Episode 48: Betting on Life

It’s been over four months since we last posted a new episode in The Last Chance Democracy Café series. We’ve used the time to rerun the old episodes and get the café’s new blog up and running. But now, at long last, we’re ready to start posting all new episodes again.

The blog will, of course, continue to be updated.

So without further ado . . .

The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Episode 48: Betting on Life
By Steven C. Day

First things first: This isn’t about abortion. The word life doesn’t belong to antiabortion activists, anymore than the word patriotism belongs to zealots who wrap themselves up in the flag and attack the loyalty of anyone who dares to disagree with them.

No, this is about life — and more specifically, new life. And life doesn’t get much newer than Jacob, who, when I first met him last Sunday, was three months, three weeks and three days old, with less hair than a fair sized peach and eyes bluer than the politics of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

He also has the honor of being our Winston’s newest grandson.

Jacob wasn’t actually invited to the party. His parents, Bobby (Winston’s son) and Janet, already had two beautiful children who were close to being out of the house and they thought that was enough. Jacob was the product of a failed vasectomy (it happens very rarely even with proper surgical technique.)

Abortion was never a consideration, at least once the amniocentesis came back fine. Like a lot of other fervent believers in freedom of choice, Bobby and Janet, who had both the financial and emotional resources to raise a third child, never considered the procedure for themselves. But like I said, this isn’t about abortion.

Not everything has to be.

So Jacob spent nine quiet months in his small, but comfortable bachelor pad, blissfully unaware that George W. Bush was his president.

Once born, the business of his baptism arose, and Janet who, while an otherwise sensible woman, adores her crotchety old father-in-law, insisted that he stand up with the family during the services. Winston, who isn’t much for attending church, or standing for any appreciable period of time, for that matter, put up a half-hearted resistance, but then agreed — with one condition: Instead of having a formal luncheon after the ceremony, they would all come here, to The Last Chance Democracy Café, to celebrate in more comfortable surroundings.

A bit past noon on Sundays tends to be a fairly busy time here at the café, with a heavy after church lunch crowd. But with the lunch trade concentrated in the dining room, there was plenty of room in the lounge for Winston’s party, 15 in all, including his ex-wife Helen and her husband Carl.

The family was crowded around the large round table, taking turns holding the baby. Horace and I were sitting at the bar, chatting about the new baseball season, when Janet came over to say hello. Her brown eyes were as bright as usual, but the fatigue of night feedings was plainly tattooed on her face.

“He’s a beautiful baby, Janet,” Horace smiled.

“Thanks. We’re sort of fond of him.”

“It doesn’t show,” I kidded.

Janet chuckled. “I know. I hate to think about how spoiled he’s going to end up being.” She ran the fingers of her left hand through her longish black hair, with only the very first hint of gray peeking out.

Horace patted her arm. “My guess is he’s going to do us all proud.” Then he grinned, “He’ll probably end up being elected president.”

Then something so unexpected happened, so seemingly out of place, that Horace, someone who is generally never at a loss for words when it comes to providing comfort to someone in pain, just sat there nonplussed for several seconds.

Janet started to cry.

Rebounding quickly, Horace tried to comfort her. “I know it’s hard when they’re this age. You’ve got to be absolutely beat . . .”

Janet shook her head no. “It isn’t that . . . well, I’m sure you’re right, being so tired is part of it. And God knows my hormones are running wild right now, but . . . well, it’s just that I don’t care about what he does. Talking about him becoming president is silly, of course, but, I really don’t care.” She stopped to steady herself, her upper lip trembling almost imperceptibly. “I cared a lot about those things with the older kids, but not Jacob. I only care about one thing with him . . . that he has a chance to live . . . to live a decent life.” A tear had made it down to her cheek; she brushed it away with her hand. “That’s it. That’s all I want.” Then she looked straight at Horace. “But that isn’t going to happen. It’s not. I just don’t see how it can.”

“Is there something wrong with him?” I blurted out without thinking.

She shook her head again. “No, no nothing like that. He’s a healthy little critter, as far as we know. But look at the world he’s been born into. Global warming . . . I mean, my God, you know the glaciers are melting much faster than they originally predicted?”

Horace agreed.

“We aren’t talking about something happening at the end of the century anymore.”

“I know.”

“We’re talking about Jacob’s future.”

“I know.”

“My son’s future.”

“I know.”

I glanced over at the large round table to see if Bobby had noticed that his wife was upset. He was asleep in his chair. God, I remember those days. Sometimes you get to the point where you can’t even imagine how you’ll find the strength to crawl out of bed one more time in the night, but then the baby cries and you do it. You just do it.

Or at least your wife does.

