I got invited to spend the weekend at a cabin Up North. For a guy still buying coarse, discount toilet paper, this was a big deal. I didn’t own a house, let alone a second one outfitted with the fluffy $6.99 stuff and a boat.
My girlfriend’s friend was heading up to her father’s place with her boyfriend. We were graciously included. As we made the drive up I-94, out of nowhere my girlfriend offered a cautionary nugget – her friend’s dad is a hard-core Republican, and he isn't shy about it.
“So?” I thought. I've hung out in basements crammed with animal liberation punks. I’ve also been to Texas. The gentle warning faded as fast as the radio signal around Little Falls.
We pulled into the gorgeous lakefront property, where the father and his significant other were waiting, and settled in. Gin Rickeys on the dock, a carefree boat cruise, and badminton (it's not just for eighth-grade gym classes).
After dinner we retired to the porch to make merry with a few beers. The six of us talked life and swapped stories for a few hours. Then it started.
First it was a nonchalant gripe about President Obama. Then it was blaming liberals for the catastrophic ruination of the country. Then came an unleashing of rhetoric plumbed from the nether regions of the far right. We were reminded of our president's middle name. Dubious facts were dropped as truth bombs.
But the big blast came when Obama’s reign was compared to Hitler's. By this point everyone but the father, his daughter (who politically takes after dad), and I had manufactured yawns and gotten the hell out of there.
We broke out the whiskey.
Conventional wisdom says you never mix liquor and politics. But in high school, I almost ripped my arm off jousting a mailbox from the backseat of a Maxima. Conventional wisdom's never been my thing.
We passed around smokes as glasses were refilled and voices raised, shattering the tranquility. The volume and vitriol grew to the point that I couldn't tell if we were fighting or not. Points and counterpoints piled up as he warned of immigrants getting a free ride. The bourbon erased the finer details of his case, but it was somewhere in the Limbaugh-O’Reilly neighborhood.
Yes, I have my politics, which fall somewhere between Jeb! and the dorm kid discovering facial hair and socialism at the same time. I have little interest in defending a particular politician or party, though I felt like they wanted me to.
By 2:30 a.m. or so my liver, lungs, and will had fatigued. I needed an out and an olive branch. I made a last-ditch appeal to his unquestioned patriotism. Surely we can agree that everyone, whatever their ideology, wants what's best for this country. We just have different ideas of what that means. Right?
Nope. Obama is actively trying to doom us all.
Exhausted, I stumble off to bed not entirely sure where I stood with the guy. The only time I was offended was when he insisted upon the artistic integrity of a certain bro-country singer. But challenging the man who welcomed a total stranger into his familial getaway probably wasn't the best move.
The next morning I crawled out of bed in a nervous fog, hoping to at least sneak a restorative coffee before getting the boot.
“We converted Mike!” his daughter jokingly proclaimed as I hesitantly joined them in the kitchen. I wheezed, laughed, nursing my wounded lungs. Then we had breakfast.
That night we watched from his boat as Jesus (or a couple townies) lit the sky with fireworks. Politics didn't matter.
We've seen each other again a few times. Sometimes we talk current events, sometimes we don't. In the grand scheme of things, politics is a small part of what defines us. It’s easy to detest an opposing avatar without knowing how his eyes glow when he tenderly cradles his grandkid, or how he doesn’t rub it in when he kicks your ass at bimini ring.
In a few weeks I'm heading back to his picturesque sanctuary Up North. He's not going to be there, though I wish he was. He's a good man who loves his family and his country. And it's OK if we don't agree on everything or anything.
As long as we have whiskey.