The King Eddy
How could I not write about where I was the night Trump was elected?
I feel like I had a lot of the normal reactions as most of my friends. Trying to do the math in the beginning even though I was an English major. Trying to assure myself and my girlfriend that Hillary still had plenty she could make up. Fear slowly and steadily building. Despair. A hopelessness for the future looming just hours away. The thing about Trump, for me, wasn’t that I was scared of the man. I was scared of what the man would bring. This is a kind of rule I follow in life too. It’s never just the one thing. It’s everything that’s allowed to follow. I’m scared of the people voting for Trump. I’m afraid of who he’s going to put into positions of power. I’m scared of how the rest of the world will react. So I guess really, I am very, very scared of Trump.
But I’m still alive and I have to deal with this shit. I have to think about what to do next. Because this is happening. I’m sitting in a bar in downtown L.A. with my girlfriend waiting on some friends to show up. Old friends. Honestly, if they hadn’t been around this week, I don’t know how I would have fared. I’ve known Othelo and Mau since my college years back in Virginia, in those important years where you are making every single mistake, trying to figure out who you are, trying to figure out what code you will live by and what people you think you will surround yourself with and what all of that represents and says about you. These are two of my best friends, and they both represent some of the best parts of me. When they arrived, I stood up from my bar stool and embraced them somberly. They seemed to already know what was happening. All of us stood at the counter, staring at the television screen, watching Pennsylvania go red along with the rest of the country.
They got into conversation with Lena and I sat off by the side, watching but not really watching what was going on up on the screen. I was in a haze. I was numb. The bar we were in wasn’t anything special but at least that night they had a decent boilermaker special, for this city anyway, and I warmed myself with some whiskey and chased it with a cold beer.
Some white guys next to me were yelling at the T.V. Yelling at the states that were voting for Trump. Fuck Wisconsin, they said. Fuck Michigan. They irritated me. I don’t feel that way about any of those states. I’m not saying I think every place is redeemable. Mississippi is a miserable part of the country. But it’s a part of the country. And they’re not going to be ignored. Ignoring a problem has a way of coming back to bite you on the ass. I learned that in life, from my girlfriend and from my student loans. And so this was what was happening. I’d had so many conversations with my peers, asking them, wondering, don’t you think these people are worth talking to? These people who vote for such a pure son of a bitch? And more often than not the answer was no. They don’t deserve the time, my peers would answer. They are ignorant trash and their opinion doesn’t matter. It was past midnight. Trump was going to win. The deplorables were going to win. I understand what you meant when you said that, that you were talking about the racists and sexists and the homophobes. But now we see the whole group took it and ran with it and they were running straight to the White House. You are going to lose again, old girl. And I felt like a fool because I knew it shouldn’t have been her going against Trump. I knew that a long time ago. I just thought Bernie was too full of dreams, too ahead of his time, not realistic enough. I still believe it to some degree. But I know more than that, I’d made a mistake.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “It’s too fucking bright in here.”
The place had no lights on beside the televisions and some candles behind the bar but everyone I was with knew exactly what I meant.
We got out on the street and walked a couple blocks. Mauricio has been in L.A. much longer than me and he’d told me about a place a long time ago. He knew what I liked. From knowing me all this time, all three of the people in my party knew I could go to a dark place and that the best thing to do was let me sit in it for a while. So we showed the doorman our ID’s and walked into the King Eddy.
The place was perfect for our needs. A square bar. Dark as hell, everything black, a slightly stale aroma. No nostalgic pictures in frames on the walls, no art to admire. Just seats and bottles of liquor. A space was set up in the back for a punk band to play and I could envision the venue getting sweaty and dirty and dangerous. This was a kind of place that would always hold the potential to get dangerous. I went into the bathroom and every inch of it was plastered with graffiti. Lots of different colors too, which had a nice effect. The letters popped out, thick and reckless and defiant. Every name a mystery. Swear words because what else was there to say in a place like this.
I came back out and we ordered shots of tequila and tall boys and talked about the end of days. Where would we go, what would we do. The bartender looked like an old rocker who was half lit himself and could recognize an old soul. For the time being his eyes were benevolent and accepting. We clinked our glasses and took down the booze and I could have hit another one right after if they’d let me. I wanted to feel like this. I wanted to get wretched.
A group of people walked in and they were loud as they entered and right away I sized them up and looked at their clothes and the lipstick on the women and the respectable haircuts of the men and thought what the hell are they doing here, as if I’d patronned this bar for years. This was sort of my attitude in places like this. I don’t know really how to explain or justify how it works. It’s just something I think you get or you don’t.
