Monday, February 15, 2010

President's Day at the OK Tavern

It's President's Day down at the OK Tavern, Willie and Theo are playing darts, Jessie is tending bar, Danny is out in the parking lot selling firewood, somebody named Marjorie was supposed to meet you here a couple of hours ago. Guess she's a no-show. Wouldn't be the first time, for crying out loud. What can you do? Snow is in the forecast. Who cares if it's President's Day? Nobody cares. You've seen and heard it time and time again, a rheumy group of old bull-shitters lounging around the corner booth, updating each other on the state of their health -- ach, my effin cholesterol's too high, this weather wrecks my joints, the goddamn arthritis, I gotta get up to piss four, five times a night, yeah, just got my first pair of trifocals, can't see worth shite, my feet are always sore, johnson don't work when I want it to, hey, fellas, appears I'm headed for the glue factory. Gimme another Dewar's-and-soda, tonight I'm off that fancy single malt shite.

Nobody here gives a hoot about President's Day. Why should they? Think of the Presidents they've seen. Avuncular Ike with his golf clubs and weak heart. Prince Kennedy of Camelot dead in Dallas. Johnson -- that wily bastard -- with his irrational hatred of little yellow Ho Chi Minh. Tricky Dick the dark and complicated perverter of justice. Dumb Ford, docile as an ox. Carter the peanut farmer and deliverer of homilies. Pitchman Reagan who looked great modeling a brown suit and proved you don't need brains to do the job. Gangly, inarticulate Bush I -- nobody remembers a friggin thing he did. Bubba Clinton the skirt-chaser, the Rhodes scholar, the prodigal. You liked the guy, but what a waste. Bush II, the worst of the lot, unfit to run a ball team. Now slick Obama is up at bat. You gotta hand it to him, the man can

Quist used to say, "You can't complain -- our leaders are only as good as we are. We get the government we deserve. That's democracy." I think to myself, it shouldn't be the lowest common denominator, though, it should be the best and brightest. Then I remember where they got us. Who knows? Maybe these guys
are our best and brightest.

The old dogs sit there sipping and talking about their hearts and their kidneys, their varicose veins and their digestion.
Effin acid reflux. Lemme tell you, poot, ain't nothing like getting old. I grew up in a different world, only fifty-some-odd years ago, out on the Island, its flat ex-farmland turned into block upon block of cookie-cutter Cape Cods and Split-level Ranches, housing made possible by the GI Home Loan, bless William Levitt's gyp-board heart, thousands of fifty-by-a-hundred sandlots where tens of thousands of shell-shocked vets and their long-suffering sweethearts came to start a new life, trying to figure out what those featureless municipal boundaries meant -- Hicksville, Seaford, Franklin Square, West Hempstead, Westbury, East Meadow, New Hyde Park, who could tell where you were? It didn't make a difference as long as you were anywhere except the mean streets you were escaping from, Brooklyn, the Bronx, the Lower East Side, those filthy tenemented streets given over to Puerto Ricans and coloreds after the war. Fifty years later, now the Island is filthy too. Middle-class white filth, the kind you can't scrape off, even with a straight razor.

Henry Duggan is the elder in the booth. He looks like George C. Scott on lithium, red-faced and angry. He slaps the wet table with both hands. "These guys are clowns. All these guys are effin clowns. I gotta go. Got an appointment at the podiatrist's in the morning."

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