The politicos came for the Facebook invite to watch Obama’s 2009 State of the Union on an 81-inch screen.
The sportsmen came for the first of what pledged to be a friendly monthly pool tournament.
The Rat and I came for Hamisons.
The Rat is a dear old friend and unindicted co-conspirator in many stupid stories. Her name’s not “The Rat,” of course, but the first rule of anecdote journalism is to make your friends seem as dramatic as possible. Putting my affectionate nickname into print is the closest some of us come to having a Dr. Gonzo or Dean Moriarty.
Hamisons are a Hamm’s beer and a shot of Jamison for $5. I love Humboldt Park.
The politicos came for the Drinking Liberally invite to watch the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
The girl came for Drinking Liberally.
I came for the girl.
The Grafton in Lincoln Square is an Irish-ish pub, as American as shepherd’s pie and as Irish as Giacomo’s pig. It’s one of those cross-culture interpretations that doesn’t quite fit in any country, a Frankenstein’s monster of Limerick and the Chi.
It’s a lot of fun and hellishly cozy, especially in the back room where Drinking Liberally had gathered around a projector. We all had BingObama cards, where you crossed off words like “change,” “tax break,” “oil” and “opportunity” as the president said them. Bingo, see?
It was hard to hear over the crowd, so the girl and I slipped into the main room to watch the speech on closed caption as ’70s and ’80s music swirled around. By the time Obama’s introduction video came on, the bar was playing T. Rex.
As the Rat and I drank and caught up, the crowd grew. It grew on the TV too, as Congressmen filed into their televised seats like schoolchildren mulling their way into a first-period assembly.
The bar and the Capitol got louder and fuller. We had liberals and pool hustlers filling our space. They had politicians and interns filling theirs.
We had a dog running around, a once-courageous animal reduced to smelling everyone’s feet wet and doing tricks for Cheetos. They had Palin-era John McCain.
Then He walked into their room and onto our TV — Barack, the somehow Chicagoan who made it to D.C., the Oval Office Messiah who was going to fix it all. The bar got quiet. Congress got loud. A standing O for Big O.
It was my round for Hamisons.
We hollered for Obama in 2012, too, but the hollers seemed dimmer. Needier.
As the State of the Union continued, my conversation with The Rat waned until it was little more than our running commentary on the speech. We had sat at a table with two large men there for the pool. One wore a stocking cap, a studded belt, a long-sleeved T-shirt bearing the skull-and-crossbones logo of some bar and the large mustache large Hispanic men who live in Humboldt Park are required by law to grow at age 40.
His much-larger friend in the gray T-shirt had the military buzz the law allows as an alternative to the Humboldt ‘stache. He spent the speech reclining in, practically slipping out of his chair, folding his arms and shaking his head at whoever was playing pool.
The Rat was wearing her Church of the Great Pumpkin hoodie and a skirt. I was wearing my office shirt and tie.
The two men were arguing.
“He can do it; they’re just blocking him,” the mandatory ‘stache man said.
I thought it was a really deft appraisal of Obama’s relationship with the Republican factions of the 111th Congress. It wasn’t. The men were talking about the pool game. A few striped balls were blocking the pockets.
Obama’s up again for the big job, but this time facing a sour economy and liberals set on punishing him for not being the Ghandi Batman they thought they elected.
Romney’s nothing, a puff of smoke in a Brooks Brothers suit. He’ll be terrible, don’t get me wrong, but the worst thing he could do is get elected and die, leaving that slip of Ayn Rand fanfiction running the show.
I want Obama to win. I need Obama to win, but Chicago isn’t seeming to clutch him as close this time. He had a halo forced on his head in 2008. Now he has a crown. Heavy is the head that wears it.
I fear the Batman liberals more than the conservatives and their empty suit candidate and nothing platform. I don’t remember who won the game of pool the two large men kibitzed, but it’s not only a stripe that can block a solid shot.
Written in January 2009 and September 2012