Any Card

by LF (11/7/98)

While there are all sorts of libertarians, for the sake of this piece I'm going to shoehorn them into two categories. The first are those that delight in walking people step-by-step through the reasons why a particular law does more harm than good. They are the Think-Tankers, who try to bring others up to speed one issue at a time, calmly quoting statistics and kindly parrying half-informed arguments.

The second set chomps at the bit for everybody they talk with to just get it!, and to hell with that incremental crap. They are the Annoying.

I'm obviously one of the latter, so I comprehend that the big problem with my team is that a lot of us were converted through a single personal toggle-switching event. This allows us to confidently rush through tremendously-convoluted explanations of this or that -- cocksure that we wield the ability to make the lights go on in others -- breathlessly ramming through rants that can start with the Postal Service, dip onto the Social Security scam, then snake over to highway funding before ending somehow with a sly aside on Jury Nullification . . . and then we wonder where the glazed looks are coming from.

It would pay for us excitable types to remember an important tip from Henry Hazlitt's classic work Economics in One Lesson:

The key word for this discussion is "tracing". There is nothing wrong with hopping around -- just try to start with something simple, and then let your audience direct the subsequent branching. Trust me, this tack will be much more likely to keep them awake. For example:

I was up in Athens, Ohio again for two recent weekends. My company signed me up for a System & Integration Testing course in Columbus, so I drove up and dropped in both ways. I spent a good deal of time at the Smiling Skull, the local "biker" bar (unfortunately, there just aren't that many folks in the area who can afford Harleys). It's actually a pretty nice joint, and kids and dogs can be seen there about every afternoon. Aside from the occasional short set-to on packed Friday or Saturday nights, it's a place you could take your old granny to, especially if she can appreciate a perfectly-poured pint of Guinness for two bucks.

It was only on this last trip that I noticed something that never really struck me before. People were playing cards. One Sunday there were three different groups in the Skull going at it. Euchre seemed to be king, because over the course of a total of six days I was asked if I knew the game four times, thrice by complete strangers.

Most establishments don't like the hard feelings that playing for real money can bring out, but they'll generally turn a blind eye to penny-ante poker. And purely friendly games won't even rate a raised eyebrow. Actually the owners encourage the practice, as it seems to help keep the regulars from tearing at the plumbing fixtures or lobbing beer bottles at passing squad cars.

Oh yeah, the moment of clarity was the realization that I had never, EVER seen anyone playing cards at a bar in NC. I've gone on at length elsewhere about the screwed-up alcohol laws in this state that were imposed by the reigning hard-on Baptist majority at some point before all us Yankees moved down to rape their daughters. But in the past I've only really thought about how they have impacted my imbibing (and it's been mucho, dammit).

It just took having a few people I never met before coming up to ask me if I wanted to join them for a coupla hands of cards to cause me to comprehend the ugly impact of North Carolina's dozens of booze-related laws. There's much less a sense of community here. The locals get what socializin' they need from their churches, I guess, and it would never even occur to them to hit a tavern to curl a few with the folks from down the street. Instead, they dress up in their Sunday clothes and try to remember to act pleasant. Hot-diggetty damn . . . maybe Daddy'll get to tell a few naughty knee-slappers when there's only the fellers around.

Right now I probably have almost as many friends as I did in college. But since there is no comfortable place to hang out with them, they're more like acquaintances. A big night out for a lot of folks consists of going to a restaurant, and then directly home. NC's brutal drunk-driving laws rule out having more than two glasses of wine with dinner.

I've seen grown men here forced into drinking beer in their garages on 98-degree days because their wives have bought whole-hog into the constant "liquor is evil" mantra pushed by every other sermon and Public Service Announcement, so they have to sneak around like kids cadging fucking smokes!

A corner bar can be an immeasurably positive crutch to one's mental health. I can relate dozens of stories about friends piling into a tavern after work, steamed as hell about some shit they'd just had to eat, and the effect that an hour of calm comradery, a handful of "damn straights!", and several drafts had on their mental state. Better bars mean fewer kicked dogs. I'd bet that up North higher divorce rates were a prominent yet unrecognized side-effect of White Flight to the suburbs, where fewer gents had any place to just sit down and nurse a cold one while the game's on . . . .

(Now there's a starting point! With a sufficiently-wasted audience, I could take this discussion just about anywhere.)

Up the spout