Politically Cosmopolitan

Politically Cosmopolitan

One of the most dispiriting dilemmas I face occurs when I’m honored with an invitation to a fashionable cocktail party somewhere in the city. Should I accept a request to attend this charming affair?


Make no mistake about this weighty conundrum, I want to go. And circulate with friends and acquaintances, and exchange the latest tidbits making the rounds. But once I’ve stumbled into a jungle of progressives, I know I can count on a verbal slip, an innocent faux pas, or the proverbial bomb shell, a political gaffe. Call it what you may, to me it’s a fugue state called political constipation. And in fairness to those around me at these soirees, I might call them politically cosmopolitan, worldly, or those who are with it. Ergo, everyone seems to know what to say and when to say it. Except me. My verbiage is destined to be outlandish, repugnant or just plain confusing. Count on it.


It’s always easy for me to recognize what has happened. A sea of blushing cheeks blossom around me. And perhaps a few giggles erupt. And the worst? Snapping jaws await me, ready to destroy my dignity all because of a simple snippet slipping off my tongue. And how did I evolve into this mass of mental confusion? Hell if I know.


Take, for example, the casual gathering I attended at Jackie’s trendy pad the other night. Quite innocently I wandered into a circle discussing current healthcare legislation pending before Congress. When I realized what the subject under review was, I should have faked a cough and moved toward the punch bowl. But no, not me.


Weeks ago, I’d made the foolish decision to investigate what our esteemed legislators had proposed to replace healthcare legislation created by a previous administration.


Someone in the crowd voices a strong opinion that the poor deserve basic healthcare whatever the cost. Smiles appear all around. So, I wade right in and announce that I support subsidized health insurance for the needy too, especially for single parent families with small children. I see nods of approval. Now I’m rolling.


With one finger raised I add that the last president also unilaterally expanded this government assisted                                                                                                                                                          coverage to some in the middle classes, and I now want to know why my taxes should assist these wage-earning freeloaders.


Brows rise. A couple of throats clear. A few mumble excuses why this might be an opportune time for them to refresh their drinks. Others appear to be looking around for an escape route. Finally, a petite dowager heavily weighted down with sparkling jewelry looks up at me with a twinkle in her eye and says “Miser”.


Fortunately, my hostess appears at my side to ask about my currents interests. Heaven only knows if she has any idea why, out of the blue, I’m standing alone in the middle of the room. I name a novel I think I read sometime last year and comment on the marvelous food at a posh new restaurant I’ve read about recently, but have yet to visit.


“Well, I’m glad you could come, Felix,” she says with a toothy grin.


“I am, too,” I return the lie.

She strolls off toward another group while I look for another unsuspecting huddle of do-gooders. Once I see no one I know in attendance, I waltz over with a smile and introduce myself. The assemblage is discussing freedom of speech. What could be more harmless?


“Who could ever oppose that?” I say. “It’s in the Bill of Rights.” And I quickly add credence to my statement by reminding these would-be-inquisitors I was a history major in college.


A modern professorial type looks at me over his pince-nez and says, “What about the reactionaries who wish to visit our campuses and fill our young people with filth and pollution?”


My first impulse it to say filth and pollution are basically the same thing but I don’t. Somehow, I’ve assumed a genuine risk of becoming the featured high wire act over an open pool of Great White sharks, but does that stop me?


“When all sides of a question are vigorously debated,” I note, “students become better equipped to make informed decisions in our democracy, don’t you think?” I say with a forceful nod. No one could ever dispute this core principle.


“Then you’d allow the KKK and the American Nazi Party into the university atmosphere to spread their propaganda, right?” he says.


My throat is dry, my lungs feel constricted. Is it warm in here? I take a sip of my drink and await another brave soul to intervene. No one does. Everyone appears to be eyeing me in anticipation of judging my verbal fencing ability versus that of this academic knave. In my mind I visualize a group of Shakespearean street people throwing rotten cabbages at me as a signal it’s time for me to exit, stage left.


How could I have gotten in so deep so fast?


Someone across the room sits at the piano and plays a chord. I turn my head and say, “I just love piano jazz, don’t you?” And I walk away. Is he going to play jazz? I’ve no idea.


