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