--Olbermann said so, so that means you don't know what you're talking about, so you should just shut up."
The speaker, as the above-imbedded citation would indicate, is a moron. One of my most disappointing hires--a scatter-brained under-achiever more concerned with text messaging than seeing to her guests. She already has two written warnings and a one-week suspension and though she has been informed that the next violation of policy will trigger her dismissal she is unafraid, because, as she puts it, "I've never been fired before". The fact that she has never worked for anyone besides her father before apparently hasn't affected her logical reasoning on the matter.
I catch the statement fragment as I am moving through the kitchen near an area where staff hangs out before we get busy, and I know I should ignore it. I know that facts only matter to a tiny and apparently shrinking few these days, I know this foolish girl is under the thrawl of MSNBC and their Wizards of Bullshit, and I know I should just keep on going--but it is so hard.
I heard a story once about an old man who used to go to one of the Naval storage yards every day and paint the rusting hulls of the WW II era vessels that had been left there at moorings, naked to the ravages of time after years of proud and valuable service. He was a naval veteran who couldn't bear the thought of all that decay--rot coming to noble vessels once so proud and vibrant and special--and so he bought his own gray paint, brushes, and ladder and he painted. And back then, in the days when the right things were sometimes still allowed to happen, the yard master let him go about his business--who knows, in his heart of hearts he may have even wished he could grab a bucket and join him.
I feel about this country the way that sailor felt about that mooring yard. My rational self knows the fight is lost. I know the rot is everwhere, and I know the decay is too deep in too many places for the paint of my words to remedy--but I can't ignore it. The job is so big, and has been neglected for so long, that I don't know where to start--as I'm sure that old man didn't know where to begin either--but I still cannot accept in my heart what my brain has already reconciled.
I should just keep moving toward the front of the restaurant, but instead I grab my brush and my bucket, so to speak, and turn back toward the small grouping of staff.
"What you guys talking about?"
Immediately, two long-time servers and one nearly brilliant new-hire perk up--the oldtimers know what is coming, and the newer member of my staff and I have had some very interesting, very civil, and very specific debates on politics and the American future over the last few months. The new employee is a life-long democrat born and raised in Illinois who finally admitted to me that she had been terrifed at the prospect of President Obama's election and can already see the "Chicago Way" spreading through the federal government. She is probably interested to see how I handle the cable TV professor in front of everyone else, while the oldtimers just smell blood in the water--they can see my big, sharp fin sticking up above the waves and headed toward their poor, doomed co-worker.
"Climate change", the server piped up.
"Global warming bullshit", came the slightly accented reply from a surprising source--one of our line cooks, Carlos.
"Fuck you. Go back behind the line before I call La Migra", chimed in my darling server.
"Actually Hanna, Carlos is a US citizen. I know because I attended his swearing in last year. Before he was a citizen he was a legal resident. I know because I hired him and checked his new hire paperwork completely, as I do with everyone, in all of our restaurants. I came over here because I heard you mention Kieth Olbermann like you were citing the Encyclopedia Brittanica instead of a bad sports announcer turned Democrat apologist. I was going to give you some factual information in the hopes that you might actually listen, but I don't need to get involved. Carlos lived in Mexico for 18 years before he came here. No one here understands corruption, ignorance, and misinformation better than he does--you don't stand a chance."
As I leave the simmering battle behind and head toward the front of the restaurant my assistant hands me a new menu draft for approval and asks, "what was that idiot talking about back there?"
"She was commenting on the great global warming hoax. Not surprisingly, she believes everything MSNBC tells her about it."
"Maybe all that time in front of the TV is the reason she can never make her lunch shifts on time. Or maybe its just the stupidity. I fucking hate her. My birthday is coming up, please fire her for my birthday present."
My assistant, my invaluable assistant who is worth her weight in gold, does not mince words.
"I doubt she'll make it that long, but you can sit it in when I do it if you like. I'll tell her I need another manager present as a witness."
"Don't tease...[long pause]...Actually, I guess I should't be so mean about her--I used to be that stupid, I used to be just like Hanna. I used to believe President Bush stole the election because Dan Rather said he did. I used to think the best job in the world would be a union job because I couldn't get fired. I used to think that everything could be fixed if everyone would just sit down and talk."
"What changed your mind? 9-11?"
"No. 9-11 made me appreciate President Bush. I remember thinking the day after, after the shock had worn off a little, I remember thinking 'thank God its not Al Gore'."
