Fred Visits Amurika and Takes a Piss in Joe Theisman’s Restaurant

The man does have a gift of writing.

The Urinals at Joe Theisman’s
A Column, Barely, Slightly Hung-over, Unslept, and Cranky

By Fred Reed

April 8, 2014

Back in Mexico after a frantic week in the Yankee capital, these days a cross between asylum for the chronically paranoid, besieged city, and kindergarten run by a totalitarian Mommy. Cops everywhere, metal detectors everywhere else, concrete stop’em-bombs on sidewalks, pop-up metal barriers on streets on Capitol Hill. Bin Laden won, big time.

Crazy people hear voices, right? In Washington everybody hears them. At the airport of course the gurgley over-enunciated “security” announcements by some dimwit elocution major who sounds like she wants to lick the microphone. On the subway we are urged by other recorded Mommies to watch each other and report suspicious behavior. What behavior isn’t suspicious late at night on an urban train system? “Yeah, officer, they’re like, swarthy and got beards and funny clothes and talk some weird language….”

Voices, instructions, warnings. We are the Admonished People. Free? No. Brave? No. Watched, warned, told, herded, yes. Urban robots. Just what Georgey Wash and Tommy Jefferson had in mind, I think.

Yes, this is a stream of bare-consciousness column. Sorry. My childhood makes me do it.

Anyway, dinner with friends at Joe Theisman’s Restaurant, across from the King Street Metro stop in Virginia. Classy place, dark wood, good American food, pretty Russian waitress—DC has serious diversity, often with great legs–and enormous TV screens everywhere.

Really. Above each urinal in the men’s room, at face level, also a television screen. Now that’s a serious sports bar. You never have to miss a play. If they had drink service, you wouldn’t even need a table.

On another day we had a lunch invitation from John Duncan, R-Tenn., a reader of FOE, so we made our way to Cap Hill. See? Fred on Everything is read in both high places and low dives, though you will have to decide for yourself into which category Congress fits. A delightful lunch. He is a Southern gentleman, a species regarded with derision in the North but, my God, after ten minutes in New Jersey I want to be in Tennessee. Anyway, he is among my scarce stock of heroes, one of six Republicans who voted against our last damned-fool war in Iraq. For this he, and they, should be reelected in perpetuity, and the rest of the Republicans drowned. All Democrats without exception should be drowned. We would then have a small but respectable government of six. Oh, sweet thought.

Think: What higher form of patriotism is there than not sending our kids to die in pointless wars serving only to funnel yet more money to military industry? How many dead in his district, and in the country, wouldn’t be if the rest of Congress had followed his lead? Most of them couldn’t find Iraq if they were standing in it. And how many millions of Iraqis, Pakistanis, Afghans, Cambodians, Viets, Laos, and so on have we killed for nothing? Don’t get me started.

Thursday, off to the Café Asia, my old hangout, in Rosslyn, just over Key Bridge into Virginia, for lunch with Jim Webb, author of Fields of Fire, for my money the best soldier’s book to come out of Viet Nam.

OK, OK, this is getting to be a scrambled column. It’s God’s will. I have nothing to do with it. Thinking about Jim’s book on the Scots-Irish, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, and John Duncan’s Southern constituency—the South is Scots-Irish territory—and my own birth in the coal fields of West Virginia (Crumpler, near Bluefield) followed much later by a boyhood in Athens, Alabama–has got me to thinking about run-on sentences. Although I never was a poor white, I lived among them, got drunk with them in high school, dated them. They weren’t trash, just didn’t have much money.

My grandfather in Crumpler was a coal-camp doctor, up the holler from North Fork. It was black-lung, dirt-shack country, sharp slopes and awful diets, and sometimes when a miner fell sick on the other side of the mountain, the miners put Granddad in a coal car and took him under the damn mountain to see the patient. I guess he took house calls seriously. My mother taught school there, to the extent that they had schools Once she went way up the slope to check on a kid, and a little girl, astonished by this apparition, hollered, “Gret God A’mighty! Here come that teacher lady!” It wasn’t Groton.

And I guess that’s why I feel a certain affection for the Duncans and Webbs and Joe Bageant, who lived a mile down the street from me in Mexico until he died, and his book, Deer Hunting with Jesus, is the funniest but saddest and most poigniant book ever written about po’ whites. It does contain wisdom: “Never eat weenies out of a urinal no matter how high the betting gets.”

Coming back to America, if Washington so qualifies, for me is a bit like coming home and a bit like visiting a foreign country. I am always reminded of how much I like the people. Americans are a friendly folk and, if they lack the sophistication of, say, the French or Germans, they also lack the stiffness and stand-offishness. My wife, Violeta, is Mexican. While there is much political hostility to swarming Latin immigrants, Vi is everywhere received with hospitality and courtesy. “Everywhere” to date means DC, San Fran, rural Virginia and Maryland, Chicago, several venues in Texas, and New York. (New Yorkers are courteous, dammit. They just go about it differently.)

On the other hand, I see a decline in maturity and public manners. In restaurants, instead of talking quietly in consideration of others, those under thirty tend to bellow, shriek, and cackle. Apparently they think that strangers five tables away are deeply interested in what Shirley said to Samuel about something of, to us, superlative tediousness. It smacks not just of uncouth upbringing but of insecurity, of a need to be noticed. Somehow I think of dogs peeing on hydrants.

Their English is astonishing. Time and again we sat near groups—“near” meing in voice range, which at times might be measured in parsecs—who could say “like” fifteen times in a sentence of eight words. “He was like, yeah, and I was like, well, why, and like, I didn’t know why he was like, weird, so I was like, tell me, like, what are you thinking?” My daughter Macon calls it “an ummm-substituion strategy.” I prefer Ummm.

