Archive for the 'Episodes' Category

Episode 60: The Gospel according to Claire

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

In this week’s episode, you (and the café’s Wednesday night regulars) will meet Claire.  I think you’ll like her: she’s the sort of woman who changes the personality of a crowded room just by walking in.  And when the room in question is the lounge of The Last Chance Democracy Café, occupied, in most notorious part, by Horace, Tom and Winston, that takes some doing. 

We will be talking with Claire (or, actually, mostly being talked to by Claire) about something that we’ve never discussed at any length before in a café episode, the granddaddy of all emotional issues — abortion.  There’s been a lot of noise lately among Democratic bigwigs about whether it would be wise politically for the party to deemphasize abortion rights as an issue.  Before doing so, the Democratic leadership might be wise to talk to Claire. 

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 60: The Gospel According to Claire
by Steven C. Day

We had no shortage of things to talk about at the large round table last Wednesday evening: Paul Wolfowitz’s resignation, the simultaneously horrifying and entertaining B movie otherwise known as Alberto Gonzales’ Department of Justice, the riveting testimony of James Comey — and so much more. 

So, although it had been a full two hours since Horace, Tom, Winston, Zach and I gathered in the lounge, we were still nowhere close to settling into a topic for the evening (which by tradition we always do).  We just kept bouncing from one hot news story to another.

But then Horace, no doubt feeling the tug of duty in his role as the group’s unofficial den mother, took the first step toward establishing a topic, suggesting that we should talk about global warming.

“If you don’t mind, I have something else I’d like to talk about,” came a woman’s voice.

There, next to the table, looking down at the five startled men sitting below, stood Claire.  A short, thin woman — about 70 years of age — Claire has what can only be described as a memorable face: Not exactly beautiful, certainly not ugly — but most definitely memorable.  She reminds me a little of pictures I’ve seen of an older Eleanor Roosevelt: average sized nose, deep intelligent eyes with pure white hair which, while neatly groomed, offers utterly no pretension of fashion.  Her ever present smile, on the other hand, is pure Molly Ivins — a full-throated grin, as big, as they say, as all Texas.

I smiled mischievously.  I was the one who had invited Claire to drop by.  I knew she would be a handful for Horace, Tom and Winston, none of whom had ever met her before.  And that, I thought, might prove to be fun.


Giving the devil a pass

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

This is going to be a story about guns, politics and common sense — three things that almost never go together in today’s America (and a topic on which I realize even some progressives differ).  So fair warning: If you’re someone who believes that the Second Amendment grants every school girl the right to go to class with a Browning BAR hanging over her shoulder or a Beretta semi-automatic pistol shoved in her Barbie purse, read no further: This will only piss you off.

Besides, you wouldn’t like it at The Last Chance Democracy Café anyway: We have a strict no guns allowed policy.  Hell, wild throws by the darts players after they’ve had a few beers are scary enough; the last thing we need is more firepower.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 59: Giving the devil a pass
by Steven C. Day

About three weeks have passed since one mentally disturbed young man, armed to the teeth with some of the best compact killing gadgetry yet created by the fruit of human intelligence, slaughtered 32 of his fellow human beings at Virginia Tech.  Most of them had done him no personal offense.  He just felt a need to kill people.  They just happened to be there to be killed.

Immediately after the killings our national leaders — including the congressional Democratic leadership — started parroting the same talking point.  It was as though they were reading from the same script: I almost wonder: is there a giant vault hidden somewhere in the capital where pre-written talking points are stored for just such occasions?  You know, cheat sheets for “times of national tragedy,” so that politicians can recite their “grief,” rather than having to ad-lib.  

The approved talking point for this particular drama, of course, is that it would be wrong for anyone to use the tragedy to push a political agenda (in other words, to push for sensible gun control legislation).  This is, instead, we are duly advised, the time to rally to the aid of the families of the victims — to support them in their grief. 

Odd isn’t it, how reminiscent this language is of what Bush says when he urges us to rally around his Iraq policy, suggesting that by doing so we support the troops.  In DC speak, it would seem, “rallying around” and “supporting” people means being all warm and fuzzy with them while you continue to get them (or their loved ones) killed.

Strange — I had somehow gotten the impression that citizens were supposed to use democracy to try to solve problems.

