44, part eight (conclusion)
Nixon was easy. We could go anywhere, really, but James had been talking about the 600 at Watergate South, which wasn’t really the sort of place where we belonged…but they had a full bar. We somehow managed to get in and get a drink, but it was clear that our time was limited, so it was just quick shots of bourbon for the three of us, giggling at the black tie and gown folks, talking in funny voices to the waiter and manager as we were herded back outside, and then onto the street with a shot of Nixon warming our bellies.
“Please, god, can we skip Ford?” David asked.
“Thirty-eight!” James shouted. “But not really elected, so I suppose so.”
“How about we head back to my apartment?” I suggested. “Stop spending money –“
“My money.” James hissed.
“And take it easy for a few presidents. Then we can go to Chef Theo’s for Obama.”
“Is that a negro bar?” David asked.
“It is, actually. Black people and my aunt.”
“Why’s your aunt go there?”
“To eat grilled cheese sandwiches and drink Heineken.”
“Twenty-two ounce Heineken freakout!” James burbled.
“Precisely.” And I woke up in a cab careening through Rock Creek Park, carving our way out of DC and back into the suburbs. This time, hopefully, for good. If I could get feeling back into my arm, I was considering knocking James out and tying him down. End the night, end the pain.
At my apartment, James shouldered past me and made right for the Bar Compass. He spun the wheel. “You have mixings to back this thing up?”
The Bar Compass was a gag gift from my teetotaler grandmother, and always a nice conversation item. It was a hefty piece of metal with a list of common cocktails along the edge and a wheel that you spun to reveal the required ingredients. James now spun that inner wheel with his thumbs.
“Trying to decide?” David asked, staring down at the thing as if mesmerized.
“Spirits.” James muttered.
“The spirits are deciding!”
David glanced around. “Are the spirits talking to you now, James?”
James had stopped. He handed the Bar Compass to me with pleading eyes. Kamikazi.
“Thirty-nine, right? Jimmy Carter.”
David looked from the Compass to James, “What’s the connection?”
“Carter was Navy.”
I shook my head, “But not during World War II.”
“The name for the drink came during the Occupation, which was when Carter was in the Navy.”
David narrowed his eyes, “I don’t know…”
James grabbed the Compass and started spinning again. Really, his choices were limited, and I was starting to get dizzy, so I took it back and said, “Kamikaze it is! Divine Wind.” I put a hand on David’s shoulder and led him into the kitchen, “You know how it got that name? Get me three little glasses from above the sink.”
“The typhoon that sunk the Mongol fleet.”
I released his shoulder, “How’d you know that?”
“I went to school.”
“Oh. Okay.” I pulled out vodka and triple sec and glanced suspiciously at David until he drifted back into the living room with James.
Later, after what felt like a typhoon, James was sprawled on the floor with my mom’s old records, and David was perched on a stool reading Doctor Who Magazine #126, the Patrick Troughton tribute issue from July 1987. I was talking about the attempted Mongol invasion of Japan when it hit me – the night was quickly slipping away from us. Dangerous to get this close and not finish.
“Hold it!” I shouted, handing the Bar Compass down to James. “We’re at one of the big ones.”
“Number forty.” David muttered, flipping through several pages.
“Ray gun.” James hissed from the floor, his thumbs spinning the wheel again. “Tequila Sunrise.”
David put down the magazine. “Oh… Perfect.”
“On it.” I skipped girlishly into the kitchen and started whipping together the three drinks.
We drank in silence, in honor of the great Reagan, though I was thinking about American Psycho much of the time. We were losing steam fast, but only a few more to go. And, thankfully, all in the secure womb of my apartment.
The Bar Compass spirits said the first Bush was worth a few Black Russians, and those were vaguely unpleasant to suck down after a long day and night of drinking. Clinton was also fairly easy – Sex on the Beach. Though David argued for a Hairy Naval, citing the oral sex POV. Which counts as an uncomfortable conversation, so we ignored him. Forty-Three is our own beloved Baby Bush, and the drink that best sums up the last eight years was a Long Island Iced Tea, and the lunatic fringe drunken terror that always accompanies it. Then it came.
