This is one of many famous quips from Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of U.S. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt and lifelong Washington, DC insider. Widely known for her scathing wit and an innate ability to bring the rich and famous to their knees with the mere flick of an impromptu remark or deed (she once put a tack on the chair of a too dignified pretentious gentleman in DC’s Capitol Gallery only to look away with indifference when he leapt up in pain), one could imagine Mrs. Longworth would either be rendered speechless or simply throw her hands up in horror if she were alive today. Or perhaps she would simply throw up.
It is not only the political arena she was born into right before the turn of the 20th century and remained prominent in through the post Nixon Watergate era that would cause this. Though we could easily start there. It’s that today, a mere 30 plus years since her death at age 96, there seems to be no line of offensiveness, disrespectfulness or, well, truthiness (forget truth – that’s long been buried, along with Mrs. Longworth) that can’t be crossed.
You might be expecting a rant against the recent Tea Party-led government shutdown of 16 days that is estimated to have cost the U.S. a tidy $22 billion in revenue. Well, we might get to that. But first, in the spirit of Mrs. Longworth, let’s start with something a little bit more basic, and a lot more fun.
I’m at the gym late on a Friday afternoon – an hour of the day where presumably there isn’t a lot of pressing business being done, especially by folks with enough leisure time to be at a public gym. In any event, I’ve got the headphones on, the treadmill roaring and I’m trying to keep up to the music as I’m sweating, and huffing and puffing – and doing a pretty good job of it, thank you very much – when I begin to hear the sounds of someone chattering next to me.
I ask myself – how can this be? The Broadway soundtrack to Thoroughly Modern Millie is pretty loud and pretty (okay VERY) gay in my ears. No one could get a word in edgewise under normal circumstances and ruin my concentration. Certainly no one I’d ever come across. Hmmm, maybe it’s my imagination, I thought, as I prepared for the big eleven o’clock number in my mind.
Then suddenly – there’s more chatter, which I begin to halfway understand. And unlike the usual chatter mine seems to have a bit of a — Spanish accent.
Nagarav-na….But he said he’d blgrda-nanita blrg…….And she said she would malagagana bragnavan-nya…..
I look to my right…and there it is. An I-phone, ear buds and a headpiece attached to something that seems to be human but clearly couldn’t be. Humans were once awake, aware and considerate – not droids trapped in a superficial and, mind you, not very interesting world of their own invention, engaged in a conversation with no real beginning and certainly no obvious end.
Not being one to immediately pounce, I turn away. More blabbering. And now it’s getting extremely elaborate and more multi lingual. Imagine an endless loop of a monologue delivered by Sofia Vergara from Modern Family but take away her writers and her comic timing. Now imagine a guy half her size in gym shorts and shorter, with smaller shoulders (and a tenth as good-looking), and you just might begin to get the picture. Needless to say that unlike my reaction to Ms. Vergara, I am not smiling.
I imagine this guy, let’s call him Mr. Not Sofia, will eventually end his call and admit to myself this is very much a first world problem. So I decide to remain silent and once again pretend (?) I’m a Broadway Diva singing a ballad. And, true to form, Mr. Not Sofia does end his call. Only to immediately dial and start a new one that seems to repeat what was just said in the previous one, using a little less Spanish and a little more English – one that now seems to be echoing into more expressive tones I can’t quite make out but can clearly hear. And I’m into my finale.
C’mon Chair – do you really want to waste the fat you’re burning off here on this guy’s fat head? No. I’m silent. I drink water. Five more minutes go by. Chatter. Another five. Chatter, chatter. Now we’re up to fifteen, chatter, chatter, chatter –
Good-bye, si, no, hello, hola, yes! No! Tell me about this! I know. She said what? I want to know! He said more? More??? MORE?????? Chatter, chatter chatter, when —
I yank off my headphones, turn to Sophia’s distant cousin and spit out the words –
Can you NOT talk on your cell phone! It’s very distracting and very annoying. I can hear everything you’re saying and I’m listening to music with my headphones ON.
The man now next to me rolls his eyes and laughs and, encouraged, I can’t help but add –
There’s a whole empty gym and he’s choosing to do this here?
Somewhat surprised, in fact rather shocked, Mr. Not Sofia, now quite, in fact VERY surprised, now looks at me, incredulously, and says:
Then, realizing for the first time that his very loud ongoing 20-minute conversation to seven different people in a public place is, in fact, still being heard and might not be as fascinating as he imagined that it was when he was speaking, says in a somewhat confused tone:
I do begin to wonder if I’m not a relic from another time – or whether I am indeed reverting to what my life partner calls my secret crotchety persona of Old Man Ginsberg (motto: I hate children!). But then I think – this is just typical of everything we’re up against right now. People speaking their minds and saying not much of import publicly for no reason at all other than they choose to.