Clearly, though, I was mistaken, no doubt led astray by the delusions of some overwrought civics teacher, since it is now obvious that the real job of our elected representatives, when faced with potentially preventable tragedies, such as school shootings, is to tritely share our pain, while otherwise sitting on their butts and doing nothing.  Then, of course, when the next school shooting occurs, they can once again tell us how wrong it would be for anyone to try to push a political agenda in the wake of such a tragedy, and how, instead, we should all concentrate on supporting the families of those lost in their grief.  And so on down the long bloody trail we go.

Ain’t democracy grand!


Episode 58: Rest well Kilgore Trout

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

In this week’s episode we say goodbye to Kurt Vonnegut.  So it goes.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 58: Rest well Kilgore Trout
by Steven C. Day

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

Kurt Vonnegut (But then who else would it be?)

Kilgore Trout is dead at last.  It must be a relief to him.  Being the principal character growing out of the mind of Kurt Vonnegut must have been exhausting work.

I received the news of Vonnegut’s passing — and I say this as an act of confession — with one part sadness and one part envy.  The envy wasn’t for the dying, of course: Why be jealous for a jewel you’re certain to receive yourself one day soon?  No, the jealously was for his life — or maybe for the immortality that life engendered.

When you’ve just turned 52 — happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me — the idea of immortality of any sort takes on a significance notably lacking when you turn, say, 25.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve wanted to be Kurt Vonnegut, or more accurately, part of Kurt Vonnegut.  I didn’t want the part where his mother committed suicide, of course, or where his beloved sister died young or even the part where he lived through being a prisoner of war and the firebombing of Dresden.

No, it was the successful writer part of Kurt Vonnegut I wanted to be.

Like at least 50 percent of all of the men, women and children who have ever roamed this increasingly warm planet, part of me has always wanted to be a writer.  And not just any sort of writer — a writer of great fiction.  And I will admit to a certain sense of awe for those who have managed to do it both successfully and well. 

Kilgore Trout was, of course, not one of those people.  His work was depressingly unpopular.  In fact, the only place he was routinely published was in pornography, where his work was used to provide some “redeeming social importance,” in the hope of avoiding prosecution under obscenity laws.  Vonnegut considered Trout’s lack of popularity unsurprising: ”His prose was frightful. Only his ideas were good.”

Yet, in the end, when, in Breakfast of Champions, Trout had the opportunity to confront his creator, he didn’t ask to be given better writing skills.  He had something else in mind.

Here was what Kilgore Trout cried out to me in my father’s voice: “Make me young, make me young, make me young!”

(Kurt Vonnegut — Last line of the book Breakfast of Champions (1973))


Episode 57: Cocktails with Franklin

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

We have had some fascinating visitors at The Last Chance Democracy Café.  But this may take the cake.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 57: Cocktails with Franklin
by Steven C. Day

Have you ever awakened feeling wonderful because of something terrific that just happened, only to be crushed when you realized it had all been a dream?  Then afterwards, have you ever found yourself wondering whether, by the grace of some magic in the moonlight, at least a little of that dream may somehow actually have been true?

*  *  *

You would think I would learn.  I mean, how many times does a man have to get burned before he figures out that sticking his hand into a pot full of boiling water isn’t such a swell idea?  Every time — every single time — I violate my personal rule against drinking in my own cafe I get into trouble.

The first time I made this mistake was the evening we played “Lie George,” as described back in episode 8.  That one, of course, almost got us closed down.

But that didn’t stop me from repeating the same sin 11 months later.  My wife took the kids out of town to visit her mother and, given that I was batching it, I figured what the hell. So, I joined some of the dart players in an Irish whisky taste test; the idea was to sample each brand we stock.

Let’s just say we have a fine selection.

My next memory is of standing up and stumbling a few feet, nearly falling in the process, as I tried to make my way to the bathroom (don’t worry, Samuel, the bartender, had already taken my car keys).  After regaining my footing, I noticed the blurry but familiar image of a woman standing directly in front of me.  She was about 60-years-old, wearing a fashionable pink pantsuit and a scowl that ran deeper than the salt mines of Kansas.

She was my sister-in-law, Charlene.

The same sister-in-law who has never completely forgiven me for endangering her sister’s financial security by leaving the practice of law to open The Last Chance Democracy Cafe.

“You’re drunk!” she said in voice dripping with contempt.

As for what came next, there’s really not a whole lot I can say.  I was drunk, okay, real drunk — and something about the way she had spoken reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous response to a woman who accused him of being drunk at a party.  And before I knew it, I was repeating Churchill’s words to Charlene:

“And you, madam, are ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober.”

And, no, it didn’t go over all that well at home.