My eyes remain fixed on the keyboard is if I’ve been summoned to listen to his audition for the swanky club I imagine I own. And I pray no eyes around me are shooting daggers at me. But I know better.

After a round of applause, the musician rises and bows. And folks begin to mill about and reform into small cliques. I look around and spy one where I’m sure not a soul has a clue who I am.


The subject being bantered about is what I call social coupling. I like the term social coupling, made it up myself. I leap right in.


“On one hand I respect all approaches to coupling. Freedom to love, freedom to embrace,” I say. Sounds like Woodstock, doesn’t it. My chest swells. I’ve taken a progressive stance. I wait.


“And on the other hand?” I turn around. The tiny, ageing shrew has found me. I’m toast.

“Well, just allow me to mention I’ve been blessed to be in a traditional relationship for years. It’s my preferred lifestyle.” It’s not, and I haven’t, but I thought it might appeal to this graying heiress who’s now offering up a perky smile. But from other faces around me, one might think I’d just broken wind in an echo chamber.


A bright eyed young visage comes to my rescue and asks my opinion on women’s rights. Wow. This one’s going to be a hoop shot.


“Why, I think they have a perfect right to take control of the universe,” I say with a laugh. I’m met with frowns and silence. What I’d now like to declare is my great-great grandmother was one of our city’s original suffragettes. But I don’t. I follow up with an impassioned speech about equality for all. A few fresh faces drift into my sphere of influence to hear what I have to say.


Someone asks pointedly if I think a woman has the right to determine the future of her own body.

“Absolutely,” I say and smiles again appear.

“And what about the unborn?” A sharp tongue stabs me in the back. I don’t have to turn around to know. She’s back. Maybe if I stepped on this old biddy’s toes, she’d go sit in a corner and pout.


“I love babies,” I say. Faces drop.

How the hell do I walk into these sinkholes? I feign a cough, excuse myself, and slip off to a bathroom nearby and hide.


Sitting on the toilet lid with a wet cloth on my head I muse, how silly of me. Tomorrow these people won’t even remember my name. All will be forgotten. I peek out from the bathroom door, make my way to the bar, and belt down a stiff one. With my courage fortified, I ease into a cluster of what I hope will be a crowd of friendlies.


Arguments to take down local park statues are in full swing. Well, not exactly arguments, everyone appears to be on the same side piling on with new potentials for the municipal melt-down cauldron.

A soft voice behind long lashes and a lagoon of perfume asks my opinion on the subject. All eyes are on me.


“Well, what about the pigeons?” I say in hopes of lightening the conversation a bit. A peevish faced throng disperses with a lone exception I failed to notice until now: my arch enemy, hoary Tinker Bell with fangs.


She blinks and says, “are you a bigot, Mr. Thacker?”

“Who, me?” I say with feigned surprise and offer her a palms up salute.

“You are, aren’t you?” She says in a louder voice, but her wicked smile remains.

A new crowd drifts in. I feel like George Custer. “I certainly hope not,” I begin my defense. “Why, some of my best friends ------.”


“Not gonna save you, pal,” the wee voice intervenes.

“I beg your pardon,” I say in the kindest voice I can muster for Ms. Attila.

“Not gonna work, young man. You’re a racist. Admit it.” She says lowering her voice. If I were a foot shorter, we’d be nose-to-nose. I feel sweat beading across my forehead; my hands are shaking. How on earth can I save myself now?


Out of nowhere I have a radical idea. A grand, radical idea to rid me of this curse forever. I bend down closer to this sly lioness who has me cornered as if I’m to be her Bambi tartar dinner. And sotto voce I say, “How’s about you and me taking a powder, babe.  And make tracks for the Blue Note for some hooch and kinky jazz?”


Her eyes study my face. And on tip-toes she whispers in my ear, “Not on your life, you sweaty bastard.” And then she laughs aloud.


My face flushes and my knees buckle. Vitreous floaters skate across my eyeballs. Without notice she grabs my arm and pulls me towards the front door of the apartment. Outside in the quiet hallway she studies me again and says, “Just kidding you, sport. Let’s blow this joint. My car is waiting downstairs.”


 Fred Miller


Fred Miller is a California writer. Fifty of his stories have appeared in various publications around the world. Some may be seen on his blog: https://pookah1943.wordpress.com.

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