This past Saturday, my friend Jesus and I had been wandering along Buffalo Bayou in Houston, having a chat, when we decided to stop in for a beer at La Carafe, ostensibly the oldest bar in the area.
Downtown Houston on a Saturday afternoon, even an unseasonably cool one like this past Saturday, resembles a post-apocalyptical fantasy. Giant skyscrapers loom and the infrastructure of bustling industry is everywhere, but the streets are deserted save for a few hardy souls. There were more people in the bar than on the streets, and even then it was not crowded by any means. As we walked in, a row of regulars squinted at us but said nothing as we ordered our beers (Shiner for Jesus, Lone Star for me).
La Carafe is the bane of electricians and fire inspectors. The space inside is dim and claustrophobic, and its exposed brick walls sport dust motes that finished floating a hundred years ago. Every time I’ve been to this quaint dive, I have been served by a different bartender, each as stoic as the next.
On this fine September day, a collection of the ugly Democrats I’ve been arguing for months don’t actually exist were at the bar. To the right of me sat a pair of gentlemen, one parodying Newt Gingrich with silver hair and a bad tie, and the other looking like his past professions included being a roadie for the Eagles. To their right were seated an interesting couple: a woman with blond hair pulled back in what is known in the UK as a Dagenham facelift, and a man who seemed beat down by her company.
They were discussing the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, or as they were calling her: Sarah Barracuda (okay, that’s kind of funny. But stop, seriously, I’m trying to make a point here).
The silver-haired personification of the word bloviate bellowed, “Well, the Republicans have just lost their damn minds. They’ve lost it!”
His weasel-faced friend agreed. “She’s just not qualified. She isn’t. I mean, how many people live in Alaska?”
“Less than a million.”
“That’s the same size as Austin!” He sounded indignant, as if Austin was a stain on the pride of Texas. Many people in Houston speak this way.
“Alaska’s pretty big in size, though.”
“True, true. It’s almost as big as Texas.”
This embarrassed them and they changed the subject. I’d wager even money that this was a significant source of their annoyance with Sarah Palin, that she had the audacity to live in a state more than twice the size of Texas.
“She doesn’t know what she’s doing, she has all those brats: it’s ridiculous.”
“Brats” and “ridiculous” were emphasized with contempt. This is the problem with dismissing Palin out of hand. It makes otherwise sane Democrats, or at least partially sane Democrats like myself, want to fight.
At the end of the bar, Dagenham facelift was dabbing her male companion’s neck with a moist towelette. He was cringing like a cat who despises what is happening but knows he cannot escape. She was shaking her head vigorously.
“Don’t get me started on Sarah Palin.” Her voice was like a fistful of keys being dragged across a tin roof.
“You mean Sarah Barracuda.”
“We’ve been calling her Sarah Barracuda.”
“Ugh, she’s disgusting. You know what happens? When McCain finally has a heart attack? She’s going to be the one in charge. Can you believe it? Her?!”
Maureen, is that you? Honestly, if using a feminine pronoun is all you need to do to imply a candidate’s worthlessness, then you’re a sexist. Whether through fate or someone else’s passive aggression, the gravelly voice of Bob Dylan singing “Sara” emanated from the bar’s jukebox.
Dagenham Dowd’s agitation increased the volume of her broken-metal voice, “Oh, who put that song on? I hate that song. I hate the name Sarah. It’s a stupid name. I used to know a Sarah, but I hate that name now.”
I had been wondering what this crowd would do if I smashed my beer bottle against the bar and snarled, “Just talk about the damn issues, you little fuckers,” but now I was just confused. She hates the Bob Dylan song and her friend’s name because of…Palin? Or did she dislike Dylan’s sad serenade of his estranged wife before this presidential race?
“So what about you?”
Weasel-face was asking the bartender, presumably because the bartender was black. Fortunately, bartenders are, despite their appearance, all of a single race with origins in Switzerland.
“It’s been interesting.”
Stymied, the hooplehead Dems kept debating amongst themselves. Palin’s appearance, child-rearing habits, and whether her former occupations included prostitution. It was like being on Open Salon, but stupider. I began to think about Italy’s La Cicciolina about whom Umberto Eco, one of my favorite authors, said this: "Immorality for immorality; we've seen worse."
Of course, if we had our own Cicciolina, she would not resemble Sarah Palin the Puritan. She would support sex ed in schools, environmental protection (including safe green energy), human and animal rights, and ending hunger and poverty.
Those are the issues. Not Palin’s gender, family history, or clothing. My friend and I went outside to enjoy our beers in the sun, leaving our compatriots inside in the dark.