Duly chastened, I followed my no booze at work rule religiously for well over a year.  But then last night after closing, all alone in my tiny closet-office on the second floor of the café, trying to catch up on paperwork, the urge for libation started to rear its ugly head.  I hate paperwork.  And I figured what harm could one little drink do –

Or two little drinks –

Or three – 

When the numbers on the balance sheet started dancing a jig — actually, I’m not sure exactly what a jig is, but they did start dancing — I knew I was in trouble.  My wife, who was not expecting me home for several more hours and no doubt was already long to bed, has always told me that if I ever find myself drunk to call her and she’ll come get me (she doesn’t want me driving drunk, which I would never do anyway).

I don’t doubt her sincerity, but there are some offers in life that you should only take up under the direst of circumstances.  I decided to call a cab.  But before I got around to it, I leaned back in my chair to rest my eyes for just a moment and –


Episode 56: Not the son he bargained for

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Nick has always loved his son.  He’s just never really known him.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 56: Not the son he bargained for
by Steven C. Day

Horace, speaking of his only son, Lester, who was killed in Vietnam, once said this about a father’s love for a child:

“Before your child is born, you think you know about love and you think your heart is full, but then . . . well, when that child comes you realize that before that day you’d never really understood anything. You discover a type of love . . . a type of unconditional no-holds-barred love that is so far beyond anything you ever even imagined that it turns you into a whole new person. Before Lester was born, I was just Horace. After he was born, I became dad. And to lose that . . . my God, the hole it leaves.”

Some holes are blown open by shrapnel.  Others we tear open ourselves

*  *  *

Nick was staring apathetically at his half empty bottle of Bud.  It was perched at an alarmingly unsteady 90 degree angle between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand.  For the moment, the thumb was dominant — in a missionary position sort of way — resting on the top of the neck of the bottle, with the forefinger stuck submissively below.  But every few seconds they switched positions, as Nick swung the bottle from one side to the other like a gurgling metronome.

Although pulling off this maneuver without massive spillage — only a tiny puddle of drops had fallen onto the bar — must have required considerable dexterity, Nick’s face offered no hint he even knew he was doing it.

His mind, as they say, was clearly somewhere else — and by the look of him, not somewhere he liked.

Tall and thin, Nick has a ruggedly handsome face, with a high forehead, strong chin, piercing brown eyes and darkish-white skin.  His principal cosmetic challenge is his thinning oil-black hair, a situation made immeasurably worse by an ill-advised sweep-over hairstyle. 

Still, the total package is Marlboro mannish enough that most people are at least a little surprised when they hear his vocation is real estate.  You can see him out most Saturday mornings, with his Kmart dress shirt and a clip-on tie that hangs only halfway down to his belt, putting up open house signs.

Nick has made four profound commitments in his life: He’s committed to his wife, Shirley, to the Roman Catholic Church, to his country and to conservative Republican politics.

He used to have a fifth, his son John.  But things change.


Episode 55: A letter to the consigliere

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

I’ve been as busy for the last few weeks as a Halliburton executive packing for the big move to Dubai. Let’s just say that my pre-café legal career summoned me back for a time. So, being the kind and gentle spirit he is, Winston has agreed to fill in for me in this week’s episode, by allowing us to publish an open letter he just wrote on behalf of the café to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

(Check back in one week for another exciting new café episode, to be posted a full week early to make up for the one I missed last week! Am I great or what?)

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 55: A letter to the consigliere
by Steven C. Day

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

Face it: It’s time for you to say goodbye. The dam that’s been holding the ocean of secrets back is beginning to give way and soon, very soon, the flood will come. And there isn’t one chance in ten you’ll survive it.

It’s that bad, sir, isn’t it? Impeachment bad, penitentiary bad.

I’m talking, of course, about the real story behind the purge of the US attorneys, the ugly details of which I’m sure you know by heart, but about which the rest of us can still only guess. We can smell the rot, though — like a dead rat decaying behind the drywall.

We know it’s there, but we haven’t been able to get our hands all the way around it — not yet. We don’t know how deep the rot runs — how ugly this will ultimately prove to be. We know you lied, but in an administration in which the words communication and deceit have come to be all but synonymous that’s small potatoes indeed.

Have you committed a crime? Perjury? Obstruction of justice? Lying to Congress? That’s actually a crime, you know, lying to Congress, even though I suspect you view it more as an art form. Although come to think of it, I really don’t give a rat’s ass what the criminal law has to say about you.