Jacob was asleep, too, and Winston, regaling the family with Winstonisms, hadn’t noticed Janet’s state.

“And the thing is,” she continued in a soft voice, “it isn’t just global warming . . .”

“You’re right,” nodded Horace. “There’s a lot of scary stuff out there.”

“Bird flu, AIDS, antibiotic resistant, you know . . .”

“Staph infections?” Horace offered.

“Right. Terrorists . . . and Bush keeps making more of them . . .”


“. . . and you know that some day they’ll get a hold of something really nasty, maybe even an atomic bomb. It’s inevitable . . .”

“Probably so.”

“And what kind of country is this going to be when that happens?”

“A scared one, I guess.” Horace shifted slightly in his chair.

“And with all this debt we’re running up. It’s hard to believe the economy won’t eventually go to hell.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Will we still be free then . . . America, I mean? I don’t know, but it seems like the more scared and angry people get the less they care about freedom. I know it’s crazy, but I keep thinking about these things . . .”

“It isn’t crazy at all.”

“. . . and I keep asking myself whether we did the right thing. I mean, what right did Bobby and I have to bring a child into this world under these conditions? What right did we have?”

Horace leaned forward on his bar stool and smiled sadly at Janet. Then speaking almost in a whisper, he said, “Let me tell you a story about two people, Cato and Violet. They were a married couple . . . well, in their eyes and God’s. The law didn’t recognize it.”

Janet, looking puzzled, asked why.

“They were my ancestors, Janet. They were slaves. And since slaves were deemed by the law to be property, rather than human beings, they lacked the legal standing to enter into an enforceable contract . . . including a contract of marriage.”

“My God,” was all Janet said.

“They went through a marriage ceremony . . . they called them slave ceremonies, we know that much. It was sometime in the 1850s; beyond that we don’t know much, except that they had five children and . . .” Horace paused, rubbing his chin with his left hand. “And we also found out that at some point they and the children were split up and sold separately.”

“My God.”

“Yeah, my God. But that was the hand life dealt them . . . the only life they were given.” Horace seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment, a wistful look in his eyes. “I wonder,” he started again, “if Violet, the first time she was pregnant, ever asked herself the same sort of question you’re asking? What right do I have to bring a child into this world . . . into slavery?”

Janet’s expression was solemn, but the tears were gone, blotted away on one of the café’s red, white and blue linen napkins. “But she had the baby,” she said in a strong voice.

“And four others. So, do you think she was wrong?”

Janet answered without hesitation, “No, I don’t think she was wrong.”

“Good, I don’t either . . . . Of course, it wouldn’t have been wrong either had she decided to try not having children, although, obviously, their options for pregnancy prevention were limited back then. But I have no problem with the decision she made. And you know what? Here we are some 10 generations later . . . give or take, and one of her descendants, my daughter, is not only a well respected attorney, but also a candidate for the United States Congress.”

Jacob was still asleep in his car seat, sitting on top of the large round table.

Janet flashed a fatigue-soaked smile. “He never sleeps this long at home.”

Horace spoke in perfect deadpan: “Winston tends to have that effect on people.”

Janet grinned. “I haven’t seen any evidence of that when he comes to parties at our house. He usually has the Republicans spitting mad and practically screaming in rage within five minutes.”

Horace returned the grin. “Point taken.”

“So you think I’m being silly about . . .”

Horace interrupted a little more sternly than he probably intended. “I would never say . . .”

“No, no, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I know you didn’t,” said Horace in a reassuring tone. “Sorry if it sounded like I was being defensive.”

“No, I didn’t mean . . .”

“It’s fine, Janet, really.” Horace took a sip of beer, his first since the conversation started. Things had been a little tense. “The thing is that there are a million perfectly good reasons for people to decide not to have children. But worrying about the state of the world . . . personally I don’t think that should be one of them. If someone feels that way then, of course, it’s their decision, but . . .” Horace frowned. I don’t think the words were coming out the way he wanted.

I started searching for something to say, just to fill the dead air.

But then he was off again. “I just think that sometimes we have to be willing to bet on life. Sure, it’s possible that global warming has already reached the tipping point and nothing we do from now on can prevent a catastrophe . . . that’s conceivable. Some scientists think so. But most don’t. Most agree with what Al Gore says in his movie that we still have time, precious little time, but still enough to save the day if we act soon . . . I don’t know, maybe I’m not saying this very well, but I think we have to bet that there is time . . . and not just to fight global warming, but also to save our democracy. And then we have to fight like hell to make it so.”

“So you’re an optimist,” Janet smiled softly.

“Actually, I think I’m a realist.”

“No offense,” she was still smiling, “but you sound more like a dreamer to me.”