“Forty-four.” James put down the Bar Compass with an air of relief. “I hate this thing,” he muttered, tapping a finger against the screw in the center.
“Time for the negro bar,” David was putting on his coat.
Chef Theo’s. A low rent strip mall restaurant, with poor service and low quality food. Tucked away in the shifty, pick-pocketing, ATM-mugging terror of the White Oak Shopping Center and serving, notably, my aunt, with rubbery grilled cheese sandwiches, box wine, and plastic tablecloths covered in cigarette burns even though there’s been a smoking ban for the better part of a decade. The hostess is a deaf mongoloid, the waitress looks like she’s washed up on the beach after a hurricane hit the worst trailer park on Atlantis, the cook occasionally bursts through the rear doors waving a spatula and screaming in Italian, and the clientele all sullenly sit in dark corners, sipping beers and sizing up anybody who dares to walk in. It’s hardly the ‘negro bar’ that David wanted. I probably should have taken him to Takoma Station for that experience. But we were in no condition to drive, and I wasn’t able to face cabs, busses, or even the short ride across the DC border. White Oak was a healthy black neighborhood, so David could soak up plenty of atmosphere.
How better to celebrate our great savior, the wondrous Obama, but to mingle with our black brothers and sisters on the streets of White Oak, and at the rickety tables in Chef Theo’s? I think that was the thinking… Frankly, I was out of my mind.
And that was the first warning bell that should have made me insist we stay in the apartment, barricaded behind closed doors. The realization that insanity had set in. The second warning bell was when James, David, and I set out across fields and through the corridors and lobbies of the vast sea of apartment complexes encircling the White Oak Shopping Center, pretending we were commandos.
The third and final alarm bell was when James drunkenly ordered the ‘Sunday Beef Roast Special’ to a chorus of muttering and horrified gasps after we got a table at Chef Theo’s. When the waitress took the order back to the kitchen, we all heard the chef start screaming.
James grinned with childlike malevolence.
Another president, another American Era, but everything still felt lost, hopeless, foolish. The unrelenting tide of poorly educated, desperate Americans continued to wear us down. The dreams of change and renewal were already shifting to fears of scandal and treachery. No matter what, all this, number forty-four, is just a different side of the same coin. Now we get blind, feverish, polarized liberals ranting and screaming at us instead of the blind, feverish, polarized conservatives.
I didn’t mind the latter. You knew where they were coming from. They were hateful bigots, the voice of Middle America. Overalls and rattlesnake dancing, country twangs and pickups, gas guzzling clowns with tight suits and narrow views. We’ve known them these last eight years, and we’ve rolled our eyes because they’ve been so predictable, cut from the same cloth, saying the same things we’ve been hearing since Gingrich and Clinton’s shameful second term. Hell, since Goldwater…McCarthy… Since forever.
But these liberals. These people who have turned Obama into a Messiah. It’s harder to get a handle on them. The urban wage slaves, the armchair liberals, the silver spoon socialists. They’re a dangerous sort. Seething in their sad apartments, bleating painfully on internet social networking sites, creating and hanging out in exclusive clubs, writing in their third grade scrawl to any free daily that’ll listen, attempting to round up their friends to protest the scandalous behavior du jour, reading their idiot life-affirming books, and trying to cut through the Zoloft and pain killers and lithium to make out even the simplest of headlines and draw wild assumptions.
I voted Obama, but I would have been happy with McCain. Better the devil you know. And America is the Devil’s land. We do the Devil’s work, and take secret joy in it. Whatever stops the voices, right? I worry when we put idealists in power, because they don’t really have a sense of history. They don’t understand who or what we all are.
It took 40 minutes for the roast to arrive, at which time James asked for it to go. The waitress seethed as she stomped away. We hadn’t spoken for that entire time, the three of us pounding beer after beer, staring at patterns. Tablecloth, floor tiles, ceilings, the backs of our hands. A celebration turned maudlin. Whether black or white, young or old, the old boy network still survived, we were all still trapped in the city, and even if one of us escaped we would just discover that there is no Sanctuary.