Darn surprised I was when Red phoned me ... considering the last time we saw each other, he'd called me a traitor to my country and I'd called him a dumbass. Lucky for me, I have Caller I.D., or else I wouldn't have had those few seconds of warning to mellow out and get polite.
"What the hell do you want, Red?" I said, about as mellow as I could get.
"Jeez, Cope. I s'pose yer still mad at me?"
"Jeez yerself, Red! You called me a traitor!"
"Yeah? Wull you called me a dumbass!"
"Red, everyone calls you a dumbass. But nobody's called me a traitor since the Vietnam days, and I'm still pissed about that ... let alone what you said just last year. Now, what the hell do you want?"
He didn't answer, but I heard what sounded like a '72 Chevy pickup being downshifted without benefit of the clutch, and I could hear his breath whistle through those two teeth you can see when he grins. "Red, are you on a cell phone?"
"Are you driving?"
"Tryin' to. Juss come real close to back-endin' a concrete truck, and it's all 'cause yer bein' mean to me."
"Red, I've seen you drive off the road just because the radio was on. Now, why don't you pull over if you want to gab on the phone?"
"'Cause I'm there now."
And darn surprised I was, to see Red's old Chev sitting in front of my house. For being on the phone when he did it, his parking job wasn't half bad ... meaning, he'd managed to keep two wheels out of my wife's zinnias.
"Sorry 'bout the flowers, Cope. I got me some brake pad issues."
I waved him in, but he declined. "Could be we'd better sit outside. Ah been scoopin' out m' dog run and forgot t' hose off m' boots."
"So why are you here, Red?" I asked, after picking a spot upwind. "I thought we were quits for good."
"Tha's right! I thought we were, too! But the thang is, I listened to Kerry's big speech t'other night, and now I'm all ... what they call ... 'conflicted.' An' Cope, there's no'un what can get me dis-conflicted quicker'n yew."
I proceeded with caution, not knowing whether Red was truly experiencing an internal struggle which might potentially lead to the dawning of a more sophisticated political zeitgeist within him, or if he had simply come up with a new way to drive me nuts. "Soooo, am I hearing there's a possibility you might vote for Kerry?"
"Good Christ a'mighty NO! What yew thinkin', Cope? He's a Dem'crat!"
"Calm down, Red. Sorry it even crossed my mind. But I have to say, you don't seem very conflicted to me."
"Oooh, ah'm conflicted a'right. Ah seen Kerry t'find out fer m'self them things what I c'n hate 'im for, even though I'd rather been hung from a rafter by my tater tots.. 'Fore that, see, ah was juss hatin' 'im on second-hand info, an' that ain't right."
"I see. You were too busy trying to work up a good head of loathing to be bothered with any thoughtful consideration of Kerry's positions."
"Tha's purdy much it. Trouble be, I ended up not hatin' 'im at all. Ah sat there, watching that huge honker o' his and thinkin' any minute now, ah'd bubble up with good ol' patriotical hate. An' dang! It wouldn't come! Was like expecting a big fat cabbage belch what never makes it past yer Adam's apple, ya' know?"
"Is it possible you finally saw Kerry not as a caricature, but as a normal, bright, committed public servant who simply has a different view of how our democracy should function? Is it even possible you might agree with him?"
"About what he said, for crying out loud! About using our wits and ingenuity to become independent of foreign oil. About using stem cell technology to give relief to desperately ill people. About keeping good jobs in America instead of letting them hemorrhage offshore like the oil leaking out of your truck. About getting medical costs down and heath insurance for everyone. About digging out the roots of terrorism rather than chopping off a limb or two on the wrong tree. About winning back our old allies once we get some brains back the White House. About opening wide the doors of science and flooding the world with the bright light of hope and wisdom!"
"Dang! He said all that?"
"Uh, more or less."
"Wull, I dint really listen, see ... not in the sense where I was hearin' anything. But yer might be right 'bout Kerry being juss a normal feller, e'en if 'e's got some dam' funny ideas on how t' run George Dub'ya' Bush's country."
"But you just admitted you didn't listen to his ideas, so how do you know they're funny?"
"Cope, did yew juss get outa bed? If'n his ideas ain't funny, why in hell's he be a Dem'crat?"
I took a moment to re-mellow, then said, "I don't get it, Red. You have all the same reasons for hating Kerry as you did before his speech ... which you didn't hear, anyway ... but after watching his big nose for an hour, now you don't hate him. How does that work?"
It's 'bout Kerry being a vet, see. I al'ays did believe us vets gotta stick together."
"Red, you flunked your draft physical. Too bow-legged, if I remember right."
"Wull ... yeah! But I showt up fer mah draft fizz'cal! An' that makes me a vet, by Gawd!"
"Okay, fine. You're a vet ... but only if you call me a 'cab.' Hah!" I waited a few blinks to see if he'd get it. He didn't. "Then the reason you're conflicted is because you can't assimilate him being both a combat vet and a Democrat, is that it?"
"Could be, Cope. It's like when ah found out m' fav'rit huntin' buddy Ricky likes t' wear them black cocktail dresses like Jacky O' Kennedy used ta'." (I wasn't sure what to say about that, so Red continued.) "But ah was also thinkin', could it be that you 'n' I might could get o'er bein' mad at t'other? Ah mean, if'n I can get o'er hatin' Jerry Kerry ..."
"No thanks. Did mah biz'ness at the Flyin' Jay. But what ya' say, Cope? I won't never call ya' a traiter agin. Promise."
"I suppose we could work on it, Red. Truth is, I've sort of missed you."
"An' then, we c'n figger out how's a way fer yew not t' hate George Bush, ya' think?"
"That'll be the day," I snorted, and managed to stop myself just short of adding "dumbass."