“That’s the thing about liberals like you and me, Janet, we know that the true realists are the folks who dream of building a better world and then go out and do it . . . crazy, wild dreams like universal public education, abolition of slavery, ending legally enforced racial discrimination, women’s suffrage, women’s rights, Social Security, consumer protection laws, the Nation Park system, legal protection of the right to unionize, environmental protection laws. Liberal causes, every one of them and almost all of them must at one time have seemed like pipedreams, but in the end we liberals carried the day.”

“But a lot of that’s under attack by the right wing . . .”

“Okay, so we’ll have to kick their sorry butts again. We’ve done it before; we’ll do it . . .”

“I don’t know, Horace,” Janet sighed, “it seems like we’re the ones whose butts keep getting kicked.”

“Sure, in the short term, for awhile that’s been true. And don’t get me wrong: I get as depressed as you do about the small minded people who run this country today . . . so much power, doing so much harm. And maybe I’m just an old fool, but I’ve got to tell you that in the end I’m still willing to bet that the future belongs to our side.”

Janet looked skeptical. “But how can you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, when I look around I see evidence everywhere that the right wing edifice is breaking apart. Huge gobs of it keep crashing down all around us. It’s only a matter of time until the whole wretched thing comes tumbling down.”

“The polls have been looking real bad for the Republicans, I’ll give you that.”

“That’s very true,” Horace nodded his head slowly, “but this isn’t just about politics. For the most part, the GOP isn’t in trouble because of purely political mistakes . . . you know, picking the wrong campaign theme, that sort of thing. They’re in trouble because they have owned the federal government lock, stock and barrel for most of the last six years and everything, and I mean everything, they’ve touched has turned into a wheelbarrow full of turds. People are ready for something better . . . I’m convinced of it, ready for a politics that’s about something more than personal greed. People are beginning to worry about their kids’ futures, just like you are. I know it isn’t fashionable to say that, to assume anything but the worst in people, but I think they are. Al Gore is hitting a cord right now on global warming and part of the reason, I think, is that the cord was already out there ready to be hit.”

“You think people will listen?”

“Only if we say something worth listening to. And only if we’re ready to fight like hell. But that’s okay; I may be 75 years old but I think I’ve still got one good fight left in me.

Janet chuckled. “That’s one thing I don’t doubt for a second. And don’t worry. Despite everything I’ve said today, I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.”

“I never doubted it for a moment,” said Horace, tapping his knuckles on the counter.

Over at the large round table, Jacob, who was finally awake from his nap, started screaming at the top of his lungs.

“Welcome to the fight young man,” said Horace with a broad smile, holding his glass high in salute. “Welcome to tomorrow.”

* * *

When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at scday(AT)buzzflash.com.

© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001

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8 Responses to “Episode 48: Betting on Life”

  1. hizzhoner Says:


    I am so happy to see new episodes…..

    Thank you


  2. ElleninBigD Says:

    Made my day.


  3. Claire-a-belle09 Says:

    WOW. As a mom of a 14 month old girl, this episode really hit a nerve and brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for giving hope, and thanks ElleninBigD aka Mom for turning me on to this.


  4. DonnaWade Says:

    Great job as usual, Steve! I didn’t realize how badly I’d needed a wise men “fix”…though it was great fun re-reading all the previous episodes, there’s nothin’ quite like the anticipation of new episodes and feeling my spirit grow a bit bolder yet gentler as I revel in the characters.

    It was almost like bumping into a friend you haven’t seen in years…a delightful surprise! Many thanks.

  5. alwayshope Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with everyone. I love these characters, thanks Steve for as DonnaWade says, “the wise men fix”.

  6. Chuck Says:

    I wish I were as as optimistic as Horace.

  7. hari seldon Says:

    It’s great to see a new piece, Steve. And an excellent one at that.

    I wish I had Horace’s optimism, but I just can’t shake the belief that they’re going to steal another election this year, and maybe even in ‘08. I hope I’m wrong, but we can’t ignore the thugishness they’ve displayed over the past five and a half years.

    Eventually they’ll crumble from the rot caused by their own corruption. I just hope we have a country left to rebuild by the time that happens. Sorry to sound so negative after the positive piece you just wrote. Hopefully, it’s just temporary weariness from watching them dismantle what FDR and LBJ fought to put in place. (I’ll never forgive Johnson for Vietnam, but his domestic programs were marvelous.)


  8. Again Says:

    hari seldon

    I just hope we have a country left to rebuild by the time that happens.

    you will have - you yourself are part of it

    never underestimate the power of information. Do you know the story of the russian poet beating a far away world empire of that time, Great Britain? Yes, it’s right, time was all against that empire, but to me it seems, that is true now, too

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