I don’t want you to go to jail, Mr. Gonzales (although you probably should); I want you to give me my country back. You know, the one that used to be based on the rule of law — a concept you plainly consider to be as quaint as you do the Geneva Conventions. You recall the theory surely, a nation of laws and not men. They covered it back when you were in law school. Hell, they covered it in your junior high civics class. Remember, it was the thing that supposedly made us different from nations like Iran and Cuba; the thing that made us better.


Episode 54: Democrats: Be audacious or die

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

One thing about the gang at the large round table is they can be a little hard to satisfy. It seems, for example, that the Democrats victory in 2006 wasn’t good enough for them. No, they have the audacity to insist that Democrats can do even better.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 54: Democrats: Be audacious or die
by Steven C. Day

Horace set his beer bottle gently down on the table and began caressing it lovingly — well, lovingly may be a little strong, let’s say likingly — with his forefinger. As any experienced Horace watcher will tell you, this almost always means he’s ready to get down to business. The light banter about sports, movies and the like that usually consumes the first hour or two of our Wednesday night confabs at the large round table was clearly coming to an end.

The political part of the evening (the next six hours or so) was about to begin. And as so often occurs, Horace would be establishing the main topic of the night.

“Zach . . .” he began.

“Un-huh,” our young college friend replied fatalistically, no doubt assuming that he was about to face another Socratic session, where Horace, Tom and Winston would pepper him with questions.

“. . . are you familiar with the phrase a one-hit wonder?”

Zach perked up: Music is one of the loves of his life. “Of course,” he began, “it happens a lot. A musician has one big hit, then nothing. One day you’re at the top of the charts. Two years later you’re frying burgers never to be heard from again.”

“Except for Meat Loaf . . . some people called him a one-hit wonder,” announced Tom to the table’s general disbelief. Somehow Tom just doesn’t strike one as a Meat Loaf fan. “But Meat Loaf’s so-called one-hit wonder never died. Bat Out of Hell spent 474 weeks on the UK charts!” Tom was verily gushing with excitement. “I have personally seen him perform in concert seven times!”

Winston’s mouth was hanging open far enough I was actually a little concerned his teeth might fall out. And he doesn’t wear dentures.

I couldn’t blame him though. Tom as a groupie isn’t the sort of image it’s easy to get your head around.

Horace merely raised his eyebrows, before returning to his original point. “So here’s the $64,000 question . . .”

Or at least he thought he was returning to his original point.

The $64,000 question?” huffed Winston. “Good God man, no one says that anymore. It’s the million dollar question now. You know, Regis Philbin and all that. Seriously, is it too much to ask for you to keep your clichés updated?”

If music is one of Zach’s great loves, being a royal pain in the ass is one of Winston’s. But then I guess we all tend to like the things we’re good at.

From the look on his face, I think Horace was considering possible avenues of retaliation, but he apparently decided just to ignore Winston — generally the wisest course. It’s an inexorable truth of the universe that no one ever gets in the last word on Winston.

Horace began again, “As I was saying, here’s the . . . let’s just say, here’s the critical question. Is that an okay way to put it Winston?” There was just the slightest edge to Horace’s voice.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just an old man quietly enjoying the company of friends,” Winston purred in response.

Horace let that one pass too.

“Great, then the big question is this: Was the 2006 election the beginning of a long-term trend of the American people turning against the right-wing machine, or was it just a one-hit wonder?”


Episode 52: Death visits after midnight

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

We’ve shared a lot of lighthearted moments here in café and there will be many more. But sometimes life takes us into darker places.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 52: Death visits after midnight
by Steven C. Day

Memory can be a funny thing: What our minds keep and what they throw away. In the case of our earliest childhood experiences, of course, almost everything gets tossed, victimized by what experts call childhood amnesia. But out of this blanket of early darkness, most of us retain at least one small pinprick of light in the form of our earliest memory. Often it’s nothing particularly noteworthy; an everyday event seemingly picked at random, almost like the reward given to the millionth person to drive across a bridge.

Donald, one of our Tuesday night regulars at The Last Chance Democracy Café, told me once that his first memory is of the coast of Maine. He was three years old, on the only extended vacation his family would ever take.

While walking along one of the rare bits of sandy beach to be found on the rocky coast of Maine, they came across a large piece of driftwood, probably from the main trunk of the tree. It had been run aground by the incoming tide. Donald and his sister both sat on it with one leg on each side like they were riding a horse, and their father pushed it back into the water, only to have the next large wave send them crashing back onto the sand. They did this again and again, laughing and generally having the time of their lives.

