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FRIENDS AND POLITICS

by

David Sparks


Now, I'm not one for confrontation. People who are into that sort of thing kind of worry me. They say what they think; they're brash; they get the girls; they have fun at parties. You can't trust them. I don't want to impose upon or impress or influence anybody, well, at least I don't do those things. Maybe I want to after all, but I just can't.

It's just like the case of my good friend, Adam. I don't know, he seems as right as anyone. It seems like I have known him for my entire life-like we hung out when we were kids. But I met him only ten months ago, in a chance encounter at the doughnut place in Chicago's Hyde Park. He did look goofy-not goofy, exactly, but rather like something was a little off about him. His clothes were kind of strange. They were mostly a weird grayish-green with neatly laced, black boots and an old-fashioned cap. Any of the clothes by themselves were really nothing particularly noticeable, but altogether in an ensemble, if you will, they stuck out from the general crowd in the same way they would if he were wearing bright, fluorescent pink.

Jesus, I thought. This guy looks like a fucking Nazi.

His eyes looked kind of screwy, like he should be wearing glasses. Maybe if he were, it would look right.

No hair came down below his cap.

I was sitting with my back to the picture window, which was lit brightly by the mid-morning April sun, on a round stool that rotated on top of a single aluminum column. I was eating a custard-filled chocolate long john and drinking my coffee and enjoying the general warmth of the spring. I was wearing a gray, wool pancake cap, and Adam walked right up to me and abruptly commented that he liked it.

"It's nice to see a civilized person." He emphasized "civilized" with a queer grin on his teeth and he clicked his boots together.

Now, I'm not normally a friendly-type guy, but I found myself saying to the stranger, "Thanks, man. Pull up a stool."

It bothered me how he said civilized, like my hat meant I was any kind of sophisticated person, but I understood where he was coming from. There are a lot of jackasses around who don't like the things I like for no good reason. There are a lot of people who have no amount of originality or imagination at all, and those people are usually in control of what's happening. So you have to sit through it like a bad movie, and you have to listen to people praise it. Not that my hat makes me original or imaginative-it doesn't-but I knew where the man was coming from. At least, I thought I did.

He sat down and asked for some coffee, and the woman gave it to him. I wondered quietly if he had meant to click his heels like that. He looked nervous.

"Nice day out," he said, quite normally - which, given his odd demeanor seemed quite extraordinary. "Spring is so much better than winter."

"Ah, it's not that it's better," I replied thoughtfully, for I had nothing else to offer, except my name, and I was saving that. "It's just a nice change."

The man chuckled quickly, so quickly that it nearly seemed phony, though I could tell it wasn't. "My name's Adam."

"Marvin," I replied and shook his hand. His hand was a little puffy, well manicured and white. His grip was brisk and regular, as if it occurred in well-defined stages.

We got to talking, and discovered that we were nearly the same age. I was twenty-two, and he was twenty-two and a half. His face still exhibited a pale and youthful exuberance and looking at it made me feel tired. We also discovered that we were both students at the University of Chicago, though for quite different things. I was going for Journalism and he was going for Philosophy. I asked him what he was going to do with his degree, and he replied by pleasantly questioning what I was going to do with mine.

"I see your point," I concluded, and sipped my coffee. "What branch of philosophy are you studying?"

"Metaphysics," he replied. "Mostly religious things. It's fascinating."

"Oh, yeah?" I bit and said with my mouth full, "I took an ethics course once. It pissed me off. There was too much arguing-too many stupid people."

"I know," he said. "Ethics classes don't usually go well for me, either."

"Why not?"

He grinned again. "I'm one of the stupid people."

I laughed, holding the long john carefully in my mouth, and, after washing it down I said, "I see. I see."

We got talking about some of the specific theories and arguments of the philosophy of religion. It was very fascinating, indeed, and I genuinely enjoyed myself. I had no idea that something as mysterious and elusive as religion could be discussed in such a rational way. Adam was animate in his defenses of the existence of God, and I was generally convinced by his arguments, though I imagine I would be just as convinced if he were arguing against it.

"So you see," he concluded quite academically, "it would be too outrageous of a coincidence that the universe ended up being able to support life without having some sort of creator to credit for it."

"That's where God comes in, right?"

"Precisely." With that he took the last sip of his coffee-at least, the last sip he was going to take. He set down the cup and said, "I didn't even want that coffee."

I peeked inside the cup. It was still half full. "Why did you come in, then?" I asked, more amused than confused.

"I'm not sure." He smiled broadly (goofily) and clicked his heels and stood up. "I'm going to be late. See you around." Then he bowed slightly-gallantly-and I was taken aback. As he walked out I contemplated that no one acts that way anymore, and that there's probably a reason they don't. It-the bow, the hat, shit, the button-up shirt-was civilized, I thought-a bright torch of civilization held courageously in a dark, uncivilized throng.

