There’s a restaurant near my house that does a monthly wine dinner. Allison and I are fans of the place, so we’ve gone to two now. The setup: 8-10 people at a communal table, doing the wine/food pairings thing. Last night the communal part was taken more to heart by the people sitting next to us.
The man to Allison’s right, across the table from me – a Kenny Rogers doppelgänger who we later learned was 71, but who looked rather young for his age – was particularly chatty. I’ll probably forget the wines we tasted by next week, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget this guy.
He started off with not one, but two dick jokes, shared with the whole table. He was classy about it, though: he used the word “member” instead of “dick.” I don’t think I’ve heard someone say “member” in that context since the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts went off the air.
He moved from the dick jokes to far-too-effusively telling me how lovely Allison was, while trying but failing to conceal a leer at her breasts. When Allison smoothly made it clear that she was there with me he called me a “lucky, lucky man,” while trying but failing to conceal his disappointment.
At this point I was prepared to believe that our new friend was the best dinner guest I’d ever encountered. I was hoping for all kinds of more fun from him because impoliteness to the point of chaos can be a wonderful thing. Sadly, however, conversation soon shifted to the sorts of things you might expect at a dinner in public with strangers. Wine. Real Estate. Women. Welfare queens. How slavery wasn’t that big a deal. How Martin Luther King was a charlatan. You know, boring small talk.
Here are some highlights. And to be clear: I am embellishing none of this nor am I robbing these comments of any context that would put them in a better light:
- Our man recounted a recent trip to Wal-Mart, during which he was in a line with two grossly overweight people using WIC cards to purchase processed food. He wondered “why anyone would choose to live that way.” I offered that no one really “chooses” to live like that. “Oh yes they do!” he responded. “They don’t want to work. They want the handouts. They like it that way.” I didn’t ask him when he chose to inherit the several hundred acres of land he mentioned that his grandfather left him when he died. Sort of wish I had.
- He said that the only thing the government ever got right was enacting the Constitution. “A perfect document,” he said, “through the first eleven amendments anyway.” I said that the 13th Amendment was pretty good. He disagreed. “It was unnecessary. They would have eventually abolished slavery.” I asked him how that would’ve come about given that the Constitution, in its original form, specifically enshrined and established slavery. “Well, it was a product of its times,” he said.
- After that – and after learning that our friend was a libertarian and a business owner who split his companies into two sub-50 employee operations so he didn’t have to provide his workers health insurance – I drifted into conversation with someone else. Allison and Kenny Rogers began talking. I only heard bits and pieces, but Allison was saying something about moving up from Texas and my children and things. “Oh, so you’re the trophy wife!” he said gleefully.
- Apropos of nothing, our friend said “Martin Luther King Jr. never did anything to help anyone.” I didn’t have a response to that one as I was too busy trying not to choke on my lamb chop. He added that “George Washington was the perfect American.” I said “you know he had, like, 200 slaves.” “He was a product of his times,” he said. That’s a pretty handy rejoinder, I was finding.
- I also thought that maybe it was a good way to piss this guy off. I observed that he was born when Franklin Roosevelt was president and not long after the New Deal enacted and that, when you think about it, he himself was a product of those times, implying that he likely benefitted greatly from all of the creeping socialism he hates so much. “FDR was a piece of shit,” he said. I wish I would have thought to ask him if he was cool with the 22nd Amendment.
I’d like to say that all of this went smoothly and that I effortlessly jabbed and jousted with him in ways that made him look silly and made me look oh so very clever, but that’s not really true. I just argued with him. Argued with him in a way that most people at a dinner party don’t much care to hear. I know Allison didn’t care for it. She told me afterward that I should have just ignored the asshole and talked to her instead. She’s probably right about that.
But, even if I myself was being a bit rude in not ignoring him or changing the subject, I did take at least some comfort in his discomfort. As the night wore on, he clearly began to dislike me, prefacing things with increasingly agitated comments like “as a young liberal you wouldn’t understand this, but …” and “if you owned a business you’d know …” He wasn’t changing his mind about anything, obviously, but he was clearly upset that he wasn’t surrounded by people who nod and agree with him. And probably surprised too, given that this all took place in a posh New Albany restaurant where, based on the odds, more people than not can be counted on to agree with him. I probably shouldn’t have engaged him at all, but I’ll be damned if I was going to allow him to think that every white guy who travels in his circles thinks the same way he does.
As we left, we shook hands and I lied to him, telling him it was a pleasure to meet him. He lied right back to me. Then he told me once again that I was “a lucky, lucky man.”
He was right. I was leaving.