"So what was it?", I asked again, now truly intrigued.
"It was you. You changed my mind about alot of things. All those nights at the door when we would talk about what was on the TV's [the TV's in our lounge can be seen from the entranceway and front desk]--you would never argue. You would give your opinion and tell why you thought something was the way it was, and you would ask me why I thought certain things. Over and over. Why why why."
"I didn't mean to badger you."
"No, you didn't. It wasn't mean, you actually seemed interested in my opinions, where they came from, but I could never answer you--because they weren't opinions, they were just feelings. So I started to pay attention and get the facts on stuff so I could answer you and beat you, but once I started to get real facts I started to come to the same conclusions as you."
Years ago, before she was my assistant, this young lady was a hostess. She was so obviously intelligent and able that I always made sure she was scheduled for my shifts on the door--in all honesty I don't remember us having many political or philosophical discussions, but apparently we had. In answering my question, the young lady had given me one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.
Later that night over a drink I remembered something from my past. I went to a very small private elementary school, and actually had the same teacher from second through fifth grade. The class was the "gifted class" [a sort of new invention at the time], and it was actually made up of kids from all grades second through fifth. She taught us all--sometimes different lessons tailored to our particular age and skills, sometimes general lessons presented to everyone. The woman was remarkable. I honestly could have gone from that class directly to high school--that was how much I learned while there. Not just simple data either; but logic, reasoning, problem-solving--even a little practical philosophy. I credit that woman for whatever mental acuity I have to this day.
Though I never went back after moving on to junior high school and beyond, she came to my mother's funeral mass roughly ten years later--she must have seen one of the obituaries. I was touched beyond measure--and had the occassion not been so glum it would have been a true delight. After a few minutes of small talk I walked the lady to her car, parked next to mine. As we said goodbye, I opened the back door to retrieve my overcoat [the weather was turning and I was going to need it at the mausoleum service], and she let out a disgusted little whistle, then, "Oh my God, another one!"
She was looking at my Bush/Quayle re-election bumper sticker.
"So many of my kids are Republicans now. Where did I go wrong?", she asked theatrically. She had a smile on her face when she said it, and as I kissed her goodbye, I told her that so many of us were Republicans because she had taught us to always think for ourselves and never stop searching for the facts [I didn't mention that becoming aware of the world during the Carter Presidency probably hadn't hurt, either].
It would be many years later before I remembered that exchange, and it was during her funeral that the conversation came back to me. In that packed church were countless success stories, including three men and one woman whose names grace the tops of their respective fields to this day, in both practical professions as well as the arts.
If we pay attention and are taught the right things in the right way, we all learn. If we don't get lazy, I guess we all teach. I've been painting and keeping the rot away and I didn't even know it, and that is a really good feeling.
The problem comes when you realize that no matter how many ships are sea-worthy, there may simply not be anywhere left to sail. Both political parties are steeped in self-serving corruption, the media turns a blind eye to the crimes, and the government itself is so bloated and intractable that soon nothing will be able to escape its stifling grasp.
The story is disjointed, and for that I apologize--but then again everything is disjointed and polarized these days to the point of being farcical. Daily our soldiers commit acts of unimaginable heroism that go unreported. A young lady is murdered on the streets of Tehran during a protest that could have begun seminal change in that oppressed country--technology allows us the horror of actually seeing the life leave that young lady's eyes. From our government, tepid words--only slightly warmer than those used to acknowledge the death of a pop music star.
"Lawmakers" ram though nonsensical, contrived laws that literally have not even been completely written--much less read--with sanctimonious, condescending smirks toward their opponents. The Honduran people remove a President trying to make himself into the newest Hugo Chavez, and rather than celebrate their commitment to their country's constitution, we publicly side with Communist Cuba and Dictatorial Venezuela in condemning the act.
I'm told Hanna's attempt to defend her position on "climate change" after I left the argument included references to both "The Day after Tomorrow" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" as if they were National Geographic documentaries ather than theatrical works of fiction. When pressed on her choice of MSNBC as a primary news source she demurred, insisting proudly that she also watches the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A 26-year-old mother of one who thinks a show on Comedy Central is "the news". Too bad she hadn't seen "The Happening"--she might have won the debate using the "Shamaylan Killer Tree Principle".
How big a brush do I need? Do they even have that much paint? I'm so furious.