Sure, the governments of Italy and France have no room to talk about fiscal responsibility or how to run a government or the right to pop-off about another country's leader. But, when I was in those countries a couple of weeks ago, their officials and citizens were shaking their heads at what's going on here in the good 'ol United States. Or shall I say, "States'? Because we sure as hell do not appear united to our European allies or to the rest of the world for that matter.
But, "wait a second" I said to my French and Italian friends. We are united. The people are united. It is our government dipshits (insert your own adjective, I've just always liked dipshits as a descriptive for this kind of behavior) who are not. We could rename it "The Polarized States of America" and we wouldn't be far from the truth as it relates to governmental dip-shitted-ness.
They nodded in that knowing "Oh, I get what you're saying" kinda way. You see, they're both pissed at their respective governments. In fact, just as I left Italy, the government was plunged into another political crisis. Why? Seems the man who has been convicted of tax fraud, sentenced to seven years for having sex with an under-age prostitute and embarrassed his country on nearly a daily basis had decided that wasn't enough. You know him as Italian Ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In the pure definition of idiocy, he pushed his party's ministers to quit the coalition government. The newspaper headline? "The Convict Has Made Italy Fail." The point I'm making is this; these Italians know from dipshits and now they're laughing at us!!
And the reason why I say us is because overseas we, the citizens of the United States, are lumped in with our politicians. I remember I was in Prague in 2003 having lunch in a small, neighborhood café when I noticed a couple of the locals looking at me. They'd look over, I'd catch them looking, they'd turn away and then whisper among themselves. I thought maybe I had part of my lunch somewhere on my face or that my golden-brown California tan reflecting off the rain-drenched Czech skies made me both sunnyliciously suspicious and vulnerable to being tossed outta the joint. Turns out they thought I was American and they wanted to ask me a question. Actually three questions.
A guy on my right approached me and asked if I was a U.S. citizen. I said, "Yes."
Upon my confirmation, two other men came over to sit at my small table as four more people at the bar, three men and a lady, turned around to listen.
I looked at my piping hot fish n' chips and then at the gathering group and back at my fish n' chips and instantly knew I wasn't going to finish my lunch. So, I put down my fork and firmly wrapped my right hand around my pint of local Hefeweizen beer. I had a feeling I'd need the beer more than the fish in the coming minutes. Turns out, I was right.
It started in the form of question number two. It totally surprised me. The gentleman to my left leaned in and asked, "Why do you guys want war?" All the heads in the bar nodded as if to silently say, "Yes, why do you, American tanned-man and your fellow capitalistic citizens, want war??"
Remember, this was February 2003, just one month before we invaded Iraq and launched the "attack of opportunity", as characterized by President Bush. Or the "attack of Haliburtunity", but I digress. America was locked into a fever-pitched debate about the merits of possibly invading Iraq. The world was watching. I looked around the room. Everything had stopped. Now, all eyes were now watching me. Even the bartender was paying attention. Yes, he had stopped drying a glass and put down his towel. This was serious. I was in a Prague-mire.
I replied, "We don't want war."
They looked at me with a bit of suspicion, a facial expression just short of the same one your auntie gives when she tastes a rival auntie's homemade specialty. Mouth twisted. Nose scrunched. Eyes scoffing.
"But your president..." a man two seats over started to say.
I cut him off.
"We, the people, don't want war. Trust me. The majority of us don't want to go to war," I said. "Sure, we want to beat the shit out of somebody for September 11th. We want justice. But many of us don't think this is it (meaning Iraq)."
They were surprised. They were curious. In fact, the spirited conversation, the Prague peppering of questions, continued for about 20 minutes. I was feeling pretty good that I had shifted their perspective a bit. Heck, there was a lot of head nodding and it seemed to be in agreement to what I was saying.
Then I suddenly realized I had pounded my entire pint of beer by this point. Was I beer-goggling the situation? I thought (hoped?) not as I listened to them regaling me with stories of how their government rarely listened to the people. They said their politicians were, "Imbeciles!" I could feel us quickly becoming one. I wanted to yell out, "Bartender, drinks for everyone!" But, alas, I did not. However, a fresh pint did mysteriously and magically show up in my right hand.
Near the end of their questioning, one man wanted to know why I was in Prague. I told him I was a presenter on an entertainment news show in the U.S and here to visit Hugh Jackman on the set of the movie Van Helsing. They all nodded in unison, this time with smiles and happy looks. They told me they were pleased the movie was in town and bringing money to their economy. They had just survived the massive, "100-year waters" flood, six-months earlier. I could still see the watermarks on buildings high above me as I walked the city. The economy was suffering and they wanted to let people know they survived and to please come visit. I told them they probably shouldn't grill the rest of the tourist like they did me. They laughed.
Just then, a guy in a nice hat at the bar, roughly 50-years old, spoke up, "Can I ask you one more question?"
The woman next to him quickly and forcefully punched him on his upper-right arm and told him, while pointing at me, to "let him finish his lunch." (I assumed, by her proximity to the man and that her instant reflex to flog him had come from years of practice, that they were obviously married).
So, while silently thinking, 'good lord, all I wanted was a quiet lunch of fish n' chips and a beer. What internationally flammable political question is he going to hit me with now?' I said not-so-silently, "Of course. Ask away man in the nice hat!" Really?? Did I just call him that? Was the wheat in the beer pumping gluten into my system? Was I getting a bloated sense of myself? Damn you second pint of Hefeweizen!
Anyway, the man who was lovingly 'smacked' by the woman with the iron fist, adjusted his hat, looked me squarely in the eye and asked, "Have you ever met Tom Cruise?"
So, there you have it. Governments, imbeciles and dipshits alike, shutdowns and wars will come and go. But Tom Cruise? Now THAT'S a global discussion worth having.
Bartender! Drinks for everyone!