And I was like, if you say “like” one more time, I’m going to, like, take a ball bat to you in the name of Milton, Ben Jonson, Galsworthy, and Thoreau.

Enough. I’m going to have a double shot of bust-head tequila, crank up the iPad, listen to some Handel, and crash. To sleep, perchance to dream….

Author: Stucky

I'm right, you're wrong. Deal with it.

6 thoughts on “Fred Visits Amurika and Takes a Piss in Joe Theisman’s Restaurant”

  1. Wow. Dude was trippin’ on Red Bull or something. Great read… clue what he was trying to say though, but he said it well.

  2. Amurikan boys need fathers i.e. men with values and princilples and less friends indentifying as da’ baby daddy.

    Joe Bageant sums it up.

    The value of father-son respect
    Joe Bageant told many stories about his time two decades ago in Idaho as a reporter and columnist for The Idahonian, a newspaper that has since merged with the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Joe did not save copies of his old articles and columns, but a reader has recently sent me some copies. Below is one of those columns.

    — Ken Smith

    May 1, 1990
    Moscow, Idaho

    By Joe Bageant

    I look at those old pictures of my father, just returned from Korea with his khaki hat cocked at a devilish angle, leaning on the shiny black Plymouth. he looks happy and proud. I was six. He was my absolute hero. My total respect for him was never in question.

    That respect was part of a long chain of fathers and sons. For most of American history fathers could take the respect of their sons for granted. Particularly prior to World War II, when the majority of families lived on farms — before the post-war shift to the cities that changed American family culture forever. A country boy grew up watching and working with his father, with few outside distractions and little media to create other realities than the daily rhythms of life and work.

    Then over the next few decades, a strange thing happened. Television came along and planted new images of family life in the American unconscious. Dads became bumblers in shows like the Life of Riley, or Dick Van Dyke. The kids always caught bigger fish than dad on camping trips while dad couldn’t even build a campfire. Meanwhile, you saw Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz conniving to buy a new couch, and manipulate their husbands to various ends.

    At the same time, kids got smart alecky, (Remember Rusty in the Danny Thomas Show?) drawing laughs and attention for taking cuts at dad’s expense.

    Ironically, even when dad was presented as a strong, wise figure, it had a vapid authenticity about it. Take Ward Cleaver. He’d draw reflectively on his pipe in his “study” (Oh yea, all those cracker box houses we grew up in had a study), then solve some trifling problem of the Beaver’s in quiet, near ceremonial tones.

    And exactly what did Ward do for a living, anyway? Or Ozzie Nelson, for that matter, besides wear sweaters and make milkshakes for the boys? Occasionally there were vague mentions of the insurance business, etc.

    Whatever the case, when my dad would come home dead tired and dirty from working at his gas station all day, I doubt that he identified with Ward in his expensive suits or Ozzie with his milkshake maker in the kitchen. I think we both felt a strange sense of inferiority in the face of this daily deluge of an American dream that we pretty much assumed must be happening in California someplace.

    At the same time so many of our fathers who’d grown up in a pre-war agricultural America were very confused about how to father us. They’d grown up working with their fathers on a daily basis, sharing in important labor that decided the welfare of the entire family. And out of that, I think in most cases, was born the genuine respect that comes from learning and accomplishing something meaningful together. Maybe there weren’t many heart-to-heart talks, or any talk at all. But there was the silent bond and the long slow rite of passage called earning your father’s respect.

    The 1950s are always painted as a mindless time that melts like candy cotton in the mouth of history. That’s because, honestly speaking, the media gets to re-write American social history for most of us. Especially our children. But what I saw going on was a generation of boys who had gone off to a long war, and come back men capable of the steeliest kind of dedication to making something better for their families. And they did it. They gave their families the highest lifestyle and the best educations any generation in human history ever had. They made a lot of mistakes. They had no models to guide them, and even their own fathers could not be much help in what had to get done.

    I can image their horror when the 1960s came along and their children’s generation invalidated, through rejection, everything they had ever stood for. Most of our fathers could not see the gift they had given was called diversity, individuality, true social consciousness and empowerment to change things like never before.

    Then in the 70s and 80s our parents got rocked and shattered by the spectre of their children’s divorces. New family models emerged, and are still emerging. But almost none of them work as well as the old nuclear family model, when it comes to raising healthy, stable children.

    And while millions of sincere parents today struggle to build self-esteem in their children through all the newest techniques, I wonder.

    I wonder if, all things considered, these efforts can ever be equal to the self-esteem that comes from a boy looking at his father while doing meaningful work, and thinking to himself: “I am as good and worthwhile as the best man I know, because the best man I know accepts my respect.”

  3. The comment on the noisy, under 30 crowd.

    What do we expect from the first generation to be raised in the backseat of a car while running between multiple sports, events, dances and the like?

    How could their mother, or father, or both, impart proper social etiquette and table manners when they were NEVER at a table?

    We were poor. Not dirt poor, but pretty close. My parents today would be on food stamps and free health care, plus us kids would have all got free educations, but then, dad paid thousands in taxes and we went hungry.

    But we did it at the dining room table. We were all taught how to set the table properly, how to carry on a conversation without screaming, how to keep your elbows off the table, your mouth shut while chewing and always a please and thank you on the tip of your tongue.

    Did we really think the kids that only sat down to dinner at McD’s, or Christmas, would magically learn these social skills?

    And the schools sure as hell didn’t teach them.

    My dad used to have a saying he would pull out if anyone ever commented on our table manners, “it’s doubtful one of mine will ever dine at the White House, but dammit, if they do they sure as hell won’t embarrass me.”

    Lost art that is. One that I have instilled in both my 31 y.o. and my 8 y.o. Somebody has to carry on.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.