Is the World off Its Meds?
The old guy on the next stool is half drunk and I’m not but he had walked into this lounge in Manhattan many hours before me. As soon as I sat down and opened my iPad, he started talking, long before and long after I had been served my first drink.
"I have been alive a long time, young man,” he said, "and I have spent much of that time watching politics. It started after I had to pull my red wagon home from the grocery store in the Forties during World War II. It was my task as a kid to bring home the groceries with my mother. She would use ration stamps to buy oleomargarine, as it was called then, instead of butter. A can of Spam or Prem, sliced and fried, would often be the entrée for dinner. Couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Still like Spam. Don’t know if they make Prem anymore.
"I remember in the Fifties,” he continued, "being glued to a 12-inch black-and-white Muntz TV and cheering for Adlai during two conventions and him being crushed twice by Ike.
"I was too young to go to Korea but I saw the older guys in the neighborhood come back. They were talking to themselves and smoking incessantly. This was before anyone had ever heard of the term PTSD. People simply said they were shell-shocked. They were more like zombies although no one used that term either back then."
The old fellow was on a roll now and so I stopped typing and listened to him, figuring eventually he would come to his point, assuming despite all the liquor he had one.
“I wasn't drafted in the Sixties for Vietnam,” he said. "I was pursuing degrees, married and having children. I received continuous exemptions from the draft board. I was lucky, very lucky.
"I was neither in favor of nor opposed to the war in Vietnam. Because of ignorance, I was unaware of the issues. I was trying to make great grades and after graduation trying to find good jobs to feed the children. The army didn’t need me. They drafted a lot of other guys in my old neighborhood whose parents didn’t have the money to send them to college. Perhaps there were student loans in the Fifties but I don’t remember them.”
At that point I asked him a question or two, hoping to move him along but he just kept on rolling out the personal history of his life.
“I recall dying a little three times as a young man--when JFK, MLK and RFK were assassinated. The killing of RFK helped me swear off politics for many years. But I remember being in a small, dark Chinese restaurant on August 9, 1974, and watching Nixon resign on television. The proprietor, who spoke little English, looked at me after the speech was over and just shook his head. I did the same. It was a crushing embarrassment for all Americans, natives and immigrants.
"After Nixon,” the old man said, "I paid little attention to Ford, Carter, Reagan or Bush 41 because RFK was dead and most of what I had believed as a college student died with him. I found the Man from Hope entertaining (still do) and Bush 43 confusing except on 9/11 when he was reading to a kindergarten class and that aide bent over and whispered in his ear what had just happened at the World Trade Center. At that moment I realized the World officially was now off its meds.
“And after 9/11,” the old man continued, “I came to believe the World would not go back on its meds during the remainder of my life. For the last 14 years I have not been wrong in that speculation as much as I would love to be.
“Some people, of course, think I’m off my meds when I tell them what I’ve been hearing recently in my visits to different bars. What I’ve been hearing is that many of my fellow Americans have come to believe John Wayne has risen from the dead and is masquerading as Donald Trump. Many of these people, albeit mostly white, believe The Donald will wear a ten-gallon hat and ride on a white horse all the way from New York to Washington, DC. Even women who like Hillary take The Donald as a possible threat.
“Most of these folks think CNN or MSNBC or PBS can’t stop him. Despite what the naysayers may think, it’s too early to tell what price Fox News is willing to pay to see the GOP back in the White House. The Donald is a real wild card. Question is, is he an Ace or a Joker.
“Honestly, young man,” the old man whispered to me after buying my second drink, "if I were off my meds, I'd be willing to go back on them if it would help the country. But whether The Donald rides his horse to the White House in January 2017 or not, the World is in for more of the same. More war and more poverty. The lust for power and money guarantees that. I don’t even know if RFK could have made a difference if he had lived and become president. I can only hope that he and JFK and MLK are resting in peace. At my age, I’ll find out pretty soon."
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.