Well, I saw Adam like that throughout the next nine months or so. I'd go to the doughnut shop, anticipating his arrival, and in he would march, smiling and polite. He'd order coffee, and we'd get talking enthusiastically about the many things we disapproved of and the few things we valued.

The guy was really funny, too. He cracked me up. I barely got a word in. He had an endless supply of jokes, and not a one of them was dirty. All of the jokes I had remembered ever hearing were dirty, and the thought of telling him one of them and then of him being put off by the baseness of it made me feel ashamed. He had a hell of a delivery, and he always finished the joke up, rushing the punch line with that tittering, overdone giggle of his. Maybe it was more of a chuckle. I don't know. It was sure strange and hilarious, though, and I don't know how anyone could resist laughing at a joke told like that.

We'd have a ball. Visiting with him became something I looked forward to. He must have looked forward to it as well because that is the only reason I could think of that he would come into the shop. It certainly wasn't the coffee. He despised it, and that is all he ever got. In my moments of weakness and self-doubt, I would wonder if he spent his whole day visiting other people in a whole string of coffee shops throughout Chicago getting cups of coffee that he would only drink half of and then shuffle off to the next shop. He'd be like Santa Claus.

But he did seem to appreciate my company immensely. It was difficult to tell. He wore that stupid grin every where I saw him-walking towards the coffee shop, leaving, walking down the street-always unshakable, always smiling.

We grew quite close. We discussed a lot about ourselves, to a point, anyway. I told him all about my family back in Ohio, and he told me all about his dog, Chewbacca. I asked him if he was a big fan of Star Wars. He replied that he had never seen the movies, but that he did have all of the action figures. He explained that he knew they were very valuable, though he didn't quite know why. And then he'd laugh like that, and it'd tear me to pieces.

So many stories went back and forth in those few, precious weeks, stories of humiliation and dreams and triumphs. At the end, I felt an affection for him, one comparable to that of men who've been in war together or have played high school sports. We had a bond like true brothers, and, after, time, I regarded him as such.

Now, my grandfather once told me that two things you must never discuss with friends are religion and politics. He was a great man, my grandfather, and he got along with absolutely everybody until he was blacklisted. While we had discussed religion briefly and in broad strokes often, Adam and I had never made the terrible mistake of touching on politics-that is, we hadn't until December 7, 1998, a date that, in my mind, will live in infamy.

It was cold and dark, and everything outside was dying. But when Adam walked into the doughnut shop, he was smiling just as widely as ever. He was dressed like he normally did, but instead of being empty-handed as he usually was, he was holding an expensive-looking, dark black, leather brief case. My attention was immediately drawn to it, and a serious curiosity began to burn at the top of my spine. He set it down with a bang and laid it flat. Then he ordered coffee.

"Hey-a," I paused, not wanting to pry into his personal matters. But then I figured, what could he be hiding? I knew him too well. So, I said with a flip of my hand, "What's in the case?"

He dismissed the question with a wave of his own, but then stopped short and said, "Oh, I think you might find this interesting." He flipped the latches and lifted up the lid. He rifled around in there for what felt like an eternity.

I grew impatient and tried to peek over his shoulder. "What are you looking for in there, man?"

"Just a second" he said, concentrating. "Just-a-ah! Here it is." He pulled out a small stack of papers and handed them forward to me.

"What's on them?" It was a fair question.

He sipped his coffee and winced. "Homework. Papers, you know. Ethics papers. I left them in there from last semester, and since you loved your ethics class." He giggled again growing red with effort.

"Oh. Alright," I muttered hesitantly, perhaps sensing the ugly turn matters were about to take. I looked at the top paper, and the first thing that stuck out at me was a large, red letter "F." The second thing that stuck out at me was the words "blood-sucking Jew," which jumped off the page as if they were highlighted by a precise, blinding light. I read the rest of the sentence-and then the paragraph-hoping that it would get better in context. It didn't. It got far worse.

Now, I'm not one for confrontation, but this revelation seemed to call for some sort of remark. I was so shocked that I almost started laughing. My stomach began to turn, and I started to sweat. I wanted to just stand up and leave, but, instead, I turned to Adam and said, "I-ah." Then I paused restlessly and tapped some crumbs off the bitten end of my long john, choosing my possibly inflammatory words carefully.

"Adam," I inquired, "are you a Nazi?"

He answered frankly, as if I had just asked him what his favorite flavor of pie was. "Not yet, but I want to be."

I stared, trying not to let my incredulity show. "Well, then I think you are."

