when he painted as it freed up his constricted movements) or comfortable enough to tell her any of that.
"You must have some pretty powerful demons inside you if this is how they manifest themselves in your work but enough about your art, I know you get uncomfortable when people talk about it too much with you around. How about a drink instead?"
"Sure, its too late for a bar but I've got some Bushmills and ginger ale, if that's alright with you?" and he headed for the kitchen, grateful for he excuse to do something.
"That sounds lovely, I had an old friend who used to drink Bushmill's like it was water, its too much straight up like he drank it but with some ginger ale sounds good," she followed him into the kitchen and leaned her slender frame against the doorframe to watch him mix.
"What were you up to this evening that you're just getting home now?" he asked her in an offhand way, trying to mask his curiosity.
"I had a date that went into a little bit of overtime," she began and then, noticing his surprised look, "Oh no, not like that! What kind of girl do you think I am? We got to talking about politics, the current foreign policy situation and potential ways to repair the country's sagging image around the world."
"And what did you come up with?"
"The first step is to start fresh, a new president, all new Senators, all new Congressmen, all new pages, all new everything. A clean slate is the only way I can think of to clear out all the favoritism and cronyism and all those other dirty 'ism words that just mean people cheating the system they were elected to protect."
"Sounds like you're on the right track, but why stop there? Why not remove all the corrupt cops, mayors, governors and all the other crooks in expensive suits?"
"I think that wouldn't be a bad idea, eventually, but to start the process, it has to be a decapitation, remove the head and the body will fall. God, I sound like a kung-fu movie," she laughed.
He handed her a tall cocktail and walked with her back into the living room. He took a moment to clean off a space on the couch next to his thinking chair, an old, faded green leather chair that he'd had since he moved to the city years and years ago.
"There's nothing wrong with kung-fu movies that a little better voice over wouldn't fix," Ian said in a matter of fact voice.
"I don't know about that, I can think of lots of things that would need to be fixed in kung-fu movies to make them more viewable but let's try to stay on the politics thing, I won't be able to get to sleep until I've worked it out of my system," she steered him back to the original topic.
"Okay, what else is on your mind? The failings of the electoral college, the utter removal of checks and balances for the most powerful man in the world? The appointment of soul-less old men to guide the country?" he asked her, partially in jest but also because he was a little confused by her signals, she would lean towards him, put a hand on his arm and then back away again, settling all the way back against the couch.
"Don't be an ass, the electoral college isn't failing, our use of it is failing, WE are failing the founding fathers, we're not staying true to their desires," she snapped at him. And then, realizing that she was excessively sharp with him, reached out to take his hand in hers. "I'm sorry, dear, its not you, I've got some other things on my mind as well as this whole politics thing.
"Okay, then I'll be a sport and not get petulant, it'll be hard but I'll try," Ian said while smiling at her, pleased that she made the effort to placate him after snapping. Not enough people actually take the time to apologize for their misdirected anger, he thought to himself.
"Thanks, dear," she said simply, tracing the rim of her glass with her finger, obviously thinking about what had been bothering her.
"So what is it that's been pushing your irritation button?" he asked her.
"I was having a drink at a bar earlier tonight while waiting for my friend to show up and I was trying to talk to this guy at the bar. He wouldn't say anything except cliches and lame platitudes, it was driving me nuts. I thought he was just messing with me but I don't think he was really capable of thinking for himself," she opened up, "When someone resorts to simple cliches and slogans then they are no longer capable of conversation and are instead acting as a media outlet for someone else's interests."
"I suppose that's true but I don't think I've ever met someone like the man you're describing so it's very abstract, can you give me an example?"
"Okay, how about this? I would say something like, 'Did you read about the new bill in Congress that they're trying to pass regarding same sex marriage?' and he would respond with 'If Pro is the opposite of Con then isn't Progress the opposite of Congress?', it became pretty clear that he basically picked a word and then found a cliche that it was in and that was his answer," she explained.
"I can see how that would be annoying, why did you keep talking to him then?"
"I wanted to see how long he could keep it up, if I could say something that would leave him speechless but it didn't happen and I got irritated and stopped speaking to him."
"What bothered you about him the most? The fact that he wasn't speaking for himself or thinking for himself?"
"Well sure, its dishonest to use other people's words in place of your own, honest thought isn't the regurgitation of other people's words or mottos. Honest thought is taking those concepts, figuring out which has any value and making them your own," she continued.
"Yep, I'll agree to that," Ian nodded his head obediently.
"So many people fall back on other people's thoughts without really ever thinking about what they're saying. What it means now, what it means for the future and that, honestly, sort of scares me," she admitted. "The people that listen to that awful guy on the radio, what's his name?"
"Howard Stern?"
"No, the other one, the guy Al Franken wrote a book about?"
"Oh Rush Limbaugh, yeah, Rush and his army of devoted, empty skulled dittoheads that hang on his every word as being divinity itself. The problem with treating other people's words as sacred is that the other people aren't sacred, they're people. People with their own objectives, desires and agendas and trusting your thoughts to someone else gives them more power to spread whatever they want," Ian gave her some of his own thoughts.
"And he's a hate monger too, he hates gay people, he hates liberals, he hates anyone who doesn't think exactly as he does and those that do think like he does, he doesn't care about, he just wants to expand his powerbase so that he can throw his weight around, its ugly and people like him are a true danger to the country and the world."
"People need to think for themselves, until they do then they're just wasting space and resources waiting for the grim reaper to come and take them up to heaven for a job well done."
"But they didn't do a job, they just nodded their heads at the right time and said stupid things like 'Ditto' and 'Right on, Rush'!" she exclaimed angrily, like it was Ian's fault that people were so shallow and easily duped into being talking sheep. "Even if there were a heaven, none of these people deserve to get in for ceding their minds to someone else, that's the height of insanity."
"You're right, you are totally right. All except the part about there possibly being a heaven, I can't bring myself to believe in such an abstract carrot, especially not when I can see the ropes around my neck with that carrot out front trying to coerce me into greater struggles to get to the reward of an eternity in paradise."
"Yeah, yeah! I like that metaphor of the carrot, it makes sense and puts together a whole lot of thinking that's not been able to coalesce properly but I think I get it now. The opiate of the masses, the struggle now for an eternal reward, all of it. Its just another way to control people, to get them to do what you want. And the worst part about heaven is that its totally unprovable, either it exists or that it doesn't. The only people who can get into it are dead and they tend to not talk."
"I think we're going to need another round of cocktails to figure this one all the way out," and Ian grabbed her now empty glass and his own before heading into the kitchen to spin up a couple of new drinks.
Astrid followed him into the other room, her bright eyes very alive with some bursting revelations.
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