I bounced from department to department in a blur. Women's wear ... rubber goods ... a cell phone kiosk ... crock pots--a gaudy carousel of color, noise, and confusing scents. Is that cheese I smell? Or am I standing too close to that little kid? I just wanted to curl up on the Customer Service counter and have a good cry.
"Cope! Ya' look like y'r hopped up on brake fluid fumes!"
"Red? Is that you?" He emerged from a haze of queen-sized comforters--marked down one third. "My God, pal! Am I glad to see you! Get me outa here! I'm having a ... uh ... some kind of episode."
He led me to some caffeine. "What the hell's wrong wit' yew, Cope? Y'r actin' like ya come from a bad night at the Rescue Mission."
"It's this friend of mine, Red. I always thought he was a good Democrat, and then he goes out and starts his own political party. It's got me all, like, disoriented!"
Red took a slurp of something frothy and it left a brown mustache on both lips. He licked himself clean, then said, "Ah c'd torture 'im f'r ya'."
I wasn't sure I'd heard him right, so I let it pass. "I thought I might get it off my mind if I came out and did some Holiday shopping, but it's not working. I just can't let it go."
"Yew mean y'r Chrizz-muss shoppin', don'cha, Cope?"
I let that pass, too. "What would you do, Red? If a friend of yours... somebody you trusted in to be a faithful Republican... all the sudden quit and started a new political party?"
"Ah'd torture 'im up sum'tin' good, 'at's what ah'd do. Fact bein', that's what ah came here t' do t'day, t' torture what'er fella whats hangin' up all these "Happy Hol'days" signs."
Jeez, last thing I wanted was to let Red bait me into a big hallelujah chorus over Happy this vs. Merry that. "Yup," I said. "Sounds like youre keeping busy."
"Know what? Dat one place won' even let the Savylation Army do no bell-ringin' outside their gull-durned door. Ain't dat d' shits?"
"Well Red, it is sort of annoying, you have to admit. 'Tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle.' It's like a dog that never stops barking. Could drive a fella nuts, don't you think?" He glared at me as though he'd just learned I'd fathered one of his children, so I throttled back. "But then, about everything this time a year could drive a fella nuts. I guess a few more tinkles couldn't hurt."
"Gull-durned straight it c'n't hurt! I'd like t' get holt o' them anti-tinkle stinkers an' torture the b'jesus out of 'em!"
"Now hold on, Red. What is it with you wanting to torture everyone all the sudden?"
"S'portin' da war on terryorism. If'n it's good enough f'r Dick Cheney, it's good 'nuff f'r me. An' ah figures we 'Publicans gotta start puttin' our ak-shuns where our mout's is."
"Ever tortured anyone before, pal?"
"Not yet. B' how dang hard can it be? Ah s'pose y'r one o' them sissies what wants t' ix-nay on the orture-tay."
"True enough. Torture should be as illegal as illegal gets. It should be on the same list with incest and cannibalism. The 'Things Civilized People Simply Don't Do' list."
"Yew dang civ'lized people! Boils mah puddin' how's yer not willin' t' sink as low as it takes t' stay on top. Let me aks ya' this, Mister Civ'lized Choir Boy... what'n if one o' them terroristic fellers hides a nook-lar bomb, lezz say."
"Aah, old hidden nuclear bomb scenario."
"And lezz say that bomb be set to go kerblooey in 24 hours. An' the only way o' findin' it is t' torture the terroristic feller 'til he coughs up the hidin' spot. Only that sissy Joe McCain done made torture agin the law. W'at now, Choir Boy? Yooze tellin' me that civ'lized people got t' get themselves blown t' smithereens juzz so's they can brag about how civ'lized they are?"
"OK, in that case ... I mean, should it ever come up that something horrible was known to be in the works, and if torture was the absolute last resort to stop it ... then I'd say somebody should break the law."
"Break the law? Wha'? You gone antarcticist on me, Cope?"
"It's like this, Red. Everyone agrees there should be speed limits. Only, let's say, your wife is nine and a half months pregnant, her water just broke, the EMTs are all on strike, and it's 15 miles to the nearest hospital. You'd drive as fast as you could, wouldn't you? You'd break the law and you'd be happy to face the consequences, right? And everyone would understand you did the necessary thing under the circumstances. But that doesn't mean we should do away with speed limits, does it ... just because something might happen? We don't make laws or define our ethics or morals around the worst case scenarios, bub. That'd be crazy."
"So's y'r sayin' torture oughta be one-hunert-percent agin the law ... only we c'n break the torture law if'n we got t', an' get away wit' it."
"Nope. Nobody gets away with it. If you're willing to resort to torture ... doesn't matter how justified the result makes it ... you should be prepared to pay the price. Anything less than that and we'd have sadists torturing every Muslim they could get their hands on, just to see what floats to the top."
We left it there. Red wanted to argue more but I couldn't. "Must get moving, buddy. Got Holiday shopping to do and a Holiday tree to set up, or my Holiday goose is cooked."
"Now y'r jus' tryin' t' mash m' spuds', ain'tcha, Cope?"
"Yup. I know how much you like a good outrage, Red. Just think of it as my Holiday gift to you."
"An' a Murry Chrizz-mus t' you an' yern... asshole."