But hey – ISNT THAT….WHAT….I…THE CHAIR….IS DOING….….RIGHT NOW…RIGHT HERE?
Well, it’s not the same thing. Or…… is it?
No, it isn’t. I can write and say what I want here but I am not shouting it in a public space – and a space you do not have to look at it if you don’t want to. In other words, I do not have a captive audience unless I captivate you with what I’m saying. Sophia Vergara and even I can sometimes do that. Mr. Not Sofia and those like him who choose to shout their conversations and opinions on the actual treadmill next to you, or the elevator you are forced to share with him – clearly cannot.
Nevertheless, the feigned look of surprise on Mr. Not Sofia’s face after I called him on his 20 minutes of rudeness – or the fact that he could even be surprised that his incessant yammering could be annoying – still did not translate into any desire on my part to squelch immigration reform; deport him or take it out on others who speak his language; or vote against any more non-English speaking people from entering the country. Nor does it change the lifelong crush I’ve had on Antonio Banderas, or even blunt my enjoyment of Ricky Martin music (Note: Hate me if you must, but La Vida Loca is a GREAT treadmill song). See, unlike many of our crazed and insane ultra right wing Tea Party brothers and sisters (and that is said with only love) I can get angry at someone’s behavior without deciding every other member of their ethnic group or nationality should either be thrown out of the country or have their right to vote questioned without 52 forms of identification. This is called reason. And though it’s largely absent from the most vocally engaged in the public discourse – it is by no means dead among the majority of the population.
Which brings us to the dreaded subject of the Tea Party, their de facto leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R- Texas… where else?) and one of their supporters who stood in front of the White House last week at one of their rallies waving a military flag in one hand and the CONFEDERATE FLAG in the other. Just to clarify – the Confederate flag is the symbol of the SLAVE-OWNING South during the Civil War and it was being waved in front of a House that has been occupied for the last five years (and will be for three more) by our first BLACK PRESIDENT, his wife and two young daughters. To clarify just a bit further – this is a president who is the leader of a family and leads/lives in a country that abolished slavery more than 150 years ago.
The brandishing of the Confederate flag, which Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, an African-American, last week noted sends shivers down the spine of most Black people when they see it, was not an accident. Nor is the usage of terms like Allah-loving Muslim, as Larry Klayman, of the Tea Party’s Freedom Watch organization, called the president that same day. These are purposeful demonstrations of ways to make the most powerful person in the country (and once the world, though their antics might have put that fact, and all the rest of us, into jeopardy on the worldwide stage) – someone who also happens to be a Black Man – into the category of:
THE OTHER – someone unlike the rest of us.
Never mind that several days later Mr. Klayman laughed off any possible intention of prejudice against the president on MSNBC and maintained his words were merely meant to be metaphorical. Well, if that’s the case, then does it mean that if I call this guy a pathetic racist and say he should have at least been honest and wrapped himself in a hooded white sheet and burnt a Cross on the White House Lawn if he truly wanted to get his real point across – that I am NOT calling him a member of the KKK but merely using symbolism to get my point across?
I guess so…NOT.
I know what I said and he knows what he said. Or does he? See that’s why despite a deeply felt desire of free speech for everyone, these days you can’t help but silently advocate for an anti-moron law that would allow a sane person to stuff a sock into the mouths of an ill-informed insane person at least 3 times a year – or any time the sane person deemed fit. Of course, I and my appointed office staff and friends would decide just what normal was. That only seems fair.
This all begs the question of why in the last hours of the government shutdown, before being roundly defeated in their plan to dismantle Obamacare, The Tea Party Republicans walked the halls of Congress singing Amazing Grace. Say what you will about the song (Note: Personally, I recommend the Joan Baez version on her Live Album), it was written by John Newton, a self-proclaimed sinner who was both a minister and a slavery abolitionist. Originally a church song, Amazing Grace was used to great dramatic effect in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and became so identified with and popular within the African American community that its members wrote, sang and passed down several new verses of their own to the tune over numerous generations – as did others in several other disenfranchised communities.
One’s mind boggles at the irony of this bag of mixed messaging on the part of the Tea Party– the META of it all. Or what Alice Roosevelt Longworth would have generally said or done about that current wing of the Republican Party given that her father was a member of the aforementioned when it stood for principles that some today might consider to be liberal. I can picture only one reaction to all of this, one that I already imagine her doing – rolling over in her grave.