I remember when I moved to Philadelphia. Dark but important years for me, when I learned more than anything how to be alone in the world. I moved onto South Street near Center City. The first thing my roommate, who like me was also of mixed ethnicity, told me was, “Don’t go to the bar across the street. It’s not for people like us.”
See, a statement like that isn’t something I question with any indignation whatsoever. Maybe you would. But like I said, I live in the present. I stand up for things, sure. I will fight, hell, I love to fight. But I’m not always going to be a crusader, and I’m never delusional. This is the world we live in. Many parts of it are ugly. And I’m not going to walk into a shithole expecting to smell daisies. I’m not going to refuse to accept something for what it is, especially if someone just got done telling me. That isn’t to say it shouldn’t be changed, shouldn’t be made better. That’s the world, after all. The world is a hard and violent place. Comfort is a man-made thing. We all strive incessantly to create higher and higher levels of comfort. But some things are the way they are because they have to be. And when I’m in bars like the King Eddy, I don’t want to see a bunch of positive shiny people grinning ear to ear wearing collared shirts, their optimism sparkling off them like a new car. This place isn’t for them, just like any part of Louisiana that isn’t New Orleans isn’t a place for me. It’s an ugly part of me that behaves this way. It’s an ugly part of humanity. If I had a conversation with anybody, I’d admit I was wrong. But that night, the night Trump was elected, I didn’t care about being right. I didn’t want to be nice. I didn’t want to be koombaya. I wanted to lurk in my dark place like a mean animal and drink shitty alcohol and curse the world. In my mind, it’s what these bars were tailor made for.
The group sat down a few stools away from us. Obviously they were riled up by the election too, very vocal, very perturbed. I just couldn’t really buy their outrage. It made me sneer, except worse than before. A thought popped into my head. I realized I was going to be like this for some time now. Constantly suspicious of white people’s intention, even as I heard their words. This was what this election meant to me. Because as far as I was concerned, everyone in some way was saying the same thing, accusing each other constantly, but the fact was everyone knew who was going to be getting fucked in the end, and for the side who won, their hate was more important than who would be the ones to suffer. I hated that I felt so doomsday, but more than that I would protect myself. More than anything else, I was determined, I realized, to survive this. No matter what.
The T.V’s were on in the King Eddy too but with no sound. Most everyone there had been ignoring them until the group had arrived. None of us cared anymore before the group arrived. You looked around that square bar and you saw faces that had known hard times and defeat and dog shit. Trump was getting on stage to make his speech. One of the people in the group said, “Can you turn on the volume?”
“No. Do not fucking turn that shit on,” I said. The whole group looked at me in silence. I hadn’t yelled it but my voice had rang out in the place as clear as any announcement. The bartender pursed his lips and walked over to the other side of the bar. The group looked at themselves and the drinks they’d just ordered. They took maybe a few more sips and then left, their beverages abandoned more than half way on the counter.
Our own group did another round before we left. I don’t remember any of the conversation. It wasn’t really why we were there to begin with, right? When we did walk out, I hugged my brothers. I was glad they had been there. Not to talk to me or soothe the issue. Just to be there. That’s all. We left them then, Lena and I walking one way, them the other.
We were catching the train back home. As we walked towards it, we could hear chanting ahead. It was the first of what would be a march every day and night for the rest of the week in protest of our next President. I had no desire to join them. I’d been in protest marches before. I’d felt that surge of emotion as you step along with your fellow man and woman, crying your beliefs out into the world, and hoping the world will notice. And just like when you are coming down off some Molly, I’ve felt a sharp stab of sadness and futility when it leaves you, and you leave them, and you are left wondering what difference was made at all. We insulate ourselves with mirrors, reflections of our own interests, and we forget there is a whole world out there who think we are just as strange as we think they are. I have my ideas and my thoughts and I stand by them strongly no doubt. But I don’t want to fight that way. I don’t want to fight a whole people. I’ll handle what’s in front of me and if I can, I’ll work my way out. Through my friends. Through my loved ones. And hopefully that can grow. Hopefully that good thing I have, that I can offer, will spread.
I realize I’ve spent a lot of time in dark bars just like that. I’ve taken a lot of chances in them. And it’s not always such a dreadful thing. There’s been just as many bright moments in those shadowy spaces. Just as many love stories. It’s just a place that has always felt completely honest for me. Like some sanctuary. But peace isn’t always guaranteed. Truthfully, I want to be positive. I want to believe, as big and as diverse and as crazy as this country is, we can find a way to come together. God, I hope so, for the sake of all these beautiful kids my friends are having, and that some day, I’d really like to have too. But that night, and many nights before, and many nights to come, I need those dives. I need that grit and that hardness. I guess sometimes I just need to be nasty.