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Palmer Square: Summer, Part II

Tyler seemed unafraid. We met for breakfast at Longman and Eagle at eleven the next day. There was an Air Quality Alert and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning—the old and young absented themselves from the streets, cloistered with their respective caretakers in air-conditioned hideaways. Tyler and I sat at the bar. I ate an omelet and drank two pints of coffee without thinking. Tyler picked at duck egg hash and dabbed his forehead with condensation from his beer glass.

We sat there in between saying something and not saying something, looking at our phones and chewing. One day we’d be old men in brown socks with hands on our hips.

I told him, thinking about the previous night, that it felt hard to catch up to things. To figure out how to “make a difference” in conversations about politics swirling around us. Everything felt menacing and proximate to a metaphorical edge. To describe it, we were resorting to a series of tired metaphors. We were walking on thin ice, the razor’s edge, staring over a precipice in the desert southwest. Like Wile E. Coyote. I told him about watching television and feeling afraid in a pathetic way. About the hiker. And about how maybe we had to blunt our kinder and more empathetic impulses, and just get angry. Super angry. I told him that I had been trying to write something of consequence that would resonate and motivate. Something about haplessness, our collective saturation by media, the mobilization of fear for positive ends—but about how politics and emotions always work together to produce hatred, venom, and—worst of all—bad speeches.

“Terrible speeches,” he agreed, licking the condensation now.

“Just awful.”

“Bad hair, too,” he said.

“The worst hair. Who does the hair of these politicians? What are they thinking?”

We sat in silence for a minute. Then Tyler suggested that, if only we could convince each other of the urgency of history, we would be less afraid of our contemporary monsters. I drained my coffee and asked for another. A third pint. Why not? Droplets of sweat dripped down my back. I told Tyler that we needed writers who could get to the hard kernel of the real. I told him we needed powerful voices that could expose the contradictions of the political system.

“There’s no space anymore for rhetorical gray zones. We need certainty again!”

“Maybe stop shouting?” Tyler said, “And maybe get down from there.”

I stopped shouting and realized I was standing on the barstool. I was caffeinated, my neck arteries pulsing like hummingbirds. “I didn’t realize,” I told the bartender, who I noticed was watching me carefully as he dried a glass. He shrugged.

“Whew! Ha!” I said, sitting down, feeling a little lightheaded. And smacked Tyler’s back in a kind of ironic manly way. “What a great omelet. How’s your hash? Wow I have had a lot of coffee! Ha!”

Tyler stared with great meaning into his duck egg hash. He said he’d been thinking that no one can insist upon calm. No one can figure out how to mute political emotions. Everyone’s blood was up. If we were all fixing for a fight, maybe best to have it.

I nodded vigorously—“Right, right, right, I want that to be true too! Ha!”

Then we started talking about how great it would be to have a time machine and the conversation went in a different direction entirely.