"Oh," he said thoughtfully, as if this had not occurred to him. "Well. Then, please, National Socialist."

"What's the difference?" I was getting sarcastic.

He sipped his coffee, and, swallowing, he confided, "Image."

I laughed. It was funny. The more I thought about it, however, the more relevant image seemed to the whole, awkward situation. I looked at him. He was smiling and nursing his coffee like always, but he just looked so evil all of the sudden. He looked wormy and ignorant in the place of merely quaintly strange.

It was silent. It sounded like the doughnut shop was deserted even thought it was quite full, and the entire clientele was chatting merrily. The only thing I could hear was my racing confusion. My face got hot. I had to say something. I didn't want him to think I was mad at him.

"So, it must be really hard to find a war movie you like around here, what with your boys always losing and all."

He nodded, not looking at me. "I usually watch Das Boot."

"Oh." I nodded in agreement, and again the silence settled in like a suffocating fog.

And then, without being consciously aware I was about to do so, I threw at him rather unexpectedly, "How can you be a fucking Nazi?" Everyone in the doughnut shop stopped what he or she was doing or saying and studied us carefully-a guy with a dippy hat sitting with an obvious fascist. I continued, "I mean, you can't be a Nazi. You look too much like one."

This just confused him. "What do you mean?"

"You know! Things just don't work out like that. The girl who seems interested isn't. The effeminate guy is never gay. The guy who looks like a Nazi can't be a Nazi." Adam looked at me blankly. "I mean, come on. You've seen enough T.V. to know that right?"

Adam smiled and said, "I've never watched T.V." I screamed at him, "You fucking Nazi!" and he started laughing. He thought I was joking around. In a way, I was, I guess. I mean, I still knew him. I was goofing around a bit. I felt like crying.

It was quiet again-but really dead quiet this time, for everyone in the doughnut shop was whispering to each other instead of talking and trying not to look at us. After a few seconds, a look of understanding washed over Adam's face, and he broke the silence, saying, "Oh, does it bother you?" It must not have struck him that I wouldn't readily agree with his views about "blood-sucking Jews."

I calmed a little. "Why?" I pleaded, like a desperate man. "Why a Nazi?"

"C'mon, Marvin," he said moving closer, his voice hushed. "Guys like us-were better than them." I winced when he said "them" like that-with that Nazi sneer.

"Why? Because of our hats?"

He breathed in exasperation. "No, no. Don't be silly. Because of the color of our skin."

"Oh, of course," I said sarcastically, but I think he thought I was surrendering to his logic, and he sat back in his stool.

I shook my head in sorrowful disbelief. "But-but what about all of those innocent people Hitler killed?"

He said, "It's a lie."

I told him that I was pretty sure that it wasn't. "We've got pictures, man."

"You've got your sources...I've got mine." He took a sip. "I really hate this coffee."

He had a point. I could tell that he was a philosophy major. I was speechless. I looked at the side of his face-which was checking out one of the waitresses-and stared at it. I studied it carefully, hoping that he no longer looked the same way to me, meaning to say, different then he used to. But I still couldn't quite place him. I couldn't see Adam how I had known him even the day before. An evil Nazi had replaced my jovial friend, and I wanted to explain to him that he was wrong-to change his mind. But, as I've mentioned, I'm not usually one to try to influence anyone. So I stayed quiet as my previous concept of Adam slowly distorted and dissolved, like a painting that gets splashed with water.

Luckily, he finished his coffee just then-he drank half of it-grabbed his Nazi jacket, stood up, clicked the heels of his Nazi boots together, and said with a slight bow, "I'll see you next week then, my friend, and we can discuss this further." Then he turned, walked up to the cashier-a black woman-and paid for his coffee. It's funny, but before then I never noticed how polite and complementary he was towards her. And to think the whole time he most likely thought of her as being a dog.

What a bastard, I thought as he walked out, whistling "The Star-Spangled Banner," and I wanted to strangle him. Then I finished my own coffee, paid, and walked out the door. Outside, in the bitter Chicago cold, I walked with my hands in my pockets and my jacket open, allowing the stiff, sharp wind to cut me. And I walked, and I walked, trying to figure out if it was a good man that masked a bad heart or a good heart that was hidden by a bad man, and I regret that, because of politics, I've never gone into that doughnut shop again.

THE END





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David J. Sparks was born in Flint, MI and raised in neighboring New Lothrop. He received a BA in Music with minors in Creative Writing and Philosophy from Saginaw Valley State University in Saginaw, MI. A devoted Tigers fan, he now resides in Hyde Park in Chicago, IL, where he struggles financially as a writer and blues guitarist.

Send correspondence to
djsparks96@hotmail.com




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