A TALE

"He ought to be in prison ..."

 "What about Hunter? ..."

 "Whataboutism ..."

"Russian collusion ..."

 "He lost the election ..." 

"No, the election was stolen ..." 

Snippets of their conversation could be heard over the bar crowd and a musician strumming a song from the '90s.

"He's the worst president ever" ... They both said this with each talking about different presidents. "He's the best president ever ..." Only one of them said this.

"Orange Man" ... 

"Sleepy Joe" ... 

"It's a democracy" ... 

"It's a republic" ... 

"Drumpf" ...

"Let's go, Brandon" ... 

"He's taken up living space inside your brain" ... Both said this but both were talking about the same president.

Two friends, once close, now dysfunctional, following a few years of growing apart and politics driving them far, far apart. 

Still, given how close they had once been – since junior high school, dealing with bullies, tough teachers, parents who didn't understand, fickle girlfriends to high school and driver's licenses to first beers to college and beyond; they had been in each other's weddings, been there when children were born – their communication had devolved into insulting one another on Facebook.

Still, they decided to meet for a couple of beers to reconcile but their political differences led them to insulting each other's party then one another face to face.

"Sheeple ..." 

"Ah, just like your kind responding with insults when you can't argue the facts." 

"... Drinking the Kool-Aid ..."

"Drinking the orange Kool-Aid ..."

"Get your head out of Fox News' ..." 

"You get yours out of CNN's."

Then they cursed each other and sat without speaking. 

The musician played another song. They sipped their beers. Both thought the same thing: What happened to him? I didn't change. He changed.

They were disgusted with each other and the whole situation. Deep down, even though each one believed their party right and he was right, they couldn't believe they had allowed politics to come between them and other people in their lives.

Each one remembered the kid that the other man had been. How they had stood for one another, been there for each other, picked each other up, joked and clowned around. 

Now, the chasm between them politically was as wide as the Grand Canyon and just as American. Their beers near empty, their friendship running on fumes. They sat in silence, brother against brother, embroiled in the new American feud.

The musician started into another song:

"Long, long time ago, I can still remember / how that music used to make me smile / And I knew if I had my chance / I could make those people dance / and maybe they'd be happy for a while. ..."

America has The National Anthem, the one people place a hand over their heart and stand (though the two old friends disagreed on that, too). But America has other national anthems, the ones that people feel compelled to sing along. 

Who's to say which action is more patriotic, more American. Or if the National Anthem or one of these other songs speaks more to who we are as a people. Which songs divide us and which songs bring us together.

Don McLean's "American Pie" filled with poetry and mystery and history, rock and roll, of dreams lost and found and lost again, an America that was and never was and never will be but always is, as real as any memory of a friendship past or present. 

They remained silent through the first verse and the first chorus. Almost everyone else in the bar sang along.

Deep into the second verse, one of the old friends mumbled the words, joined by the voice of the other old friend.

By the second chorus, the two old friends sang along with everyone else in the bar:

"So bye bye, Miss American Pie / Drove my Chevy to the levee / But the levee was dry ..."

They sang along to every subsequent verse and repeated every chorus. 

And when the song ended, the two old friends still didn't speak to each other. Except to order another round of beer, each one insisting that he had this round and if you got this one then I'll get the next one ...

They didn't say anything else. But they didn't leave. They sat sipping their beers, listening, together, as the musician played song after song.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times and editor of The Tifton Gazette.

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