Two Brief Encounters on Hot Summer Nights

A hot summer night recently coaxed us out of the house and to the patio of a local watering hole, where we were pleased to encounter a dear old friend. We spoke of our families and friends and how work is going, debated whether we should care at all about the World Cup soccer matches, swapped some salty jokes, and mostly avoided what’s been in the news. When we inevitably mentioned our nagging worries about the way the world seems to be going these she waived off the topic by saying that she now concerns herself solely with friends and family and how work is going.
This seemed fair enough, especially after hearing the travails of her friends and family and workplace as well as some other very serious problems she has faced in the past months, so with a certain sense of relief we let the topic drop and moved on to an amusing discussion of our past romantic failures. Our friend is an effervescent and upbeat sort, a pleasant contrast to our more reserved and fatalistic manner, so we didn’t want to deny her a hard-earned blissful ignorance of the news that rest of the world is going to hell in a proverbial hand basket. Eventually the consequences of all those stories she’s been studiously ignoring will be felt by her friends and family and at her workplace, and will adversely affect her ability to solve the other sorts of problems that she’s lately faced, but in the meantime we see no reason should do anything about it other than keep a head up. Our friend is female, single, mostly unchurched, and fits all the other demographic and socio-economic categories that predict her biennial support for Democratic candidates and occasional enthusiasm for some bleeding-heart do-gooder project or another, so we didn’t want to encourage her to be politically active.
Better an apolitical attitude that concerns itself only with friends and family and work than the earnest idealism of the young man we encountered the next hot summer night on the patio at another local watering hole. We were engaged in our usual glum conservation about the events of the day with a gray pony-tailed right-wing friend of ours when when the young man at the next table interjected himself, quite politely and apologetically explaining that he couldn’t help overhearing our chat and that he shared our interests. He had an armful of tattoos and some up-to-date facial hair and one of those ear lobe-expanding devices that always remind of us old National Geographic photographs of the primitive tribesmen of the most remote regions, which is not atypical of the hipster clientele at that particular local watering hole, and when he introduced himself as a member of the left-wing “hacktivisit” group called Anonymous he drew our attention to his resemblance to the Guy Fawkes mask from the “V For Vendetta” movie used by that outfit.
He was quite unthreatening nonetheless, and we allowed him a lengthy discourse on his newfound solutions to all the world’s problems. He’s a poet for peace, as it turns out, and expects that his Facebook fan base will soon have the rest of the world on board. Most people would already prefer not to be killed in a war, he observed, and persuading the rest should be easy enough if the right poetry is applied. We noted that the Kellogg-Briand Pact had already made war illegal way back in 1928, and he was so excited by the news that he had us type the words into one of those palm-held gizmos that all the kids carry these days. Moving on to the world’s economic woes, he eagerly explained that people are forced to work by a corrupt corporate system that can be easily replaced by a new order in which people grow food and do favors for one another. Our friend with the gray pony-tail remarked that growing food sounds very much like work, and we had to agree, having picked enough peaches in our boyhood to know that agriculture is at least as arduous as poetry, and the young man replied that at least we wouldn’t be doing it for the profit of some corporation. Our right-wing pal wondered if the young man would be willing to mow his lawn and do some much-needed work on his home, and when the young man readily agreed to do so our friend asked why he should bother to get out of his hammock in the brave new world. The young man seemed genuinely befuddled why anyone would take advantage of such a well-intentioned system, and when our friend replied “Because I’m a jerk” the young man found it so amusing he offered to buy him a drink in exchange for the laugh. Our friend declined the offer, but we chimed in that we’d take him up on the offer and requested something from the Pabst corporation.
He still seemed quite unthreatening, but only because his schemes were so obviously ineffectual. Should his ideas about defying human nature ever take hold they will be as disastrous as all such previous attempts at remaking mankind have been, but we expect he’ll have to settle for the more slow-motion disaster that our apolitical single female friend votes for. We don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire for nothing other than peace and love, as even such grumpy old right-wingers as ourselves are in favor of both of those elusive ideals, and he had bought us a corporate-brewed beer, so we wished him well in his efforts. He seemed a nice enough kid, and we suspect that if he’d concern himself only with his friends and family and workplace and he might actually succeed in sowing some peace and love there. Perhaps his poetry might even accomplish some peace and love, but we doubt he’s so wise as William Butler Yeats, who was asked to contribute something to a poets-against-war anthology that somehow failed to avert World War I, and replied that “I think it better in times likes these that a poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth we have no gift to set a statesman right; He has had enough of meddling who can please a young girl in the turbulence of her youth, or an old man upon a winter’s night.”
Peace and love and poetry are worthy pursuits for a young man, and friends and family and the workplace are should be well attended to by everyone, but we think the other problems are best solved by the grumpy old men and women who best understand the failings of human nature. It would do us well to be pleased on a winter’s night, too, and perhaps our young acquaintance can tend to that. We hope our old friend fares well, too, along with her friends and family and workplace, but prefer her peace and love to her political solutions.

