Signs of the times

When I get some time, I’m going to archive all of these into their own special section. This one’s from Salon:

Windham, N.Y., is a ski town, nestled in the Catskills, about two and a half hours from New York City. Main Street, a short, quaint strip that cuts across the bottom of Windham Mountain, is where you can find everything you really need: a post office, a school, a deli, a diner, a gas station, and toward the end, an old restaurant and bar called Madison’s.

Last Sunday, my friend Dawn and I found ourselves at this local haunt after a day of skiing. The place was dead. A lottery game and a golf tournament quietly flickered on the two TV sets. So we started making polite conversation with the bartender, and then the two men sitting next to us.

One was a 40-something, recently laid-off businessman from Little Silver, N.J., a town that’s 15 minutes from where I grew up at the Jersey Shore. The father of two young girls, he had spent the day skiing with his family. His friend was a lawyer, a local, and the father of four, including three girls. They seemed amused to be sitting next to two young, single women from Manhattan, who were both journalists. After they gave us a tip about tax evasion at a local nightclub, they asked us what we thought of the war.

When Dawn and I said we were against the war, the men’s expressions tightened and they looked down at their steaks. They were huge supporters of the war. They argued that if America didn’t disarm Saddam Hussein, no one would, and that America usually acts alone anyway, so who cares what those European bastards think. I’d encountered opinions like theirs many times before. Their attitudes reminded me of many of the men I grew up with — fiercely patriotic, desperate to protect their families from terrorism, bursting with faith in the president.

But when we suggested that Sept. 11 had nothing to do with Iraq, the conversation immediately shifted. Their faces reddened, and they began to talk quickly at the same time, the businessman slapping his hand against the bar to punctuate his outbursts:

“At some point, you have to trust your president! You have to believe that he knows something we don’t!”

“They attacked our country. Now we have to get them!”

“I was down there at the Trade Center. I had a burning piece of paper on my face! Burning. Piece. Of. Paper. On. My. Face!”

The businessman seemed to have forgotten that thousands had perished at the towers — he didn’t mention them, anyway — so consumed was he with his personal vendetta against the Sept. 11 terrorists, I mean, Saddam. In fact, our increasingly irate new friends accused us of supporting Saddam over Bush. When we explained that nobody “supports” Saddam, they went ballistic.

“You know what? You two are the reason why this country’s going down the fucking toilet.”

“This is why I hate you city folks. Fucking city folks. Why don’t you go back to New York? The fucking toilet.”

“Communists. That’s what you are. Communist feminists. Fucking liberals.”

And this is via Atrios (from the Nando Times, which has a more invasive registration procedure than I’m in the mood to deal with this morning):

FRESNO, Calif. (March 20, 2003 8:29 p.m. EST) – Pierre Frik feared if the country went to war in Iraq, he might be targeted by zealots because of his Middle Eastern background.
He never imagined he’d be vulnerable because his chain of stores was named French Cleaners.

The Lebanese native said he only picked the name on a whim, making the Eiffel Tower the stores’ logo. But as relations between the United States and France soured over war with Iraq, Frik said he was hit by the backlash.

Customers have spit on checks and passers-by make obscene gestures, he said. On Wednesday, his Modesto store was damaged in a fire. He said he later learned his two other stores had been vandalized.

“We’re very concerned about French-bashing going on across the country,” French consulate spokesman Yo-Jung Chen said Thursday, in the aftermath of France’s threat to block a U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

Authorities estimated the damage to Frik’s Modesto store at $500,000 but declined to classify the blaze as suspicious.