The Coward

Dave Thomas | 20 Sep 2005 08:01
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The measure of a good bar isn't the depth of the beer selection or the amount of designer fabric and black paint the place boasts. It's really about feeling comfortable, which usually means people are drinking - a lot. Laying down that ruler, the Ogden Street Station in Denver is a good bar. Or at least it's filled with very drunk people on a Friday night.

I'd followed some friends there in search of a little karaoke and a few end-of-the week laughs. When the bartender sloshed my order of good bourdon into a shot glass it was clear people came to this bar to get drunk. A very intoxicated girl carried on the can-can of consumption celebrating her 21st birthday by trying to set my pal up with her Aunt Pam. "She works at Lenscrafters," she oozed.

Then the big guy in the pink shirt cornered me.

His beer waving in his dancing hands, I got his life story: A military brat, went to an all male college and was a former Marine. He loved his sales job but was ready for life's next big challenge - an MBA. With visions of waiting in line for a driver's license or being stuck in a traffic jam, I counterpunched in an effort to bring the conversation back to something interesting.

"Ya know, I'm writing a story that deals with the military."

In the striptease of saloon conversation, I gave him the OK to let it all hang out. He told me how much he loved his country and how proud he was to serve. Then, leaning forward with the menace of a guy that's at least 220 and built like a vending machine said sternly, "But that doesn't mean I support this administration. That doesn't mean that I'm in favor of what they are doing."

Then his face fell as he explained how much respect he had for the people in combat, the soldiers that were serving in the line of fire.

So I asked the question.

"How do you feel about a guy like me who never did serve?"

Without a beat, he pinned me with a stare said flatly, "Well, to be honest, I kind of resent that."

Without anger and with very few words, he told me what I already knew - I'm a coward. The only thing that makes this weight a little lighter is that I live in a country of cowards. Being a coward in America is like wearing black clothes at a Nine Inch Nails concert - it's not just a fashion statement, it's a uniform.

Worst of all, like all the Emo kids who think acting deep means that you actually have anything inside your hollow pubescent chest, the modern American coward thinks they've got it all figured out. They don't call it cowardice; they call it the "American Dream." And only Americans seem to mix up that this dream is just the fantasy of becoming rich and famous. The American Dream is the hallucination of ultimate leisure, of fast cars, early tee times and hot wives spread out across lush backyard BBQs from sea to shining sea.

Suiting up in Kevlar armor to gun down teenage terrorists in dusty mudbrick cities on the other side of the planet doesn't sound like, well let's just say it, any fun.

So we live in the era of the coward. When this particular moment in history started and when it will end seems a lot less important than recognizing that, despite our proclamations to the contrary, we are a nation of the fearful, guided by paranoia and generally shy away from anything smacking of bravery.

Somewhere along the way we replaced actual courage with fey patriotism. We turned into a country filled with flag-waving, gung-ho Patrick Henrys that support the troops by standing safely behind them while discouraging our own kids from signing up for a hitch. In the ruthless calculus of self-interested capitalism, a thousands deaths and a few thousand mutilated young bodies seems a fair price to pay for freedom - as long as Billy can finish his degree and land that coosh consulting job so he can buy mommy something nice on her birthday.

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