— Bud Norman

9 responses

  1. I kind of wish the world were peace and love and being kind to one another, but I am also a realist and because of this I realise that there will always be a-holes to mess it up for everyone else. I do however feel that currently the human race is pretty much ruled by hate, fear and violence and if that is the best we can do as a race, well that is pretty disgusting as far as I am concerned. We should just jettison ourselves into space now and be done with it.
    My grandfather was a handyman in the oldest sense meaning he did plumbing, he was an electrician, or he could fix your farm fence, he did it all. During the depression people still needed toilets etc. but often didn’t have money to pay for it being fixed, one day my grandfather came home with 2 chickens that he had accepted as payment for a weeks work on a house, my grandmother was horrified. My grandfather pointed out that the family needed help and it was their responsibility as neighbours to help them, they couldn’t pay so they made a deal for the chickens because they would provide eggs which my grandparents couldn’t otherwise afford. He had also made a deal to come back in a weeks time for some more work in exchange for one of their roosters so that eventually they could breed the chickens so they would have food as well as eggs. I have heard people say that kind people are poor people, but my grandparents were incredibly rich. They had a large loving family and a big house by the ocean that they spent their retirement in.
    Let’s face it, we could all be kinder!

  2. You make me jealous, that I wasted my youth avoiding English Literature, failing as a callow 12year old from a working-class mining village in the South Lancashire coal-fields, to appreciate the value of flowery language, with the only work locally as either farmwork – the coal mine having closed some years previously, or two local manufacturers, that were to close some years later.

    My beef as an idealistic young man was to egalitize the world, and here in the afternoon of my living day, the stunted opportunities leave lasting scars as the opportunities in the locality have got no better.

    Investment in training is merely a passport to opportunities elsewhere, unless there is an industrial policy to develop spheres of excellence, and local industries that make use of those spheres.

    Research, seed-corn investment, mentoring, stable political systems and tax-regimes all assisting in creating the right environments. Even a spell in local politics did little to expand my literary knowledge.

    However, I digress…

    I totally enjoyed the piece…Insightful, and soooo true.


  3. “…We don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire for nothing other than peace and love, as even such grumpy old right-wingers as ourselves are in favor of both of those elusive ideals,…”

    Sorry but this is a lie.

    To be ‘in favour’ of peace and love means your actions must be peaceful and loving. But you have already admitted (and seem quite proud of the fact) that you resort to violence and coercion to achieve your political/ social/ personal objectives. That is the exact opposite of ‘peace and love’.

    Violence is violence. Theft is theft. Coercion is coercion. Whether you inflict these things upon your fellow citizens in person (literally knocking on their doors armed with guns and making your demands), or via a third party agency of violence (a street gang, a mafia, or a government) makes no difference morally speaking…. and no difference to everybody who is terrorised by you and/ or your ‘elected representatives’ (whether they wear bandanas, bespoke Italian suits or matching blue costumes with shiny badges).

    We all understand that the use of coercion, violence and theft a moral is immoral. And that is why they are considered socially unacceptable methods to achieve your aims. Waving a flag and cheering while behaving immorally is not enough to make immoral behaviour magically become virtuous.

    In the absence of a ‘government’ (let’s imagine they all went backpacking for a year) ‘voters’ such as yourselves would have to learn to be civilised and adhere to basic moral rules (or risk the consequences). But if you really, really, really wanted to carry on as before you would have to go and buy some guns and go door to door forcing everyone to obey you and pay for all the stuff you wanted. And you would have to personally kidnap and cage anybody who refused. And if anybody tried to defend their property or person from your aggression you would have to shoot them. That is the reality of ‘government’ (statism). That is what you vote for when you vote in a political election.

    ‘Government’ is just a euphemism for ‘violence (the initiation of force). Government (statism) IS a policy. It is a policy of using violence, coercion, theft, murder, genocide, torture and kidnapping to achieve your aims.

    My dictionary defines terrorism as: the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims.

    Therefore government is terrorism by definition. Voting for ANY third party to use violence and intimidation to further your political aims is terrorism by proxy. I’m sure will deny you are a terrorist. All terrorists deny they are terrorists, even when their actions perfectly fit the definition of terrorist.

    If you are a ‘voter’ (left wing…. right wing ….. both attached to the same bird of prey) that means you want ME forced at gunpoint to obey YOU and pay for things that YOU want. And if I disobey you or try to defend myself from your aggression you want me to caged or shot. That’s not a judgement, that’s just what political ‘voting’ is.

    Naturally, I surrender to your violence and intimidation – I surrender to your demands and I will reluctantly pay for all your schemes no matter how stupid, wasteful, destructive or immoral they are. My meek acquiescence is WHY you voted after all. People do not vote to coerce themselves, they vote to coerce everyone else around them.

    I surrender. You win. Here…. take my money ….. please don’t shoot me.

    All I ask is for a little honesty in return. Please stop saying your ideal is ‘peace and love’. Your actions tell me your ideal is ‘coercion and violence’.

  4. I completely understand your sentiment. And being that I work in healthcare – a sector that has been the punching bag of left and right wings almost to the point of war, I concur with most of your points. However, I can’t help but hear the echoings of Steve Jobs…
    ““When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

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