Sunday, November 16, 2003

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

Every Friday night I go out for dinner with some friends – nothing fancy, just a nice way to end the work-week, and we usually go to places nearby in South Miami. Last Friday we went to a nice “family-style” Italian place with great pasta dishes, garlic bread and a salad with a creamy Italian dressing that is better than home-made. It’s called Di Napoli; if you’re ever in Miami, stop by and check it out.

There were five of us, and we got a table in the back. Within a few minutes a family of five was seated at the next table: Mom, Dad, two boys under seven, and Grandpa. I’m guessing Grandpa was Mom’s dad; they had similar accents, and there was a family resemblance. I don’t usually eavesdrop, but for some reason Grandpa went off on a rant about “librul Hollywood” and how he would never watch a Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon film, and how he hated Martin Sheen and Barbra Streisand for their “whacko” politics. Mom and Dad nodded in agreement and added their two cents’ worth about how terrible it was that people like that could think that anyone would care about how Hollywood stars thought about politics. Everyone at our table heard this, but I guess I was the only one who let it get under his skin to the point where my friend sitting next to me, hearing me muttering insults and speculations about Grandpa’s family history, told me to just let it go. Grandpa subsided, and I enjoyed my Veal Piccata.

My friend was right – there’s no point in making a scene or even admitting that Grandpa’s rant was overheard by a group of people who, to a man, disagreed with him. It also occurs to me that Grandpa, in his soft cocoon of right-thinking, doesn’t have to worry about making up his mind. He’s got his mindset, and he’s happy with it – no hard choices to make, no grey areas to contemplate. Everything is simple: A Republican is Always Right, a Democrat is Always Wrong. You don’t have to choose your entertainment based on artistry; just look at the cast list. I suppose that life is complicated enough that thinking, learning, and examination of issues would just make it harder. So why bother? Hang out with like-minded people and you’re never wrong; it’s all so cozy and comfortable.

I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. I suppose it’s because I’ve been involved with the theatre for so long that I can separate an actor from the roles he or she plays and not hold their talent hostage to their politics. Charlton Heston made some fine films, and I enjoyed the “Roadrunner” cartoon antics of all the Terminators; if anything for the amazing special effects and Schwarzenegger’s deadpan and self-mocking delivery. I read and respect many conservative writers – at least those with a sense of humor. And I appreciate a good intellectual argument. I expect to be challenged on my views, and if I can’t defend them honestly and without rancor, I’m no better than Grandpa.

I hope Grandpa enjoys his weekend with this daughter and the kids; I’m sure they’ll have a good time, and he’ll go back home to Georgia (he had an Atlanta-area country club logo stitched neatly on the pocket of his golf shirt) in the comfort of knowing he’s living the right (and Right) life. The one consolation to me was knowing that when he votes next year, there will be at least five votes going the other way.