Sunday, November 2, 2014

The March, Chapter 44: You Can Too Talk Politics At a Bar

Chapter 43

The politics of dancing
The politics of ooh feeling good
The politics of moving, aha
If this message's understood


Will sat at the March proofing a paper.

Will enjoyed a peopled anonymity. There is an easy, odd comfort to be gleaned from being alone in a crowd. He sat amidst the after work crown at the bar, while people all around him joked and flirted and talked about Michael Jordan.  This assured him that everything was going on as normal.  It was centering.  He paid no particular attention to anyone and no one paid him any particular attention.  But he was still in the crowd.

His topic was much beloved to him and was, in fact, the story that had inspired his move to Chicago and ignited his passion for Chicago politics: the 1983 mayoral race.  But this time, rather than writing about Harold Washington’s campaign, he was writing about his Republican opponent, Bernie Epton, whose story was like something by Sophocles or Robert Penn Warren.

Epton began as this typical Republican candidate for mayor in Chicago; which is to say, he was to shake some hands, drive an issue or two, and then lose gracefully by a huge majority.  No Republican was ever going to be mayor of Chicago.  This was established fact.  But then a black man won the democratic primary and it looked like all bets were off.  This time, the Republican had a pretty good shot.

Epton had been, it’s said, a pretty good guy; a progressive Republican. But he was seemingly seduced by the sudden adulation.  Almost overnight, he’d gone from unknown Republican functionary to Chicago’s Great White Hope.  And Epton rolled with the tide.  If there was any doubt as to why Republican Bernie Epton was polling so well, his campaign slogan clarified: “Epton for Mayor,” it said.  “Before It’s Too Late.”

To his dying day, Bernie Epton claimed it didn’t mean what everyone knew it meant. 

Will sat at The March that cool spring day, pondering race and corruption and ambition; lost in thought, studying the things that fascinated him.  In his concentration, he didn’t notice Brooke and Celia approaching.

“Hey, Will,” said Brooke, peering over at his paper.  “What are you reading?  You seem totally into it!  Reminds me of Teddy.”

“God,” said Will, shuddering.  “Don’t say that.  I’m just working on this paper about Bernie Epton.”

“I remember him,” said Celia.  “Do you remember how pissed off Mom was about the whole ‘Before it’s too late’ thing?”

“I do,” said Brooke, smiling.  “Whenever she saw one of those signs, she’d pull over and yank it up.  Not that there were too many in Rogers Park.”

“Oh, man,” said Will.  “You guys were there. What was it like?”

“Well, we were pretty young,” said Celia.  “But I remember Mom and Dad would get pretty hot talking about it at dinner.  You tried not to talk about it at school.”

“What about after he died?” said Brooke.  “Remember that?  The whole city went apeshit.”

“I remember that too,” said Will.  “It was on TV in California too.”

“Totally nuts,” said Brooke.  “Celia and I watched the aldermen battle it out on TV.  It was kind of…gross.”

“Gross?” said Celia.  “It was totally fucking insane!”

“I wish I got politics more,” said Brooke.  “Teddy is convinced we’re on the precipice of disaster.  Maybe less insane government would pull us back from the edge.”

“Well, Brooke,” said Will.  “People are talking about it now.  There is environmental legislation.  It’s the big issue for Gore from Tennessee. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in the White House.”

“Yeah, I know about him,” said Brooke.  “I thought about writing to him to tell him about the recycling we’re doing here, but then I decided it probably didn’t matter.  Teddy says that by the time there are any meaningful laws, it’ll be too late.”

“Oh, Jesus, Brooke,” said Will, feeling pity and irritation in equal parts.  “Everything good that’s ever happened in America started off with activism and ended up with legislation.  All the activism in the world won’t make a difference, if you don’t engage in politics as well.”

“Preach, brother,” said Celia.  “But can we wet our whistles too.  We came in for a drink and before everyone gets all heavy, I’m getting cocktails.  What do you guys want?”

What Will wanted was to get Brooke out of that life with Teddy.  She shouldn’t be with that dried up old cynic, living in that morass of negativity and nihilism. How could she stand it?  Brooke was beautiful and lively, but if she stayed in that ugly, inexplicable relationship with Teddy, it would all go and she’d end up like Teddy.  He’d grind her down. 

He settled for a beer.

The three sat around the table chatting about Chicago politics and arguing over the efficacy of government. When his shift ended, Jorge joined them and talked a little about taxes and voodoo economics and how Reagan’s reputation as the patron saint of small government was a bunch of bullshit.  Their conversation grew increasingly raucous.  Everyone had a point to make.  But they also cheered and laughed and high fived.  Brooke dropped out of her funk and soapboxed a little about the growing trend towards plastic water bottles.

If you’d walked past their table that night, you’d have assumed it was two couples out on a double date. Two urban, liberal, good-looking couples out for drinks and conversation.

Anyway, that’s exactly how it looked to Teddy when he peered in the window on his way to Scottie’s.  He knocked on the window and, when Brooke waved at him, a little guiltily, turned quickly around and strode off.  Brooke ran outside to explain that there was nothing there, nothing to be upset by.

Teddy said horrible things to Brooke.  He accused her of cheating on him with his own family, of never loving him, of being with him out of pity, of being a stupid little girl.

And when Brooke started crying, Teddy was pleased, glad that he could make her cry, make her feel something.  As she wept, he pulled her into his arms, and kissed her hair and told her how sorry he was and that he loved her and only her.

And so she leaned back into him and they walked home together.

When Brooke didn’t come back, Celia exploded with the frustration of it.  Jorge reminded her that there was nothing she could do for now.  Brooke was a grown-ass woman and entitled to her own mistakes.  But he knew she’d move past it.  They just had to be patient.

Will walked away from their conversation and went up to the bar to talk to Caleb and some of the older regulars about Bernie Epton.  But it had been nice there for a while.  Just for a bit.