Unwanted Guests


Religion and Politics were out sharing a bottle of blackberry brandy near a railroad track in Nordeast. Both had just been kicked out of separate house parties. The late evening air was cool and clean, and an alabaster moon eavesdropped on their conversation.

"This is the third time this month that I've been told to leave," Politics said. "It's getting old."

"Yeah, you start to wonder why we even bother showing up at these things," answered Religion. "At first they want us there. We seem interesting. They think we'll liven things up. Then it all goes south."

"It's not our fault," Politics said. "We're not going to apologize for our passion."

"No, I'm with you there. But I see the other guys who get to hang out endlessly, always appreciated, always welcome, and I think about changing my stripes. If I have to walk into one more living room and see Humor holding court, I'm going to vomit."

"Been there plenty," Politics said. "Humor has a disproportionate role in every gathering. But it's not just Humor crowding us out. Humility is always welcome. Decency is never told to 'beat it.' And Sports, I want to kill Sports. That bastard strolls into every party like he owns the place."

"I agree with you on Sports," Religion said, "but I honestly don't see how Decency and Humility are any different from you and me."

"Well, that's where you're a bit off. We're more assertive, sure of ourselves, adamant that we come by our strident views through hard-earned mental labor, and we both tire of weak arguments that can't match our own cognitive sweat."

"Good point, Politics. I'm not going to apologize for my deeply held beliefs. If that makes me persona non grata, screw 'em."

"Speaking of deeply held beliefs, Religion, I was reading about the Freemasons last week. A local newspaper story reported on how they're opening up and allowing many of their formerly secretive ways to be explained and illuminated. But the article mentioned that while you and I could be invited to join the Masons, we wouldn't be allowed to open our mouths. No discussions are permitted involving politics or religion. Some guy named Curiosity was quoted saying it's what has enabled him to make lifelong friendships with people he ordinarily wouldn't get to know.

"How does that feel, hearing that the ticket to lifelong friendships is you and I being muzzled?"

"It ain't right," Religion said. "How can people form deep friendships right in front of us, as we sit staring with duct tape over our mouths? We're there, we're in the room, but we're bottled up, shunted, and the others have their merry old time—enjoying life and living, doing favors for one another, smiling, laughing, occasionally crying and holding each other—all while we squirm in the corner, gagged. That's just creepy."

"Religion, allow me to think out loud a moment here. It can't be that we're an evil presence at every gathering. That doesn't make logical sense. As we arrive at Thanksgiving tables later this month, we can't possibly accept that we're the dark energy come to disrupt every joyous family get-together. We're too important to the vigor of this planet for that to be the case. We play a huge role in how people live their lives. There has to be something missing here.

"What I'm wondering is, what if it's all about style? What if what we lack are simple social graces? What if our whole problem is merely presentation? Maybe we've been banging our heads against the wall assuming we're social pariahs when in fact we're salt-of-the-earth types who just never learned how to truly be gentlemen?"

"Wow, Politics. That's a whole lot to swallow. First of all, I like to think that I'm a gentleman."

"I know you do, Religion. I see myself that way as well. But it's like Empathy said at last year's New Year's party: 'The mirrors in one's own house give a false reflection. They flip everything left to right. To see accurately we have to stare through other men's eyes.'"

"Hey, I'm not taking marching orders from Empathy. I've made it this far just fine on my own. Go take a Miss Manners class if you want to, Politics. I ain't changing a thing."