It was the only entirely unadulterated happy memory Donald would ever have of his father.

* * *

Donald had called me a couple of hours earlier. He sounded shaken.

“Steve,” he began, “tonight . . . well, actually tomorrow, right after midnight. My dad . . .”

I didn’t want to force him say the words. “I know,” I broke in quickly. “I heard.”

“Yeah, well, anyway, I had Cindy and the kids go to her parents for awhile. I thought it would be easier on them that way. And I was wondering . . . would it be okay if I came to the lounge tonight? I don’t want to be a downer or turn the place into a circus, but reporters will be calling and . . . I’d rather be out of the house when it happens.”

“Of course, we’d love to see you.”

I quickly called Horace, Tom, and Winston. Donald liked them, I knew, and, maybe more importantly under the circumstances, respected them. I figured he could use the support. I called Zach, our young college friend, too. I thought he might learn something.


Episode 51: A lonely kind of honor

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Sometimes the honorable path can also be a very lonely one.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 51: A lonely kind of honor
by Steven C. Day

It was a particularly nasty evening outside as the gang gathered at The Last Chance Democracy Cafe for our usual Wednesday night festivities. “Attack-snow” is what Winston calls it: Those tiny, rock-hard bits of ice the cold wind sends slamming into your face like a load of buckshot from Dick Cheney’s shotgun. Useless stuff, totally unfit for snowballs or building snowmen, suitable only for turning faces red and crashing cars — utterly irredeemable.

And I was supposed to be out there in it.

Speaking of irredeemable things and Dick Cheney — forgive the redundancy — our beloved Vice President was visiting our fair city this very evening. A man surely destined to become the first VP in American history to be inducted into the Mad Statesmen Hall of Fame (actually the second, Aaron Burr’s already there), he was in town for one of the few things sufficient to tear him away from his secure location — a Republican political fundraiser.

A good friend of mine was organizing an antiwar, anti-Cheney and anti-Bush protest — all my favorite anti(s) rolled up into one. He was the sort of person I could trust to keep the protest civil and nonviolent, so I told him I might be there. Okay, I guess I actually told him I’d probably be there. But I’d overlooked the fact the protest was on a Wednesday evening, my favorite time at the café, when Horace, Tom, Winston and Zach sit down over drinks in the lounge and try to solve the problems of the world. I also didn’t know as I spoke to my friend, of course, that a mini-blizzard — let alone an attack-snow mini-blizzard — would be blanketing the town on the night in question.

Let’s see: A warm night spent with good friends, good food and good conversation, or a night spent freezing my ass off shouting protest slogans while being ignored by the media? Yeah, that was a tough call alright.


Episode 50: Chasing After the Stars

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

Memories can comfort us, scare us, make us laugh, make us cry, bring us pride or bring us shame; and sometimes, when we’re really lucky, they give us the means to better understand ourselves and our world — something we call wisdom.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 50: Chasing After the Stars
by Steven C. Day

It was a clear, almost moonless night — a great night for stargazing, or at least it would have been but for the millions of city lights still blazing even at an hour when only tavern managers and perhaps vampires still prowl the night.

As I stepped out of The Last Chance Democracy Café’s back door, locking it behind me, it occurred to me that I couldn’t make out a single star, just a great washed-out darkness above, a solid black ceiling faded by a single coat of watered-down white paint.

And I remembered how one night back in college in Colorado, I went chasing after the stars. It was well after midnight as I crept out of my dorm room, my roommate, Bill, snoring so loudly I swear the walls were shaking (or maybe that was from the guy upstairs whose girlfriend shared his half of the dorm room).

This was the early 70’s, when almost anything went on campus — pot, drunken parties, cohabitation; curfews were a joke no one even bothered laughing at.

Heading out in my hand-me-down Ford — a car that must surely have been listed in some edition of Webster’s somewhere as one of the antonyms for stylish — I drove west out of Greeley, up through Loveland and into the Big Thompson Canyon. The canyon, normally so dramatic with its cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the roadway, was invisible now in the darkness: If it weren’t for the occasional glimpses of rock in the car’s headlights, I could just as easily have been driving down a winding road in the countryside.

With the summer tourist season long over, Estes Park, located just above the canyon, had a put away look to it, like a Christmas decoration carefully boxed up and set aside in the absolute assurance that its time would come again. I glided through town, took a left turn and drove up to a private campground I knew right next to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Then, with my flashlight in hand, I headed out to climb a mountain — or a big hill, anyway.